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The Tailor of Panama

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  7,423 ratings  ·  387 reviews

Le Carré's Panama—the young country of 2.5 million souls which, on December 31, 1999, will gain full control of the Panama Canal—is a Casablanca without heroes, a hotbed of drugs, laundered money and corruption.

Seldom has the weight of global politics descended so heavily on such a tiny and unprepared nation. And seldom has the hidden eye of British Intelligence selected s

Hardcover, 332 pages
Published October 14th 1996 by Knopf
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
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The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
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Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies, fiction
This is best book about bullshit I’ve ever read. It is a wonderfully dry satire on Britain’s inept attempts to overreach itself in foreign affairs. The setting is Panama in the late 1990s and the fate of the canal is a hot topic of discussion. Back in Britain, a shadowy cabal decides that a new listening post should be opened there, so they select a fleshy twentisomething public school boy for the job. Of course they do. Andrew Osnard, as he is called, arrives in Panama and recruits a tailor nam ...more
George K. Ilsley
Apr 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
i have enjoyed previous spy thrillers by John le Carre, so perhaps it was just me, and my distracted circumstances while reading this book, but I found it to be dull and rather a slog. Somehow I forced myself to finish it, imagining that it had to get better. It did not.
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book had me in stitches. Yes, le Carre can be very funny.

Aside from this book being hilarious I was caught by the story and wanted to finish it quickly. I also enjoyed the way how le Carre employed spycraft in this story.

If you need a thrilling humour break, give this story a go.

Jan 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: spy, dnf
When I was younger, I almost never left unfinished a book that I once started reading. Even if it bored me completely and I didn't like it at all. I think it was because of school reading, which was often boring but I still had to read it. At the age of fifteen, I went with my mother for a two-week vacation abroad. No one had heard about kindle back then and we took only two books with us. One of them was by John le Carré. I read the second one in the first two days, what left me with twelve day ...more
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Between February 2017 and September 2017 I read the entire George Smiley series. Having reached the end of the series, I was left wondering about John le Carré's life and work, and whether to read other books by him, and so I read ‘John le Carré: The Biography’ by Adam Sisman in April 2018. ‘John le Carré: The Biography’ convinced me I should probably read everything John le Carré has ever written, and so it was I came to 'The Tailor Of Panama' (1996) my first non-Smiley JLC book.

It is very cle
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
At the end of The Tailor Of Panama John Le Carré acknowledges his debt to a previous work that presented a similar theme, Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana. Both books are about the oxymoron that we call intelligence, so often self-contradictory because the label is only useful when there’s a lack of it. Such gaps need to be filled, and when we don’t have sufficient material it might be necessary to invent a little, just to keep everyone happy. And such is the plot of The Tailor Of Panama, who c ...more
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: lecarre-spy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dee Green
Jan 03, 2011 rated it did not like it
I have been on a spy-thriller kick for a little while now. I wanted to read some of Le Carre's books, but they are mostly not available on the Kindle. I was in a used book store and found several of his novels cheap. I decided to "slum" it and read a real book. When trying to decide which book I found a recommendation online that listed The Tailor of Panama as one of Le Carre's top 4 books. If this is one of his best, I'd hate to read the ones not on the list. This book was bad! There did not se ...more
Apr 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: greene party members

Chance Favors The Prepared Mind - Pascal

Not a suspense / espionage in the regular le Carré mode, but a satire of same, and an expansive, elaborate novel at that. Since the demise of the Cold War this author has been casting around for another conflict to narrate, and I'm not sure le Carré has ever allowed himself to be this carried away by his characters and their dramatic entanglements.

That being said, there is an enormous asterisk here. The story of a bourgeois merchant-class civilian who is
Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently watched mark Lawson's BBC4 interview with Le Carre and this book was referenced by the writer as one of his favourites. What is interesting in this book is Le Carre's ability to develop an initially comic situation within a few chapters into a story about vanity and greed. It demonstrates how a lie develops through the wishes of the intelligence service and media interests into the premise for an invasion. The story itself pitches a newly appointed spy sent to Panama , Andy Osnard, in ...more
Nov 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Yet another Le Carre novel that knocks the spots off so many others I pick up in the average year, borne by the relentless characterisations that gradually shake off the disbelief and draw you in completely to the story being told. What begins as a not very credible collection of near comic caricatures grows into some sort of reality while allowing the plot to strain at the limits of believability, anchored by the thoughts and actions of the principle protagonists. I didn’t warm to the Tailor th ...more
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: espionage, fiction
Let's just say that I'm very glad that John le Carre is a man who likes to tell stories. I will be scouring used book stores for more of his work now that I've been introduced to his witty and intelligent writing style. I prefer vintage dust jackets - I think they look great on my bookshelves. I picture le Carre as a lapels turned up sort of guy - a guy that can hail a cab with a mere wave of his hand.

Yeah, I've found a new favorite author. I loved the mix of characters, some I liked and others
Clark Gudas
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
So long and unbelievably complex. I could follow the action reasonably well but it wasn't easy or very enjoyable. It wasn't a bad plot, just very verbose, and my lack of understanding Panamanian politics didn't help either =P ...more
Aug 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
I probably picked the wrong book to read as my first Le Carré spy novel, as I'm know there are many "classic" Le Carré novels that are probably more representative, but I still enjoyed this book quite a bit. I knew to expect moral complexities, of course, and a slightly jaundiced and world-weary outlook. Obviously, Le Carré is working in the tradition of Graham Greene here.

What I hadn't expected, though, was how mordantly funny Le Carré can be, not in an overt but in a subtle way. There's satir
This was quite an enjoyable reading, even though spying and international intrigue is not among my favourite genres. But I had this book lying around for too long and decided I had to read it before letting it go again through Bookcrossing, which is where it came from. One of the things I found very interesting is how the core of the story of The Tailor of Panama remains so up-to-date: intelligence services from developed countries looking for new purposes by messing around in the third world, a ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently read a lovely, hilarious piece on Popula in praise of le Carré, particularly his semi-indecipherability and how that is, in fact, a feature and not a bug of his work. (Here's that link:

This one is a great look at bullshitters managing to ride the whip for as long as they can. Pendel is a world-class creation, absolutely delightful, and watching him dig himself a hole (and then learning that everyone else is also digging away, for themselves an
Jul 22, 2013 rated it liked it
I was thoroughly (and possibly unfairly) disappointed by Tailor of Panama. It's almost a bridge in subject matter between le Carre's spectacular Cold war books (the Smiley novels, etc) which he does very well, and the machinations of multinational corporations (Constant Gardener), which he also tells very well. In Tailor of Panama, le Carre describes the post-Cold War era when the Service was searching for a new purpose by messing around in third world countries, and his writing is a little mess ...more
A tailor living in Panama reluctantly becomes a spy for a British Agent.

A movie was made based on this book, with Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Confabulation in Central America-classic Le Carré tale of colonial incompetence.
Lisabet Sarai
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I continue to believe that John le Carre is one of the most underrated authors in contemporary fiction. Typically dismissed as an author of "spy fiction", le Carre in fact writes novels with unforgettable characters that address serious moral issues and lay bare the distortions and hypocrisies practiced by every government - the "good" guys as well as the "bad".

The Tailor of Panama pushes this even further. Though the book is ostensibly about the British intelligence service, there's no dastardl
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: espionage
I have yet to read Graham Greene’s famous spy satire Our Man in Havana, but I’m familiar with the premise and am well aware that John Le Carré is aping it here. He’s having a blast splattering colored paint on the immaculately white walls of British imperialism. Until he remembers that these characters have stories, hearts and lives too.

That’s what makes The Tailor of Panama so fascinating. Transparently a satire of western intelligence work, Le Carré also paints vivid portraits of characters wh
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
A spy novel about confusion, this is one that will confound many. There is nothing in this book of any substance, but rather and intelligence officer puts the screws too tight on a man who likes to tell stories and exaggerate and the agency puts too much faith in the agent. The result is that everyone gets what they want a little too well, the storyteller gets to tell his stories, the spy gets to hear them and the agency gets that chance to grasp for power they've seen slipping out of their fing ...more
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
My first Le Carre book struck me with the high quality of writing. The characters were idiosyncratic and believable as was the larger political intrigue, great read!
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
*chef kissing fingers*
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
At least as much satire as serious spy novel, it is full of subtle humor and irony. The protagonist, Harry Pendel, is a tailor to the rich, well healed, and politically connected in Panama. In dire financial straights because of a bad investment of his wife's money in a rice farm and blackmailed/pressured by his hidden past, Pendel is recruited to spy on Panamanian political developments. As his spy work progresses, Harry is increasingly pressured to come up with more detailed and significant in ...more
Clif Hostetler
Apr 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
I listened to the audio of this book in the early 2000s before my days so I didn't write my own review. The following is from the November 2004 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar. The main thing I remember from the book is that it was difficult to follow what was going on. I'm not sure I really understood the story.

THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, by John Le Carré (Ballantine Books, 2001), There ought to be a new way to express “double cross,” if only for the sake of John Le Carré novels. In
Nov 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: good-fiction
Here is a wonderful plot which goes substantially underused because of the point(s) of view used by the author.

Given his background Mr le Carre narrates an extraordinarily good political manipulation story from the viewpoints of its perpetrators. The author is comfortable discussing the lives, the methods, the thinkings of sleuths and people they encounter - as long as most are British. The same story could have been told much better with the plot as the backdrop, its perpetrators as some of the
Jun 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: pulp-novels
The first of le Carre's novels that I have tried, this one was OK. Set in Panama, a local tailor to the wealthy and powerful with a penchant for pleasant meaningless conversation and a prior criminal background becomes a spy for an avaricious young britian. Largely he creates fantastical plots for his spymaster which ultimately culminates in an US invasion.
Although it was written better than 10 years ago, it harkens to recent events that led to the Iraqi innvasion on a mad hunt for WMDs which
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
This could be one of the most boring books I've ever attempted to get in to. I used to be pigheadedly determined to finish the books I'd started, but after trawling through 9 books of The Wheel of Time, I realised that life is too short to read bad fiction.

Anyway, 100 pages in and NOTHING HAPPENED. And I cared not for the characters that nothing was happening to, so I'm out.
Isca Silurum
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Seemed at times a parody to me.

Maybe I'm just dim.
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John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), was an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré had resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owned a mile of cliff close to Land's End. ...more

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“And we dress, sir --?" he murmured, feeling Osnard's gaze burning the nape of his neck. "Most of my gentlemen seem to favour left these days. I don't think it's political."
This was his standard joke, calculated to raise a laugh even with the most sedate of his customers. Not with Osnard apparently.
"Never know where the bloody thing is. Bobs about like a windsock," he replied dismissively.”
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