I read this book for the first time two months ago, and now I've read it again. My second reading was inspired by the fact that I was part way through the book the first time before I realized what an incredible book it was. So I wanted to read it again from the start with a proper sense of appreciation.
"The Tailor of Panama" is purportedly a spy thriller, but the spy story is actually just the framework on which John le Carré weaves his amazing study of human nature. And the human characteristics which are dominant are not ones that the human race should be proud of. We are presented with large amounts of greed, dishonesty, jealousy, cruelty, selfish lust, corruption, apathy, frailty and stupidity. On top of that we are presented with some of the less attractive conditions for human existence: poverty, suffering, guilt and sickness.
But the amazing thing is that John le Carré writes about these human characteristics and conditions with a great deal of humor and understanding. And he does provide a few glimpses of love, altruism and generosity.
So even though the story ends tragically it is for the most part a funny and touching story, and this makes the book very readable.
Another strength of the book is John le Carré's masterful command of the English language. He writes beautiful descriptions, and has a surprising and inventive way with words. I often found myself delighted with one sentence after another, each one saying something in a way I hadn't realized was possible.
The way in which the plot is slowly but surely expanded is also very satisfying. We start out with the daily lives of a few seemingly ordinary people. But then the seemingly ordinary people are shown to be less and less ordinary, and at the same time more and more people are added to the story, and the scope of the story expands until high-level international politics of the worst sort get involved.
Yet another positive aspect of the book is the large amount of very interesting information about life in Panama and how Panama society works. In this respect the book can be considered to be an insider's tourist guide to Panama.
Highly recommended - and to be read slowly and savored.