Monday, September 1, 2014

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré

During the Cold War—when Sovyet was building its influence in the world—‘Control’ was the head of British intelligence called ‘Circus’. He suspected that there was a Sovyet’s mole (enemy’s secret agent who infiltrated intelligence) within the highest level of Circus. He secretly sent an agent to buy information from a defected Czech General, but Sovyet blew the operation, and the agent was shot on the back. The mole did exist!

About ten years later, an eccentric teacher, Jim Prideaux, arrived at a prep school in the suburban London. His body was military-built, and he liked to be alone. A student named Bill Roach maintained a close relationship with Prideaux, who praised him as a very good observer. One mysterious aspect which Bill observed from his new teacher, was that Mr. Prideaux often sent letters to himself and one of the teachers. He also saw Mr. Prideaux was maintaining a weapon which he hid underground his caravan.

Far away from the prep school, George Smiley—once a close assistant to Control, but was suddenly forced into retirement—got a surprise visit from an old friend. Peter Guillam, his ex-colleague in Circus brought him to a secret investigation of their old adversary: the secret mole—code name: Gerald, which must have been within the highest level of Circus. And so Smiley must take a thorough interview and patient investigation from his former friends and colleagues, whom he used to have personal relationship, and perhaps, even, whom he used to admire.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy turned out to be a great-genius spy thriller! I love how Carré opened the book with the school teacher Prideaux and Billy Roach; it made me wondering whether the spy things would happen in a small prep school. Billy Roach might not have any relation with the intelligence world, but his existence—and how he saw things through his eyes—built a solid difference between the real world and intelligence world, and it emphasized how smooth the spies work among us that we won’t suspecting anything. It makes you think, are people who are close to us all these times are really what they told us?

*spoiler alert*
One small problem with Tinker is how we must be groping in the dark for at least the first third of the book, before slowly beginning to understand what was happening. It is because Carré ‘played’ with mystery, and only after that lifted the veil little by little. But the final—and probably the second most important mystery—was not revealed until the end of the book. And we are left with big question mark: who murdered Haydon? When I came to think it over, maybe the biggest mystery is not the identity of the mole Gerald, but who has killed him; another enemy for Circus; another mole?

With puzzles on my mind, I tried to do small research on the internet; and found analysis which suggested that the murder was Jim Prideaux, to revenge the betrayal, and maybe, the people he was working with in Czech—whom were all killed. If that was true, then Carré has cleverly ended the book in an ironic-tragic-but genius way. It was ended just like it has been started, with Jim Prideaux and Bill Roach. It seemed so normal, but what about the gloomy atmosphere which Roach observed on his teacher’s face after his return from “his mother’s-funeral-absent”? Did it pointed out to his real feeling after murdering his best and closest friend? Oh, if that was true, then it became more tragic. And really, Bill might think he knew his teacher very well at the end, while actually there were much deeper and darker secrets in him. What do we really know about people’s untold secret? None…perhaps!

Four and a half stars for such a brilliant story!


I read Sceptre mass-market paperback edition

This book is counted as:


  1. I remember the film was indeed a bit hard to understand, but now I think I must really read the book for more surprises. Lovely review.

    1. Thanks :) I am curious about the movie. They say it's a bit different from the book.