THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY
The aftermath of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: the ascendancy of spychief George Smiley, the wholesale dismantling and piecemeal rebuilding of Britain's betrayed intelligence service, and Le Carre's longest, deepest, and quietest incisions into the gentlemen who steal secrets, hide bodies, and rarely blink. When Smiley's tetchy crew searches the fries for salvageable plums (which investigations did the traitor squelch?), they come up with a "golden seam"--thousands of dollars fed from Moscow into the numbered Hong Kong account of Drake Ko, president of China Airsea, Ltd. and one of the colony's leading humanitarians. Query: for what purpose is this cash being hoarded on the border of Mao's China? Among the agents sent East to "shake the tree" is the aging honourable schoolboy, Jerry Westerby, called in from pasture in Italy to assume his convenient cover--hack journalist ("Seven-day coverage, wars to tit-shows") for the London rag that his father founded. While Smiley's burrowers research and deduce, Jerry, his oafishness and cries of "Super!" all part of his disguise, tracks Ko's dealings from Hong Kong through Thailand and Laos. But by the time that Ko's secret is understood and ready to be exploited--he plans to rescue his Soviet-agent brother from China-expendable Jerry, bewitched by Ko's British mistress and rattled by the two innocent-bystander deaths that his inquiries have caused, is ready to scrap all loyalties except those between lovers, brothers, and friends. The final pages here offer no switcheroos of unmasking or decoding; instead of twists, Le Carre slowly unwinds spirals that go haywire just when you expect them to form a neat helix. And for some readers, the intricacies of "tradecraft," the loaf-and-lurch lives of newsmen abroad, the anti-travelogue Asian backgrounds, and the brisk but massive waves of elegant prose may prove an unacceptable substitute for more obvious sources of spy-tale energy. But if Le Carre is the Henry lames of spy novelists, firing more nuances than bullets, this is his Golden Bowl--dense, hard, and gleaming on the outside, clark within, and worth possessing whatever the price.