Jim's Books

A Legacy of Spies

John le Carré

A Legacy of Spies
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ISBN: 9780241308547


Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, has retired to his family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London are to be scrutinised by a generation with no memory of the Cold War. Somebody must be made to pay for innocent blood once spilt in the name of the greater good.

Reviewed on 10th October 2017

A surprise return to the world of Smiley and colleagues, some 27 years after the last novel and 56 since the series began. It's many years later, and one of the Circus’s operations has come under scrutiny from the modern-day powers-that-be. Specifically that depicted in the 1963 novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - and in some ways this serves as both prequel and sequel.

We see the story through the eyes of Peter Guilliam, as he is called in for a debriefing, and returns to the contemporary version of the service he worked for during the Cold War. This presents a slightly complex narrative, mixing between modern day in his point of view to his consumption of reports from the time he was an agent - from his own point of view and other characters', in various forms of prose. While this adds variety, it's not as clear as it could be, particularly some of the transcripts and some places where I lost track of which character was which.

The bulk of the story is incredibly compelling and I got really into it. I've read a few le Carré novels in recent years and enjoyed them thoroughly, which I think demonstrates a change in my tastes since my teenage years, when I struggled with his writings. However as I approached the end of this novel I started to feel concerned that there were insufficient pages remaining for a satisfactory conclusion. And I was right.

I feel I would likely have benefited from better familiarity with the earlier novel - it's a long time since I read it and so I struggled to notice the crossovers, and I feel that I may have appreciated some of the nuances more having it in my mind.

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