Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy discussion


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Good first Le Carre book to read.

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message 1: by Matt (last edited Jun 03, 2013 11:26PM) (new) - added it

Matt Where is a good place to start with his books? I've seen the movies of Tinker Tailor and Constant Gardener and loved them both, but I'd rather go into one of his books fresh because I'd rather not know what's going to happen. Should the Smiley books be read in order?


Philip Although the books are self-contained I would suggest you read them in order as the history might get confusing, there are other stories not just the George Smiley narrative. I have enjoyed all his books, if I had half his skill I might sell a few more books.


message 3: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon I agreee. Read the Smiley books in order. The 1st one is Call For the Dead. He has only a minor role in "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" (my favorite Le Carre book)


message 4: by Feliks (last edited Aug 06, 2013 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks Certainly and without doubt, John LeCarre' is best enjoyed when read in precise order of publishing. I mention this many times in my GR reviews and comments wherever his works are discussed. Its the very best way to appreciate his career accomplishment.

Le Carre weaves clues, insights and characters back-and-forth across his series of novels...in a way you won't find done anywhere else in espionage. In straightforward dramatic novels; I've seen it done memorably by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh writes about a community of 'recurring' people, as LeCarre does.

Anyway, many other writers can achieve this same intricate excellence within the chapters and pages of any one single novel they've concocted; where characters come and go; disappear and re-appear. But Le Carre is (I think) the only writer who structures novels which unfold into other novels based on scraps of moot, forgettable minutiae found in his cast of characters. He introduces a minor figure in one book --a camero appearance, as it were--but later that character is rewarded with a story entirely his own.

On the surface his titles all read as richly as any standalone, self-contained spy story would. But only in the Smiley Saga do the most subtle, minor conversation or gesture later invoke and propel new plots of their own, novels of their own, references of their own in works written much later in his career. Its his hallmark.

I've often wondered why all this kind of thing became John Le Carre's especial trait. Was it because his espionage tales were necessarily steeped in so much detail to begin with; that finishing one book --publishing it--and dispensing with it; still cleverly provides a background for a further extension of the tale a decade later? Did he knowingly plan it this way; did he deliberately set out to take advantage of this? Or was it more the case that --when he plots a new story--he simply finds he can neatly knit it together with the merest hint or allusion he happened to insert in a book twenty years previous; when he was just starting out? Its adroit as hell.

When you read one of his later works and stumble over one of these juxtapositions, it is an amazing sensation. Its as if you can watch his brain at work; as he plots his puzzles; and follow his train of thought over a series of years. His characters and their inner thoughts and reflections stretch out naturally--just as they do in living people--over time. We partake of their remembrances in the same way we would from close family members. Remember, we are following Smiley's career along as he gradually becomes aware that someone deeply close to him in a Soviet mole. In this kind of writing, you live right up alongside character psychology: you're reading a work on two levels right from the start (external/internal) and then this third dimension is added: Le Carre's own inner mental processes. It rivals Lawrence Durrell!

In any case..for the reader, the choice is clear. Pick up the earliest Le Carre; work your way forward and pay attention to every nuance; because they will thrill you later when they re-emerge unexpectedly.

And of course the other pleasure is to watch his technical craft as a writer improve and grow with each new success. You will be bowled over by 'Tinker, Tailor' --as a novel--but when you push past that and arrive at 'Honourable Schoolboy' you will be cheering and roaring in your chair; at that point Le Carre is near-Dickensian in his command, surety, and polish.


message 5: by Matt (last edited Jun 04, 2013 02:12PM) (new) - added it

Matt Wow. Thanks for that long thought-out answer. Does reading in publication order go for his stand-alone novels as well as his Smiley ones?


message 6: by Feliks (last edited Jun 04, 2013 02:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks You're welcome. His stand-alone works...well, everything which is 'stand-alone' UP TO & INCLUDING, 'The Little Drummer Girl' I would also read in order, yes. But only for the last-mentioned reason I cited in my previous post. In this case its not about plotting and carrying-over of plots; but about watching his writing skills develop.

That's of interest for some people, maybe for you too--I don't know. he's such a fascinating author that I decided to stay consecutive. For instance, 'the Naive & Sentimental Lover'--a lot of people would leave that out since its not a spy work--but I found it worthwhile nevertheless.

Anyway, after 'Drummer'; yes, you could probably read in random order and it won't much matter. Cheers


Kenneth Certainly don't start with Tinker Tailor. It's a great book but too complex for an introduction. I would say The spy who came in from the cold is a good place to start.


message 8: by Feliks (last edited Jun 09, 2013 06:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks Can't! If one doesn't at least read 'Call for the Dead' first; crucial elements of 'Spy Who' will be inarticulate and cryptic. Knowing the details of Mundt's phone call to Fennan are vital!

And if you also skip over the early, very minor mystery tale 'A Murder of Quality' which Smiley appears in; you never get the full measure of his meek but resolute character; you never see the mousy role which he occupies within the larger body of his professional community; thus, you never fully enjoy--later on--when he rises to the head of his agency. All those nuances and gestures and carefully chosen conversations to follow; would be lacking his true personality.


message 9: by Matt (new) - added it

Matt I just ordered a book with both Call for the Dead and Murder of Quality in it. Looking forward to reading it!


message 10: by Feliks (last edited Jun 11, 2013 09:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks Huzzah! You did the right thing! I envy you this first-time reading experience. Make sure you set aside some quiet time with no distractions to delve into these two. My god! When you get to "Spy Who" you will see the wisdom of my advice. When you start out slowly and deliberately like this, (with le Carre) you are in for a treat. You are able to witness the development of the best writer of our era, step by step. You will see how he painstakingly creeps out of the staid 'mystery' genre and sets himself apart from all of his peers. Book by book! People forget that initially, there wasn't that much to distinguish him. Its astounding to watch his humble beginnings, when you later realize the huge impact he wreaks. Don't get discouraged if--in these first two books--its slow going. Your patience will be well-rewarded. Its a master-class in writing development! He blows the doors right off the hinges with "Spy Who"!


message 11: by Rhea (new)

Rhea I am about to start reading the 2 in 1 book, Call For the Dead and A Murder of Quality. I've been meaning to get acquainted with John Le Carre but wasn't quite sure where to start. It only makes sense to go from the beginning and see how he evolves. Thank you for your comments, I'm excited to see where this goes!


Feliks Bravo! But you can set aside 'A Murder of Quality'. It is only incidental. It is a murder mystery; yes Smiley is asked to help solve it but it is purely a 'personal matter'. It has nothing to do with espionage or spying.

You will lose nothing if you skip it; however if you become fascinated with the Smiley character then it is always available for you to go back and re-read.


Kenneth Feliks wrote: "You're welcome. His stand-alone works...well, everything which is 'stand-alone' UP TO & INCLUDING, 'The Little Drummer Girl' I would also read in order, yes. But only for the last-mentioned reason ..."
The Naive and sentimental lover is a fantastic book. It shows what Le Carre does best, the characters and the relationships. Because there is no background of espionage it is easier to see this in TN&SL The world of the intelligence services are just the backdrop to most of the stories. What makes the books jump up and bite you are the characters and the relationships between them. Even when he is talking about the intelligence networks it is about the way they affect his characters lives. The fact that he pulls no punches there makes it all the more real.


message 14: by Bob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob So many seem to give the impression that a 1st time Le Carre reader shouldn't start with Tinker,Taylor... I disagree. Le Carre really hit his stride with TTSP, and although The Spy That Came In... is a sort of introduction to his spy world, TTSP can be read without any introduction. It is not complex but involved and thoughtful. I believe that it is his best and although his other trilogy works The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People are by themselves excellent, they just do not come up to the excellence of TTSP. There is a reason that it has been adapted to TV and cinema; it is a great story of betrayal and redemption. BTW - The BBC adaptation for TV with Alex Guinness as Smiley is hands-down the best.


message 15: by Feliks (last edited Dec 04, 2014 06:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks I appreciate that you disagree, and I'm glad to see you've been thinking about the matter. But the position really is a strange one.

LeCarre 'hit his stride'--as you say--certainly in his career popularity, but in what way is he at his best in this book, but not any of his others? In what way is his writing any better, or in what way is the scope of the story any grander? Look at what 'Tinker' is bracketed by: 'Cold' had not only a transcendent romance and a political study of world communism; whereas 'Schoolboy' paints the picture of declining colonialism in a foreign locale to boot.

'Tinker' --as intricate as it is--as polished--as psychologically rich--is rather a compact and unassuming project. It codifies the 'mole' story but is really just a retelling of the Philby saga.

Next. Yes, TTSP can be read without any introduction --and some certainly do so--but fascinating aspects are lost, if one does so. LeCarre would not write a book which *depended* on a earlier title; but there are subtle nuances which trail from book-to-book all throughout the Smiley series which are perhaps the true treat of the whole franchise. I've said as much in my reviews. If they aren't important, why did LeCarre even bother?

Ask yourself why he even developed the Smiley character in such painstaking fashion, all the way along from 'Call for the Dead' (where he uncovers a Soviet agent) to 'A Murder of Quality' (in which he visits his old school to solve the murder-mystery)and then to 'Cold' where he appears in a cameo at the climax when Leamas is making his break?

Because the Smiley character himself, is more important than any individual book, that's why. LeCarre invites us to view the whole scope of a man's character and life, his career, his values. In the same way that Conan Doyle's Holmes is more fascinating than any individual case. So to new readers--we should admonish them whenever possible--to start from the beginning and enjoy the incredible build-up of the Smiley portrait. Discovering the mole in TTSP --as fun as it is--can only be secondary to the pleasure of following the career of the fat little man with the glasses.

Finally: indeed the Guinness tv series is a fine project (I am glad to hear you say so) but its excellence is not the result of the book (as you allege) being the most singlemost excellent episode in the Smiley canon. There were lots of reasons for the mini-series to be developed. They went on to do Smiley's People--even better, arguably and they wanted to do 'Schoolboy'.

Look how much vaster in scope, 'Schoolboy' is, by the way. And consider--when thinking about the TTSP mini-series--actually, how pallid it is; apart from the performances of its stellar actors. There is almost no action; there is almost no suspense. Its easy to overlook this. We all love the Guiness series, but let's be honest about the production as well. In "Smiley's People" you get a lot more and its just about the same length story. Be fair.

I'm going on to read some of your other comments. I certainly hope you're a member of my espionage groups on Goodreads if you would like to chat further.


message 16: by Bob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob I don't usually respond to these types of discussion but nine paragraphs....Really,... don't you have better things to do than criticize my response to the question?


message 17: by Matt (new) - added it

Matt This is the OP again, I read Call for the Dead and generally liked it. Murder of Quality was just meh. It came across as just another of those "mannered mysteries." I liked Spy Who Came in From the Cold quite a bit but I don't feel like I would have missed out on much if I'd read it before reading Call. I'm reading The Looking Glass War now. The original plan was to work my way through the Smiley series, but I've inherited Absolute Friends so I'll probably read that first. It'll be interesting to see contrast his more recent work with the older


Xander Markham The books of his I've read have been out of publication order, but The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was my first and a great example of his work without being as complex or, to any extent, dry as some of his other books.


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