If you know me, you'll know that I'm a bit fan of the espionage novel. My favorite book (at the moment, but has been for a long time) is The Company by Robert Littell. It's a great fiction of the CIA, from inception to the ending of the Cold War. John le Carré is considered THE master of the spy novel, so it's only natural that I finally pick up one of his books. Whereas Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy isn't le Carré's first novel, it is considered one of his best.
So what's the book about? The book follows George Smiley, an old intelligence officer that was recently forced out of service due to a disagreement with the current leadership. Smiley is informed by an active agent that he's been given solid information that there is a highly placed Russian mole in British Intelligence. Smiley, with help from the Intelligence service minister (Lacon) and a man inside (Guillam), thoughtfully unravels the knot to understand who the mole is and what damage has been done.
Unlike most novels I read, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has very little action sequences. There's no midnight knife fights, very little stressful displays of spy trade-craft, and next to no bloodshed. Not knowing this beforehand, I am surprised that I made it through this book so quickly. le Carré fills the book with interesting characters, and this drives the book from cover to cover. The reader is flooded with characters, real characters, characters that have faults and are crippled by their weaknesses. Smiley will be able to deduce the most intricate of conspiracies, but have no idea what his wife wants from him. Guillam has spent most of his formidable years doing spy work, but can hardly keep himself calm when roaming through records.
Again, surprisingly I finished this novel very quickly. The writing and characters kept me engaged and I wasn't concerned with the lack of traditional plot draws. It is a very interesting book that takes more than 60% to really understand how all the characters are tied together, but once these items are revealed the book really moves.
I did like this book, I didn't outright love it, but it is a really good book. I will probably go ahead and read the next two that follow George Smiley, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People. Check out my reading at GoodReads.