Superb spy novel

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: John Le Carre (Sceptre, £7.99)

It must be 25 years or so since I first read John Le carre's dense but absorbing spy thriller.

I remember finding it hard going - to keep track of all the characters and plot twists and turns was tough, but hugely compelling.

The recent excellent film starring Gary Oldman, John Hurt and Colin Firth sent me back to re-read the novel, recently republished by Sceptre.

The benefit of having faces to put the names to made it much easier this time - and actually enhanced ny enoyment of the book.

It tells how middle-aged George Smiley, who has recently been dismissed by the intelligence service, is asked by the Government to work behind the scenes to find the identity of the long-standing mole the Russians have apparently placed at the heart of the secret service.

This is not a big action novel - most of the scenes involve Smiley talking to past and present members of the 'Circus', carefully putting together parts of a jigsaw which will help him discover who is 'Gerald', the mole.

There are some great characters. The pompous Percy Alleline, the head of the service; tough but insecure Peter Guillam, trying to come to terms with his own life, helping Smiley but at the same time finding his illusions about his colleagues shattered; the suave and successful Bill Haydon, who has had an affair with Smiley's wife.

There are many stand-out scenes including Guillam's grilling by the 'big four' chiefs of the service; and Smiley's face to face meeting with Russian spymaster Karla in a sweltering Indian jail.

As well as a great story, Le Carre's terminology of the spies' world - Lamplighters, Scalphunters and Lotus Eaters and so on - add veracity to the tale.

A superb book.

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