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92 of 95 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Old Fashioned Spy Thriller
This is a great change in pace against normal spy books. There are no wiz bangs and gorgeous women. It just revolves around old fashioned atmosphere and storytelling.

We follow the expolits of George Smiley, one of the Cold War's heroes, as he is tasked with finding a Soviet mole imbedded within MI6. He was ousted in a shake-up following the overthrow, and...
Published on 8 Nov 2006 by J. E. Parry

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cold war espionage
I have read a few reviews that expressed problems with following the book and the reviewer had to watch the film to understand what was going on or vice versa. I can sympathise with these reviews, I had a similar experience myself when I started the book. For me, I think the problem was the straightforward narrative - plot twists don't have any big lead in or any more...
Published on 18 Mar 2012 by pigsmayfly


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars George Smiley takes on the Soviet Union, Part One, 2 Feb 2010
By 
After publishing three books with George Smiley (GS) in a major or minor role, and one spy novel without him (A Small Town in Germany), John Le Carré (JLC) produced the monumental "Karla"- trilogy with GS as the undisputed hero.
This volume, first published in 1974, is Part One of the trilogy and in this reviewer's opinion JLC's very best creation among many other masterpieces. The principal theme in the book is the search for a "mole", an inside man turned traitor, within the higher echelons of the Circus, which runs some 600 agents worldwide. There have been inexplicable failures and disappointments. Control, the nameless head of the Circus is becoming suspicious of all of his staff, at a time when his health is declining rapidly. He becomes an increasingly marginalised person, poring over piles and piles of files, when a new source managed by a man keen to take Control's place, begins to enthral Whitehall with high quality reports...
Suddenly brought out of retirement, GS attends the debriefing of a rather dubious field agent and is requested to pursue the outcomes of the interview. In utter secrecy, GS starts his campaign to find the mole, aided by the trusted Peter Guillam and Retired Inspector (Special Branch) Mendel, who appeared first in JLC's debut Call for the Dead.
What makes this book exceptional is its plot, its dialogues, its atmosphere and more than ever, its characters. Chapter One about unhappy public schoolboy Bill "Jumbo" Roach meeting ex-betrayed spy, shot in the back, Jim "Rhino" Prideaux, ranks among the greatest first chapters in spy novels, on par with Trevanian's opening of The Loo Sanction. Totally brilliant.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Spy Story Ever?, 26 April 2009
By 
Axnettle "Ax" (Norfolk, England) - See all my reviews
...Well I haven't yet read a better one. Here's why:

Every one of the key protagonists has a character fully fleshed out with weaknesses, foibles, ambitions and (at times) quiet brilliance. Control, in his last days as Chief of the Secret Service ("Circus"), desperately seeks an infiltrator at the very top of the service. The key players are progressively revealed as consummate technicians and politicians in a very unglamorous occupation. With each individual, you can see how they got where they are, despite their flaws. Further down the pecking order of traitors, cheats, losers and lost souls, the same richness of character prevails. Of George Smiley himself, set on course to uncover the "mole", enough has been written. For me, it's his humanity and vulnerability that raise this book into the stratosphere.

The storyline is dense and engaging. The structure of the deception, as Smiley peels away each layer, is elegant and convincing. The reactions of the characters as each of them is affected by the denouement, ranges from the tragic to the darkly comic. This vein of doleful humour makes this the very best of Le Carre's work (which is saying something...)

There are no whizz-bangs, little action beyond raised voices, and absolutely no glamour. However, there is intelligence, subtlety, searing emotion and a sprinkling of pathos. The balanced written style, sometimes taut and sparse, elsewhere reflective and melancholy, is in a class of its own. Enjoy (perhaps?) the best espionage book ever.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay if you know what's going on, 6 Nov 2011
By 
John Meanwood (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
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I watched Film 2011 where they said that people had watched the film and were reading the book to work out what happened. I thought I would read the book first. Unfortunately I am now going to have to watch the film to try work out what happened in the book.

Very complicated, although The Tailor of Panama by the same author is a very easy read. I would also recommend Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Adaptation, 26 Jan 2010
By 
A. McDONALD (UK) - See all my reviews
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I've been a fan of the Smiley novels for some time and (unbelievably) didn't realise that they'd all been dramatised and were being broadcast.

Luckily, I managed to get on board with this, the first of the Karla Trilogy.

I've read the book a number of times but found that there were places where this adaptation actually made some points in the book clearer than before. For example, the fact that Karla knew about Jim's briefing by Control. I was disappointed that Jerry Westerby's interview with Smiley wasn't included as this gives a good lead in to the Honourable Schoolboy (though it doesn't detract from the plot of this story).

Simon Russell Beale is superb as Smiley. Occasionally there are echoes of Guiness - however I think this is more due to the nature of the part than any attempt at impersonation (le Carre himself said that Guiness was perfect as Smiley, so anyone else playing him should bear some similarity).

I also liked the mental dialogue between Smiley and Anne, for me this was a good way to hear what went on in Smiley's head during the hunt for Guillam.

All in all, this is a very atmospheric adaptation - I loved the paranoia of the walk across London heading for the safe house in Camden - with a great cast.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - yet another classic production of this great book from the BBC, 29 Mar 2010
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
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This is the second time the BBC have adapted John Le Carre's classic spy story `Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'. The previous version was for television, and featured Alec Guinness as Smiley, in perhaps the greatest performance of his career. Nothing much to live up to then...

In this radio production, Simon Russell Beale slips into Guinness's shoes, and doesn't find them too uncomfortable. His performance does resemble Guiness, but he manages to put his own stamp on the role.

This is the fifth Smiley adaptation for radio from the BBC starring Beale. You don't need to have listened/read to any of the previous of the previos Smiley adventures to get into this. After a disastrous operation in Czechoslovakia, there has been a clear out of the top brass in British Intelligence, there is a new order and George Smiley is not part of it. But it becomes clear that there may be a Russian mole in the heart of the service, and Smiley is brought in to investigate form the outside, without the knowledge of anyone in the service.

The plot twists an turns as Smiley rakes over old files and missions in the search for evidence. Just what was it about the Czech mission that was so damaging to Control, the old head of the service? And is there a link with the solid gold intelligence source that has gifted the new head his position? Slowly Smiley gathers the evidence and pieces his case together, finally finding the weak links and setting a trap to uncover the mole.

This is a really gripping tale, in which it is easy to get totally immersed and lost. Beale is just right as Smiley, and largely carries the production. Some cuts have been made from the book, inevitable when trying to cram it into a mere 3 hours, but these do not detract, and in some cases serve to keep the narrative flowing better.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, and heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys good, thoughtful drama.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is real, isn't it?, 1 July 2009
By 
Officer Dibble (Zummerzet) - See all my reviews
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Having seen this on TV/video/DVD enough times to mouth the script, I am embarrassed to admit that I have only just read this. Despite knowing the story inside out it gripped me from start to finish.

It is so overwhelmingly real that repeatedly you feel like you are reading a factual historical account. It is so exciting. It so typifies an end of an era. A world of dinosaurs, old-school, end of Empire, of those 'trained to rule but with nothing to run'.

Haydon is a much more rounded character in the book but Sir Alec Guinness just is Smiley. One tiny, tiny niggle is that I was always slightly disappointed with the Connie Sachs and Roy Bland characters in the film and, for me, this is actually re-emphasised in the book.

Even if you have seen the TV film buy this, settle down and drift away into a quite superb world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful reading which does full justice to the novel, 21 Sep 2001
By A Customer
Having read the classic spy novel "Tinker, Tailor, Sailor, Spy",I was convinced that it could not be effectively transferred to any media besides screen. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the effective and erudite interpretation given to the tortured characters at the centre of this, perhaps one of the most poignant and "human" spy novels.
This is undoubtedly worth buying, as the reader evokes the full horror of the Cold War even more than the novel from which it is taken. Truly, it kept me awake at night.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secret service turned inside out & back again.., 8 April 2003
By 
fields21 "fields21" (Hoogerheide, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
Reading this book fills you with melancholy about the good old days of the Cold War. Le Carre writes convincly about a stumbling British civil (albeit secret) service, including the ubiquitous pompous character(s). The plot, the characters the setting, the workings of the service are all very convincing. It is great to see a desperate service fall into a trap & come out of it again.
More than a spy novel, it is a joy to read, because of its wording and its weary thoughts of some of its main characters. Also, no shoot-outs, no rockets, no submarines or deadly secret weapons: just a giant puzzle being slowly unraffled. Absolute masterpiece, utterly convincing through the human, all too human characters, their ambitions, their weaknesses.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Introspective, atmospheric spy thriller, 1 Nov 2011
By 
Joanne Sheppard "Being Obscure Clearly" (England) - See all my reviews
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For the first 100 pages of this book, even though I'd seen the film, I had very little idea what the hell was going on. There are numerous characters, many of them with more than one name, and very little indication of what their jobs might be and whether they were important. Moreover, the book is crammed with secret service jargon which is never explained. Call me stupid, but I was baffled.

However... perhaps perversely, this was actually one of the things I liked about it. The jargon and the complete lack of any practical explanation of Who's Who In Spying brings with it a feeling of real immersion in the murky, oddly down-at-heel world of George Smiley, the recently sacked intelligence officer re-recruited to dig out a mole from 'the Circus', as MI6 is known throughout the novel. After 100 pages of pleasant confusion, it suddenly clicked, and I felt as if I was eavesdropping on Smiley and his assistant Guillam as they in turn shadow the potential Circus traitors.

Written and set in the early 1970s, Tinker Tailor reads like something of a period piece now. The Cold War is very much a reality, the Iron Curtain is still solid and the idea of an office with a computer is laughable. These spies are middle-aged, largely unattractive characters, with dysfunctional personal relationships and distinctly unglamorous lifestyles - Prideaux, dismissed from the Circus after being unmasked and shot in Czechoslovakia, teaches at a shabby prep school and lives in a caravan. Smiley spends much of the novel hiding out at a seedy hotel where the proprietor's adult son listens at the doors of honeymoon couples. James Bond this ain't; Spooks this even ain'ter. There's very little action as such, Smiley being an introspective, thoughtful introvert rather than a man who chases around London waving guns, and the whole novel is bleak, pessimistic and ever so slightly grubby. These are real spies, who use dead letter drops and microfilm and miniature cameras and secret codes, and position single hairs over door jambs to ascertain if someone has entered secretly and speak fluent Czech.

And I loved it. I couldn't put it down. Perhaps because every character is so vivid and believable, and perhaps because it's just so much more than a spy novel. It's a novel about obsession, about betrayal, about futility, and the gradual drip-drip effect one one's psyche of having to trust nobody and largely living a lie. Smiley himself is unable to rid himself of his nagging fixation with Karla, his opposite number at the KGB; in a series of flashbacks, we learn how a sick, feverish Smiley had the opportunity to recruit Karla as a defector in India once but simply ended up pouring out his marriage woes - and indeed, Smiley is still being humiliated by his wife's indiscretions. Smiley's failed marriage becomes inextricably entwined with his attempts to uncover the Circus mole, and a strong sense of melancholy prevails throughout. I adored this book, it was almost a wrench to leave Smiley's Cold War world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy Classic, 10 Aug 2011
By 
Syriat - See all my reviews
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I wanted to read this before the Hollywood version is released and I haven't seen the BBC TV adaptation either. What I have read though is a classic book that not only gives a portrait of Spying at the time (allegedly) but also of London and the shrinking Britain struggling in a post empire environment.

The premise is simple. A spy exists in the circus (named after its location in central London). Someone needs to brought in from the outside to identify the spy. George Smiley, having recently left the service under a cloud, is that person. What follows is a look back to why Smiley left and uncovering the spy. Its densely plotted and you need to pay attention. It is not an airport novel that you can just flick through. Its depiction of seventies London is striking in comparison to the modernity of London now. It really does evoke the place it used to be and the way people used to be.

The ending is satisfying and makes you want to real the other two following novels. It certainly delivers it fair share of twists. It does use trade terms sometimes which can be confusing and yes you do have to keep up and sometimes re-read a passage or flick back. However, its well worth the effort and is rightly hailed as a classic
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