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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is not a Le Carre spy thriller. If you come to this book expecting another of his great spy books then you may be disappointed. In fact "The Tailor of Panama" is a sort of homage to Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana", and the books are probably best read as a pair so you can understand where Mr Le Carre got his idea from, and how the two great writers develop the idea differently. Graham Greene's book is a lightweight and gentle romantic comedy. Not his best book by a long way but enjoyable enough. John Le Carre develops the characters and the idea much more fully, with a much darker twist. To be honest the mixture of styles didn't really work for me. The books starts as a bit of a farce - very much along the same lines as "Our Man in Havana" - but subtly changes into tragedy as people begin to take the tailor's stories seriously. Unfortunately I found the book too long, with too many side shoots and diversions, and I found I was just reading it to finish it for much of the second half. The ending is moving but I found it quite confusing. Where is the tailor going? His wife has finally realised she loves him; and he realises he loves Marta; so why does he do what he does? While it is interesting for one great writer to take on another great writer's idea, I felt that Mr Le Carre played it out too much. The book could have been much better and much sharper at half the length and still delivered a moving ending.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 1999
It's usually the clowns wanting to play Hamlet: the wannabe Tom Sharpes wanting to write Harry Crews; the Tom Lehrers craving to croon Randy Newman. Here we have The Master - the author of the perfect "Perfect Spy" and the untouchable "Night Porter" - losing sight of what he does best and dishing up *the* most ghastly, leaden humour that not only flubs badly but drags down everything else that might have worked. I've absolutely no doubt that agent, editor and pals begged Cornwell on their knees to stick to the straight and narrow but fame and success are heady brews ... shame.
My tip: browse his latest one carefully, monitor the reviews for the slightest grisly reference to wit and light-heartedness - and keep fingers crossed that 'Panama' was a one-off dotage vanity jaunt
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2004
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.
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A rather disappointing novel - not up to Le Carre's usual standard. Set in Panama, a garrulous and imaginative tailor to the great and good is recruited as a spy. His fabrications have unforeseen and tragic consequences. While sections of it are enjoyable, they are set in a mediocre whole, along with some chapters that are so dull it was a struggle to keep reading.

The principle character, Pendel the tailor, is irritating. Some of the supporting characters are more interesting but because the book focuses on Pendel they provide only brief enjoyable interludes. Although the principle behind the story is a good idea, it becomes bogged down in complex politics and I found it disjointed and hard to keep the thread of the story.

The two star rating reflects the fact that this isn't an actively bad novel, just rather lacklustre. It does have some good parts which show glimpses of Le Carre's normal quality of writing. This is probably a novel for dedicated fans of the genre only. For non-fans I'd recommend trying another of Le Carre's novels instead.
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on 15 March 2008
Interesting spy thriller set in Panama after the collapse of the Noriega regime. Excellent sense of time and place and of the desperation of the characters making the best of a confusing time where no-one is sure of their future.

At the centre of this Pendel, the Tailor, and Osnard, a British agent, each weave lies over lies and attempt to create their own realities, that in the end must crumble despite their ever more frantic story-telling.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If you read and liked Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, I predict you will like The Tailor of Panama. The books have many similarities, especially in their satirical treatment of the spying establishment and those who serve it.
If you have not read Our Man in Havana, be aware that this book is not at all like any other Le Carre spy book you have read before. So if you are looking for another of his great reads in the genre of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, The Looking Glass War, A Small Town in Germany, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People, this is the wrong book for you.
On the other hand, if you are open-minded enough to wonder what Le Carre's idea of humor would like in making fun of spies, spying, and spy novels, then you have come to the right place. This is one of the two great satires of this sort. Our Man in Havana is the other. I recommend them both, when you are in the mood for that kind of a story.
As I read this book, I was constantly reminded of stories that often surface in the newspaper about spies who have been working both sides against the middle to improve their incomes. Eric Ambler was drawn to that theme, and Mr. Carre seems to share that fascination in this book.
In a broader sense, the satire here is really about the foibles we all have. If you have an easy time laughing at yourself, you may find moments when you see yourself in the mirror through Le Carre's fine novel.
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on 24 November 2010
With a storyline perhaps a little too close to Our Man in Havana, the story is not quite the sort of spy thriller one usually associates with le Carre. Those who prefer the terser style and harder edge of Tinker Tailor may find this one florid, and perhaps even a little irritating.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 April 2013
This is not as good as the other le Carre books I have read. It isn't sure whether it is a black comedy, a spy story or a romance. The characters are really unbelievable if the story is not a comedic approach to the spy genre, but as a result it fails to be good at either.

The internal ramblings of the Tailor become wearisome as the story unfolds. His wife portrayed initially as perfect collapses morally once she grasped at least part of what has been going on and this deteriorates into the hackneyed plot model of a one nighter with the "spy" which adds nothing to the plot.

3 out of 5 is probably too high for this disappointing book a good writer!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2007
The plot though rather good, could not keep my attention. Some of the characters are well written, but others, seem to drag the book down. The book does not flow and you will find yourself putting it down to do something. The story is a satire on the time when America has just handed over the Panama canal. Though I cannot believe that any agency would fall for the information that was passed on by Harry, the tailor and would be spy. Of course I read the whole book, becasue my rule is once you start ....finish it. Other wise I would have put it down. Just watch the movie.
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on 17 February 2015
this was a great and I loved reading it top marks to John. I have been reading all his books from the first one now on Single& Single all his books have been fantastic
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