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SMILEY'S PEOPLE by John le Carré Kirkus Star

SMILEY'S PEOPLE

By John le Carré

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1979
ISBN: 014311977X
Publisher: Knopf

Since writing the ultimate modern espionage fiction--The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor. Soldier, Spy--rigorous Mr. le Carre has understandably been setting himself new challenges; and sometimes he almost seems to be daring his audience to enjoy him. But storytelling genius isn't something you can hide, and readers thrived on The Honourable Schoolboy despite its wide, densely Dickensian fabric--just as they will be mesmerized by this superb new book despite its purposefully quiet, slow, downright claustrophobic austerity. Of course, part of the magic for le Carre veterans will be their devotion to British Intelligence buddha George Smiley, who's now in "dubious retirement," a retirement ended when one of Smiley's "people"--a fierce old Russian-emigre agent put out to pasture by the new, detente-minded Intelligence chiefs--is shot on Hampstead Heath after trying to reach Smiley with crucial evidence of. . . something. Smiley, dispatched by the Circus bosses to cover it all up, naturally does the opposite. He talks to the dead agent's pals, to his own old Circus colleagues like crusty, dying Connie (with the computer-memory) and that itchy old dandy Toby Esterhase. He goes to Hamburg and stumbles on a dead body. He gathers clues: letters to the dead agent from an old Russian woman in Paris who's been threatened into providing a cover identity for an unnamed Soviet female; blackmail photos of Soviet diplomats involved in something unauthorized by their government. And, when all the pieces and nuances are tested and fitted and held up to the light, they lead to. . . Karla, Smiley's nemesis, the Soviet spy-master responsible for all of Smiley's marital and professional grief in Tinker, Tailor. But what Karla is up to this time isn't tradecraft: it's personal, so personal that he has been breaking Soviet rules left and right--he's trying to get his schizophrenic daughter, now in a Swiss asylum, safely settled in the psychiatrically sophisticated West. Will Smiley take advantage of this disconcertingly human vulnerability in his arch-enemy? He must--and the last section of the book (after all that gentle coiling) is the inexorable, step-by-step Switzerland entrapment of Karla's confederates by Smiley's people, a project seen through to its glorious but joyless goal: the enforced defection of Russia's top spy. As always, the narrative is grand, the dialogue is even better,, and best of all is the warm, sadly ironic intelligence that colors even the tiniest of encounters. But one warning: the Smiley books really must be read in order, not just for the sake of their secrets, but in order to feel the full swing and pull of le Carre's triumph--perhaps the greatest variety, texture, and integrity ever bestowed upon a series character.