One day in the 1950s, when Moscow Centre's spies defected in droves following purges at home, George Smiley (GS) unwittingly came face to face with Karla in New Delhi. Karla's newly-installed networks on the US West Coast had been rolled up hours after Karla left. GS flew to India to assess his value, telling him he could help himself escape certain death, if only he talked. Karla remains silent and is deported to Russia. Somehow he manages to shift the blame for his failure and is given a new chance as a spymaster operating outside the mainstream KGB organisation.
In "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", Part 1 of the "Karla Trilogy", GS painstakingly roots out the mole, the insider turned traitor, whom Karla is servicing inside the Circus. In "The Honourable Schoolboy", Part 2, GS as caretaker Chief of the Circus, still much in disarray from the damage inflicted by Karla's mole, succeeds--with help from the CIA--in frustrating what would have been an immense victory for Karla in the Far East. Ultimately, GS is double-crossed by some of his most senior British collaborators and the CIA runs off with the main prize, a highly-placed Chinese defector. But the operation has put the Circus on the map again. GS's two shifty, pro-US former helpers have become the new Circus chief and Head of Operations.
At the start this volume, Part 3, GS is once more brought out of retirement following the murder in London of a defector, an elderly former Soviet general. What happens next is a formidable act of will, full of deceit and deception, memorable characters and dramatic scenes, with one purpose, to sting Karla and blackmail him into defecting to the West.
GS and Karla will meet again, face to face, one yard between them, much as they did 25 years earlier. And GS bows out and retires, finally, after 50 years (1928-1978) of serving his country unnoticed by all but a few. But by millions of readers.