Smiley’s People (Karla Trilogy #3), by John LeCarre

My Copy: 9780143119777 (image courtesy & Penguin publishing)

Wow–the end of the “Karla Trilogy” at last…and a damned-good ending!

I was glad to read this book, though I wish I didn’t have so many priorities take me away from it so often. I was afraid I might’ve missed some crucial info, but once I got the chance to really stick with it and read it the past two days, it got really good. So good that last night I had 6 chapters left and kept getting up to read more.

I finished around 3:30 a.m., probably feeling about the same way Smiley did by the end of the book (hee hee).

Smiley’s People is a great story about an old Russian émigré who had supposedly outlived his usefulness to British Intelligence, at least until he was found murdered. In the days prior, he tried to find “Max” (Smiley), who is brought out of retirement (again) to try and understand what got Vladimir in such a state. Smiley takes on the case of what was so important and had this defector willing to risk everything.

It soon becomes clear that the reason for the old Russian’s fervor is Smiley’s reclusive counterpart from Moscow Centre, Karla. The game is on–and it’s a REALLY good one.

I found myself comparing the two men’s relationship to that of Sherlock Holmes and Prof. Moriarity (and laughed when some of the characters made the same reference when they talked with Smiley, admiring with a hint of “You’re losing it, old boy” in their tone). It does give off that vibe, teasing and seeing and piecing together the information to find out how the hell they’re trying to go after Karla–though it seems to be mostly Smiley doing the work.

It seems a roundabout way to do things, but by the end of the book, you can put the pieces together along with Smiley.

I found it neat to read and really get a bead on Smiley. If there’s one thing I’m enjoying about LeCarre’s writing, it’s that he can write inside a character’s head. It might be distracting that a character will go “off-tangent” and make analogies to other things in their life while working on something, but let’s face it–our minds go every which way, even when we’re trying to concentrate. And it helps with the suspense, because who knows what seemingly-random connection a character remembers or ponders ends up breaking the case wide open, right?

Wish he could teach a Masterclass on that.

smiley1I found myself enjoying this book just as much as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (#1), and much more than The Honourable Schoolboy (#2), which feels more and more like an aberration. Apparently, it was so for Hollywood and Europe as well, because to date no one’s tried to make a film based on The Honourable Schoolboy (I think the adaptation would cause ulcers) but in 1982 Alec Guinness starred in a mini-series version of Smiley’s People (and who can forget the Gary Oldman turn as Smiley in the 2011 Tinker Tailor… film?).

Filmic aspirations aside, Smiley’s People brings the best of this world LeCarre created back together: Smiley, the dark shadow of Karla, and the chessboard of Europe between them. Smiley’s People is very “wow”–we’re going along after Smiley’s “Dark Grail” at last.

As far as how Smiley and his people try to do it, and their end game? I’ll let you enjoy it…because it’s quite satisfying.

For myself, what would’ve helped me along in this trilogy is knowing more about British-isms for one, but finding good books on British Intelligence during the Cold War before reading was another. I’ll probably tackle the whole series again after reading up on that subject…yes, even T.H.S., though I thought I wouldn’t bother.

Maybe I’ll re-review after, too.

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