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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on 7 June 2001
For readers new to le Carre(and there can't be many)this is the third of what has become known as the "karla series".The previous two being "tinker,tailor,soldier, spy" and the herioc and romantic "honorable schoolboy"(highly reccomended too).The third sees much of the same cast collected again.You meet clever and dodgy Toby Esterhazy,the valient and niave Peter Guillam,a forgoten Russian General, an intelligence pimp,a collection of 2 dimensional whitehall twits as a foil,and as always a most humane cast of extras.The most humane being the conscience wracked George Smiley himself.As for villians you have the afformentioned whitehall boys, a convincing KGB thug and a villian of Moriaty proportion in Karla;Smileys foe for many years.The plot?Smiley is brought back once again from retirement to fight against his old enemy.A fight both personal and patriotic.It is the height of the cold war,his brief is strictly unofficial and he calls in favours and friends as his allies(thus the title).The locations?Paris,the bleakest Germany you have ever met,a sumptious Switzerland and of course grey,beaurocratic London.The drama?Betrayal.Le Carre's constant theme.Of wives,country,friendships and finally of the morality that has sustained Smiley through the long years of the cold war. Its a great read.Le Carre at his peak(though the semi autobiographical "a perfect spy" deserves a mention).If you haven't read the two others you can read this one alone. Wonder aloud afterwards how Deighton and co. can hold their head up in public.Le Carre is another world of thriller writers.I recomend you read all three but this one is one of the best you will ever read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Set in the murky world of cold war spies, this brings the duel between George Smiley and 'Karla', his Russian nemesis and alter ego, to a suitably ambivalent ending.

If you've never read Le Carre before then it's worth being aware that he creates a deeply atmospheric but fundamentally bureacratic world for his spies, with none of the glamour some other books create. His stories are always intricate and detailed but there is little backstory or exposition, and hardly any explanation or introduction to the people who live in these pages. I know some people have struggled with that aspect of Le Carre's style but it is worth persevering as these are deeply emotional books, all the better for the restraint with which they are written.

As always, in this book the past interpenetrates the present in all kinds of ways, and the parallels between Smiley himself and Karla are drawn tighter than in the earlier volumes.

One of the qualities which lifts Le Carre out of the genre spy-thriller category is the tightness of his writing, the lack of self-indulgence and the deep humanity of the characters he creates, on both side of the Communist divide. In line with the murkiness of the world he depicts is a distinct lack of moral or ideological superiority on the part of the 'west', a trait of which no-one is more (self)-aware than Smiley himself.

Like another reviewer here I loved Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but found The Honourable Schoolboy not quite as good. You could probably skip that and go straight to Smiley's People for a really taut read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
George Smiley is called out of retirement when an old operative called the General is murdered on Hampstead Heath. Initially requested to make sure that there is nothing that could tie the death to the Circus (which now finds itself prone to government whims), Smiley discovers that the General had claimed to have intelligence that could change the game between the west and the Soviet Union and enable him to finally defeat his old enemy, Karla. What follows is Smiley's delicate unravelling of the information that the General had obtained, a journey that will take him from Britain to West Germany, France and Switzerland and which will see him reunite with old colleagues, including Toby Esterhase, Peter Guillam and Saul Enderby.

One of the all-time great spy thrillers, Le Carre effortlessly weaves his storylines together, switching between Smiley's investigations and Madame Ostrakova's innocent trigger of the unfolding events. Smiley is a brilliant character - devoted to the Circus and loyal to the people who worked for him and yet not blind to their faults - a man in control of his emotions and yet unable to control his feelings about his wife Anne and her innumerable affairs. Indeed, Anne's affair with Bill Haydon lingers like a spectre over the events of the book with Smiley remaining unable to forgive her and seeking revenge for Karla's instigation of it.

Written in 1980 and set in the same period, it's fascinating to read of a time before mobile phones and computer technology were prevalent. The spies here rely on their memories and their instincts and luck plays as much a part as hard work.

There are some wonderful scenes in the book as Smiley follows up on old colleagues. His scene with the broken Connie is poignant and touching but there is also room for dark humour, such as his first encounter with the fearful Madame Ostrakova and moments of humanity, such as Smiley's scenes with Tatiana. The tension never eases up for a moment and its given such authenticity that you never question whether this could have happened.

This is a must-read book written by an author in complete control of his subject matter and ability.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First published in 1979, this is the ninth book from the pen of Le Carre, and the eighth to feature his most famous creation George Smiley. It was written as Alec Guinness was appearing as Smiley on television in the BBC's epic `Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', and Le Carre was so impressed with the performance that he here subtly changes certain aspects of his own depiction of Smiley to better reflect Guinness' TV persona.

Following form Tinker and the Honourable schoolboy, this is the triumphant conclusion to the Karla trilogy. The second book in the trilogy, the overbloated and at times tedious Honourable Schoolboy was a bit of a let down, but I am pleased to report that this book finds Le Carre on his top form, with a gripping tale and tight plot that really nethralls.

Smiley is summoned out of retirement to rake over the traces when an old Circus contact is found dead. The powers that be are concerned that there is no scandal attached to the Circus, and ask Smiley, as the last of his generation, to tidy up the legacy of that generation. Smiley starts to look over the last days of the General, and soon finds a trail that leads to very dark places. Does he quietly tidy up as he has been asked, or does he use the knowledge gathered to settle some long standing scores and lay many old ghosts to rest?

It's a brilliantly constructed and told tale. Smiley is aided and abetted by many old faces from his past, as he tries to resolve the big unresolved question from his time at the Circus. Le Carre draws each of them beautifully, and I often felt that these were real people and that I was in the room with them. Toby Esterhase in particular makes a great impression in this book. I also liked the character of Herr Kretzschmar, the morally dubious but fundamentally decent man who goes a long way `for the sake of friendship'.

The story falls into two main sections. In the first, and longest, Smiley quietly and carefully investigates the last days of the General, locating clues and unravelling a tangled skein. Once he has all the pieces of the puzzle he is then ale to be proactive, to set up a cunning scheme that may lead to redemption for him and his generation. The second part of the tale is a tense and nerve-wracking read as his scheme comes to a climax. It's a 5 star book of excellently crafted paranoid spy games.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 October 2012
Holiday plans behind the former Iron Curtain sparked my interest in spy-novels, and so I left for Leipzig with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,The Honourable Schoolboy, and 'Smiley's people' in my luggage. The first two pleased my so immensely I couldn't wait to start reading this one, the final part in the trilogy of George Smiley's battle with the Soviet spymaster Karla. And I'm glad to say the (very) high hopes I had were not disappointed! I even think that 'Smiley's people' is - admittedly by a small margin - perhaps the best of the three in my personal opinion.

First of all, it has, just like the earlier parts in the trilogy, simply everything I've come to expect in a Le Carré novel: brimming with intrigues, ploys and counter-ploys, loads of suspense, a very tight plot that keeps you wandering what'll happen next, brilliant dialogues and characterization, ... But what makes 'Smiley's people' stand out for me is George Smiley himself and how powerfully he is portrayed by Le Carré as perhaps the very opposite of the kind of man we often think of when we think of spies. Smiley's old, slightly overweight, retired, divorced, and in doubt if all he's ever done in his Secret Service career was actually worthwhile. But when a former agent is murdered and the trail leads to Karla, Smiley cannot help but give chase once again, and devote all his experience and intelligence to this final duel. Le Carré describes Smiley's painful private life in such a powerful way that to me this novel is much more a poignant portrait of a man who happens to be a spy, rather than a spy who happens to have personal problems.

Whoever said spy-novels aren't Literature with a capital 'L'?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2010
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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2010
In retrospect it seems odd that I'd never read this book before since I've always been a big fan of Le Carre & especially his earlier Smiley books - Call for the Dead, A murder of Quality & , of course, Tinker Tailor. I think I was slightly put off by the TV adaptation, which I found slightly disappointing compared to the TV version of Tinker Tailor (which is in my top 3 TV series of all time). Another reason may have been that when I read The Honourable Schoolboy (some 20 years ago) I found it rather hard work & again slightly disappointing after Tinker Tailor (the book), & assumed that Smiley's People would be more of the same.
All the recent publicity about Le Carre made me think I really ought to give it a go now & as a prelude I re-read The Honourable Schoolboy, which I enjoyed immensely 2nd time around. Then I opened Smiley's People & had one of the most pleasurable surprises of my literary life - it was absolutely rivetting ! The first 100 odd pages had me completely mesmerised & I just wanted the story to go on & on & never stop. This is writing of the highest order, dialogue, characters & plot all blending in a seamless & seemingly effortless yet tantalizing fashion. It is without doubt & comfortably the best of his works that I have read & goes easily in to my list of all time favourite books by any author.
It seems pointless trying to describe what the book is actually about since all you really need to know is that, as the title suggests, it involves George Smiley & some of his old Circus chums having their last hoorah. If you want to know more then just read the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2007
In this John le Carre novel we have the final confrontation between George Smiley and Karla, his long time nemesis. This is my first book by the author and I did not feel like I was starting in the middle. So you do not need to read the two that precede it. This is not just a spy novel, but also a well-written book. And the author is able to allow us to have a strong sense of picturing the characters. They are well thought out and three-dimensional.

Our hero George Smiley is brought out of retirement by some antics and death of an old retired contact. And we follow Mr. Smiley as he works to solve the case or close it any way he can. Of course George Smiley does his utmost to solve it. And it is this journey he takes that leads us to his old time foe from the Soviet Union, Karla.

Smiley does not seem like a spy, but his methods, instincts and powers of observations are exceptional. But what any person attuned to his surroundings would have. It is nice to have a normal human hero. One who shoes us his range of emotions and thought process. And the realistic ending. Yes it may seem anticlimactic. But I prefer the realism of it all.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2001
To my mind "Smiley's people" is the quint-essentially English spy novel. It has a fascinating many-stranded story that slowly builds into something special.
The story focuses on George Smiley (The main character from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") as he tries to track down his old nemesis - the Russian spy-master Karla. But we meet many interesting characters, and visit many diverse locations on the way.
In this book, we are as far removed from James Bond fantasy as it's possible to get. (Think of be-spectacled men in grey suits drinking tea and pouring over dusty old Whitehall files - and you'll have more of the right idea).
Does this mean that it's dull and boring then? Far from it:-
It is a brilliantly written mixture of detective investigation, espionage, and character study which builds slowly but surely to a wonderfully understated yet perfect conclusion.
If you're a fan of the genre (or even just of a good book) - don't miss it.
Mph.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2012
I came to Le Carre through the TV series and was keen to see how the adaptation had been done and what if anything might have been missed. Well, the book is an excellent attention holding read which takes you into Smiley's character more than even Sir Alec was able to in the TV series.

The descriptions of the times and the potentially fruitless nature of the spying business is beautifully laid out and the general grime of the business also. I would content that the descriptions of Switzerland just draw the reader in so mutch that you are almost there in the cafe with Smiley

The only slight bolt for me was a rather flabby section where Smiley visits Connie - an edit of that section would - for me - have tidied up the section

Read and enjoy
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