Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


In my opinion, so-called “intelligence” work is the dirtiest job there is. It is, in and of itself, morally repugnant. It doesn’t matter which side you are on, it doesn’t matter if your cause is just. (Remember, people on both sides believe that to be true.) The coin of the realm is deception and betrayal. It is done by two kinds of people: shabby little men and women in offices, nothing but bureaucrats, really, except they have the power of life and death over people they may never even see, and the traitors themselves, out in the “real” world, forever fearful, paranoid, skulking around and waiting for that hand to fall on their shoulder. Nobody knows this better that David Cornwell (pen name: John le Carré), and no one I’ve encountered even comes close to portraying this awful world as it actually exists. (I say that, but of course I have no real world experience of it. But it feels exactly right. It dispels the idiotic aura of James Bond glamour that we so often attach to spying.) In a le Carré story, quiet men pore over stolen documents, intercepted phone calls, and reports from people of always-questionable loyalty, piecing everything together bit by bit and always worrying that what they’re looking at is what they are meant to be looking at. Disinformation.

I think this book is le Carré’s best. It is a fabulously convoluted story of a mole placed right at the very top of British intelligence, and the man—quiet, unassuming, cuckolded George Smiley—who has the job of smoking him out. The BBC filmed it as a mini-series in 1979, running 315 minutes, and just managed to get most of the plot told. So now they’ve remade it, running time 127 minutes. How the hell are they going to get all that story pared down to that length?

Competently, I guess. It’s understandable, and it nicely creates the proper atmosphere. I enjoyed it, and I suspect that people who had never read the book or seen the first version would enjoy it even more. Gary Oldman is wonderful in the lead role … but in the end, it just made me hungry to see the original again, starring Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson. I’ve ordered it at the library, and eagerly look forward to it.