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5.0 out of 5 stars Smiley’s People: John Le Carre, unabridged reading by Michael Jayston – Many heads under one hat..., 13 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Smiley's People (BBC Audiobooks) (Audio CD)
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.

I have eulogised about Michael Jayston's narrations a few times before, especially those that he has done for the Adam Dalgleish stories, but here he raises his usually high game to a new level in this unabridged reading. It probably helps that he co-starred in the late seventies TV production of Tinker that starred Alec Guinness. His delivery here is an absolute joy. With the merest light inflection of his voice he differentiates the myriad of different characters. In a stroke of genius he makes Smiley sound a lot like Guinness, with a very calm and reassuring tone. He narrates with a real feel for the rhythm of the book, and captures the atmosphere as the crisis is reached. It's a joy to listen to, and the hours just fly by. On twelve discs it is nearly 14.5 hours long. The discs are in a spindle case. Liner notes are limited.

A great reading of a great book. 5 stars.
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Victor
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Location: Hull, England

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