I have always been fascinated by John le Carre’s work; I have said it previously and I will not hesitate to say it again. While Our Kind of Traitor was his first book that I read, what really cemented my standing as one of his lifelong fans was The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I have since read majority of his works with The Constant Gardener being for me one of his best books.
Smiley’s People is his latest book that I read. Though published a long time ago, I got a hold of it a few days back and as I sat down to read it, I became hooked. As is the case with his other novels, this one too qualified for a one-sit read although it is quite long.
The book is the last in the Karla-Smiley trilogy from the author that chronicles the mind battles of Karla, one of the top Soviet agent, with that of George Smiley, a retired British Foreign Service officer.
A Soviet woman living in Paris for the past 20 years is asked to write a letter so that she can be united with her daughter. However, when she has no news of her daughter, she informs an ex-general in the Soviet army who now works for the British service. The general, cognizant of the ways of the Soviet intelligence, realizes that the lady in question has been forced to provide a legend for another person, a working strategy that is the trademark of Karla, the Chief of the Thirteenth Directorate in Moscow. He contacts the woman and establishes this fact. However, things turn to a head when the general is shot dead and George Smiley is called out of retirement to investigate the case. What follows is a gripping battle of intelligence between the two arch rivals, with the culmination of all that Smiley had worked so hard to achieve in his career: the defection of Karla.
The novel encompasses all that le Carre is famous for in his novels: the brilliantly told spy narrative, the slow yet gripping unravelling of the plot and the enthralling finish. This is an apt ending to the famous Karla-Smiley trilogy that cemented the author’s place as one of the best spy novelists of his era.