You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I've had a copy of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on my shelf for years waiting for me to read it. With the release of the movie version I decided that I should read the book before going to see the movie. The story was published in 1974 and is a classic Cold War spy novel. But it is not like a 007 novel (I haven't read any Ian Fleming but I'm very familiar with the movies). There are no shootouts or daring escapes, no high stakes card games. The protagonist is not a debonair and sexy secret agent, but a pudgy and middle aged career agent named George Smiley. Smiley has spent time running operations in foreign countries, but was mostly a mid-level manager, and has spent his most recent time semi-retired. Smiley has also had recent marital trouble, which has affected his ability to do his job.

Smiley is called back to help solve a problem at the Circus (the name used for the British intelligence service). It has become clear that there is a serious leak, from a high-level mole they refer to as Gerald. Smiley and a few other old timers are the only ones trusted to figure out who the mole is. Smiley and his associates sneak documents out of the headquarters and try to piece together the movements of the various officials, and figure out what went wrong with failed operations.

One of those failed operations was Operation Witchcraft. It involved the search to acquire a Czech general as an informant. During Operation Witchcraft, career agent Jim Prideaux was shot and captured. Prideaux was questioned and released, but has spent his time since in retirement, teaching at a boys school. Smiley must investigate his own organization and people that he has worked with and trusted for a long time. There's also

Aside from one tense scene at the end when Smiley and his friends are waiting at a safe house for the arrival of the mole, there is little action in the book. Much of the story is told in flashback, as agents and operatives relate to Smiley their pieces of the puzzle. The story has a good feel for Cold War attitudes between East and West and the workings of the foreign intelligence service. But it also has the mood of an older man who is facing the twilight of his career. Smiley is often reflective and we learn about his past through his own flashbacks. The writing is pretty good if a bit dry. While there's little action there is a building sense of suspense as Smiley learns more and more about what's going on at the Circus. The suspense is dark and foreboding, not sharp and thrilling. I think it would be tricky to make into a good movie, but I am eager to see the result. B+

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