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Chippings from a master's chisel: ten short stories and an epilogue artfully disguised as a novel of post-glasnost reminiscences of espionage, all showing le Carre at his most nervously relaxed. Grand old man George Smiley agrees to address narrator Ned York's graduating class at Sarratt; his urbanely pointed remarks serve as the text for each of the retrospective anecdotes that follow. A few of these are slight and unexpectedly charming: Ned and company surround a mysterious Arab following a princeling's favorite wife in a Knightsbridge store, only to learn that he's been sent to pay for the trinkets she's shoplifting; Ned gets the news of Bill Haydon's unmasking (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) just after repairing a priceless tapestry he's drilled through in inserting a bug for the Vatican in a corrupt bishop's room; Smiley plays along with a dead criminal's pretense that he was with the service in order to comfort his grieving parents. But even the more substantial stories--Ned's old friend Ben Arno Cavendish goes to pieces after literally mislaying the documents that betray his network in Berlin; Ned recalls his suspicions of a Latvian sea captain's young, uncleared girlfriend; a raffish Hungarian agent tries to bolster his stock by arranging to have a friend of his defect as the agent's would-be assassin; Ned goes to Israel to interrogate a terrorist who lectures him savagely; an American in Vietnam endures torture and imprisonment for the sake of the half-Asian daughter who, he realizes, despises him; a low-level clerk is turned to counterespionage by a Russian-language radio program--even these pieces are graceful and curiously humorous in a way new to le Carre's work, though not to be compared in scope or intensity with the Smiley/Karla novels. The epilogue--a gunrunner's impassioned self-justification--will make you wonder just who the real enemy is. Le Carre's earlier novels have made distinguished films and TV miniseries; this one, sure to attract the author's usual huge print audience, reads like a series of sketches for a weekly program--say, Spies Who Came in from the Cold.
Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1990
ISBN: 0345504429
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1990


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