Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) is the first novel in John le Carré's "Karla Trilogy" featuring MI6 agent George Smiley battling his KGB counterpart. Here, Smiley is called back – on the sly – from his abrupt and involuntary retirement to unravel a series of botched operations and find the Soviet mole inside the British intelligence service.
The story starts in the middle of the action, when a rogue British agent confesses to an illicit, and perhaps staged, love affair with a Russian spy. Is Irina's report of a high-level mole inside the agency for real? Or clever disinformation planted by Karla to disrupt Britain's espionage efforts? Only Smiley and his covert team can find the answer.
As brilliant as the novel is – and it is brilliant – it is so dense with spy jargon and so intentionally abstruse that the plot is almost impenetrable. Only in the last 50 or so pages to the pieces start to fall together. But fans of Cold War espionage novels will eat it up.
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was followed by The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979). The Karla Trilogy was published in an omnibus edition in 1982 called The Quest for Karla.
I wanted to read the book before I saw the new movie, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, which I am now particularly excited about.
This also counts as one of my books for the Mt. TBR and Off the Shelf Challenges, as well as one of my pre-identified choices for the TBR Pile Challenge. Since I got my copy of The Quest for Karla from my Grandma in 1983, this may be the book that has sat on my TBR shelf the longest. It's about time I finally read it!