George V. Reilly

Review: Smiley's People

Smiley's People
Title: Smiley’s People
Author: John le Carré
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Publisher: Scribner
Copyright: 1979
Pages: 439
Keywords: spy, thriller
Reading period: 23–29 September, 2007

Smiley’s People is the last book in le Carré’s Karla Trilogy, begun in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and continued in The Honourable Schoolboy.

George Smiley is called back from retirement when one of his former contacts, a Russian general turned emigré, is found murdered. Working alone and exercising his con­sid­er­able tradecraft, Smiley discovers a fatal chink in the armor of his old adversary, Karla, the Russian spymaster. He gets the go-ahead to execute a sting, which will ultimately lead to Karla’s defection.

Once again, le Carré crafts a subtle and compelling novel. Smiley may be drab and self-effacing, yet he has a keen insight into his "people" – his former colleagues and agents – when he calls upon them to help him uncover why the General was murdered. Smiley lives in a dark world of moral ambiguity, where blackmail and treachery are the norm. To force Karla’s defection, Smiley must use Karla’s despised methods, trading on Karla’s love for his daughter. This leaves him with the taste of ashes in his mouth at the moment of his final victory.

Highly rec­om­mend­ed.

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