A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ begins George Smiley’s chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.
It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.
‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ employs spy jargon that is presented as the authentic insider-speak of British Intelligence. Le Carré has noted that with the exception of a few terms like mole and legend this jargon was his own invention.
In a review for The New York Times written upon the novel’s release in 1974, critic Richard Locke called ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ “fluently written”, noting that “it is full of vivid character sketches of secret agents and bureaucrats from all levels of British society, and the dialogue catches their voices well.”
Financial Times writes on this novel: “John le Carré is the great master of the spy story…the constant flow of emotion lifts him not only above all modern suspense novelists, but above most novelists now practicing.”.
The novel was followed by ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ in 1977 and Smiley’s People in 1979. The three novels together make up the “Karla Trilogy”, named after Smiley’s long-time opponent Karla, the head of Soviet foreign intelligence. These were later published as an omnibus edition titled The Quest for Karla in 1982.
John le Carré with the real name David John Moore Cornwell (1931-2021) is best known for his espionage novels. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). His third novel, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963), became an international best-seller and remains one of his best-known works.
His books include The Looking Glass War (1965), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), Smiley’s People (1979), The Little Drummer Girl (1983), The Night Manager (1993), The Tailor of Panama (1996), The Constant Gardener (2001), A Most Wanted Man (2008), and Our Kind of Traitor (2010), all of which have been adapted for film or television.
A TV adaptation of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ was made by the BBC in 1979. It was a seven-part serial and was released in September of that year. The series was directed by John Irvin.
The Oscar-nominated feature film adaptation of the novel is directed by Tomas Alfredson (‘Let the Right One In’) and features Gary Oldman as Smiley, Academy Award winner Colin Firth (‘The King’s Speech’), and Tom Hardy (‘Inception’).