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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

July 16, 2012

John le Carré is a master of the spy novel; his 1963 novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a masterpiece of simple, direct writing in service of a compelling story. With Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, written eleven years later, le Carré takes on a remarkably more dense plot. George Smiley investigates a mole in the British Secret Service, and it takes him through a labyrinth of clues, motivations, and characters who are potentially shady but also possibly concealing things at the order of their superiors.

Tinker Tailor is nothing short of masterful. George Smiley is an unassuming but ultimately brilliant protagonist. The story spins of in many directions, taking detours so that individual characters can tell their stories as they relate to finding the mole. The book is wonderfully atmospheric (a mood and tone also captured in the fantastic 2011 film adaptation).

Smiley’s investigation takes him through the story of Jim Prideaux, a spy who was shot and captured on an assignment in Czechoslovakia, and exactly how his operation went bad is key to finding the mole. Prideaux now works as a schoolteacher, but constantly waits for the day when someone from intelligence while come for him. The story also involves Ricki Tarr, another spy who found a Russian who was going to defect. He provides Smiley with some key pieces of information regarding the mole.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an incredibly tense thriller, while also evoking a very specific place and time. The characters, plot, and tone are all nearly perfect.

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