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4.8 out of 5 stars114
4.8 out of 5 stars
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 9 January 2007
Trying to choose John le Carre's finest is hard, but I think this might just be it.

The characters are drawn with le Carre's usual economy and wit. The dialogue is, as ever, outstandingly satisfying. The atmosphere is tense. The story is beautifully paced.

Beyond this, though, is le Carre's wonderful touch in granting George Smiley his triumph - the capture of his arch-enemy Karla - as an empty victory, bereft of moral foundations.

The persistence of George Smiley in drawing (bullying?) his old colleagues out of their enforced retirement and the secret in Karla's life which will undo him show Smiley's dark side in the face of his obsession, and Karla's essential and unavoidable humanity.

A thumping good story and some profound moral questions between two covers.

For me, this is as good as fiction gets.
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on 28 February 2013
This is a real master-piece. Extremely well written, full of subtlety, emminantly plausible, something to be savoured and reread.
The thrill comes from well constructed drama, with a firm basis in human nature, and certainly no improbabe twist-at-the-end.
The characters don't just act to push the plot forward, with set-pieces that you might expect, such as where one character explains something to another simply for the reader's benefit. Here the characters do what people do, and the reader is the observer putting the pieces together. Nothing superfluous, nothing improbable, and no coincidences.
Apart from this I also recommend The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2003
The final book in the Smiley Versus Karla cycle is told in a clear, entertaining way with a surperb cast and top notch BBC production value.
The story: George Smiley is called out of retirement to investigate the death of one of "the Circus's" former agents- right in there own back yard! This one murder starts a ball rolling that can only end with the capture of Karla, the KGB demon, or the utter disgrace of George Smiley.
Bernard Hepton returns as Smiley, and I'd settle for no less! Hepton brings to radio's Smiley everything that Sir Alec Guiness brought to the television version. The quality I've always admired about Smiley is the way he is willing to help the very people who have betrayed him throughout his life- which seems to be everyone at one time or another. Hepton is able to portray this quality combined with the wonderful dignity that an honorable man would have.
The dramatisation is admirably handled by Rene Basilico. John Fawcett Wilson handles the production with great skill as well. SMILEY'S PEOPLE is a complex story that has been told in an approachable, entertaining way. Let us hope that all of John le Carre's books will be adapted someday.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Smiley's People" is the third and final book in British spymeister John LeCarre's outstanding cold war trilogy. It opens with one of the author's thrilling set pieces in Paris, and closes with another, a white-knuckle scene at the Berlin wall. In between, it neatly wraps up the epic struggle between George Smiley, British spy; and his Russian Moriarty, Karla, who is described by one of his underlings in this book as "the head of the independent Thirteenth Intelligence Directorate, subordinated to the Party's Central Committee, who is known throughout Centre only by his workname Karla. This is a woman's name and is said to belong to the first network he controlled."

The book is a compendium of LeCarre's great virtues as a novelist: his first-hand experience of spycraft; his witty, terse writing; his ability to fashion complex, yet clear plots; to create a Dickensian canvas's worth of individual, recognizable characters, and to provide them with sharp dialogue. It also, as many of his later books do, pays great attention to the characters' language. At one point the author writes, "Saul Enderby drawled in that lounging Belgravia cockney which is the final vulgarity of the English upper class." "Smiley's" brings back many characters from the earlier books; Smiley, Enderby and Karla, of course. Also Peter Guillam, now newly-married and preggers; Connie Sachs, settled down for her final innings with a lesbian lover; Doc de Salis, Inspector Mendel, Toby Esterhase, Sam Collins. It also, at last, brings Smiley's eternally beautiful and unfaithful wife Ann on stage for the first time.

The book is, of course, based on the real-life hunt for the actual counterspy, or "mole," to quote LeCarre's coinage, in Britain's MI6: that would be the actual Kim Philby, who, before he defected to Russia in 1963, had blown the behind-the Iron Curtain LeCarre, working there under his real name, David Cornwell. At any rate, Smiley is out of favor again and forcibly retired -- as are his friends-- when the book opens. One of Karla's Russian hoods approaches Mme. Ostrakova in Paris: the Soviet Union has decided to give her long lost daughter Alexandra an exit visa so she can join her mother in the West. Ostrakova has only to do the paperwork. Smiley comes to learn about this after the murder of a friend/former spy of his. The English spy, with his lifetime of experience, realizes that Karla is behaving in an irregular manner that may finally enable the British to bring him down. Smiley plots his course, making what the Hungarian refugee Esterhase calls his "flucht nach vorn," which, the author tells us, nobody can translate except in the most literal sense as an "escape forward." In his unravelling of the mystery of Karla's behavior, Smiley returns to the German-speaking world where he was educated, his longtime second home: Berne, Switzerland, Hamburg, Germany, and eventually, Berlin and its menacing wall.

Karla had set a mole-- a term LeCarre invented, meaning a spy put within a sensitive organization, in deep cover, not to be activated until the time matures-- within the circus, the fictional name LeCarre assigned the British secret service. This mole had nearly destroyed the circus, and Smiley's marriage, as well. In the final struggle between these two dedicated men, Smiley comes to realize that any triumph over Karla will not be without cost. "On Karla has descended the curse of Smiley's compassion; on Smiley the curse of Karla's fanaticism."
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on 5 March 2013
I like John le Carré's spy stories and this one is a favourite. I bought it as a Kindle book and it will sit on my Kindle as a favourite to dip into again and again. I know this book well and I like it too much to be able to give it an unbiased review. Taken in conjunction with "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", it is superb. Just remember to read the latter first!

If you haven't read it, you have a treat in store!
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on 11 June 2014
I've admired the BBC version and enjoyed it on screen so it was time to read the book. This is superbly crafted and written so that even I could follow the ins and outs of the complicated plot. I spent some time archiving the final Berlin Bridge on Google Images. The BBC use the wrong bridge in the film, but the atmosphere is captured, as it is in the novel. Both complement each other and both are worth having.
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on 13 December 2014
I have been thinking of reading this novel for years. Maybe all the years of built up expectations meant a touch of anti climax was inevitable. Great writing, old school spy thriller. But a tad dull in places and overindulgent with Smiley and his rumination.

For those born in the 80s and can still remember the Cold War, old world spy v spy, will love this. For others, it may be too slow paced.
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on 6 November 2013
Characters and personalities well drawn. Complex, interesting plot.
Geographical, political and social variety.
Very good writing.
(Protagonists et al and story very well represented and told in BBC TV series, but
I recommend reading before viewing.)

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on 16 September 2015
What's not to like? The usual superb plotting and atmospherics make this another John le Carre masterpiece - in fact I'm currently thinking it's top two-ish (vying for no. 1 with the book and BBC treatment of 'Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy'). Will be re-re-reading repeatedly...
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on 30 March 2013
This book, made into a TV series in the 1980's and more recently into a film is the classic spy novel. Written by a man who spent his early working life in the Foreign Office it has all the gritty pathos of the real spying world and the depth of writing is excellent!
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