A Legacy of Spies – John Le Carré

Well, the critics really, really loved this.

They gushed and they gushed and they gushed. Then they gushed some more. I thought it was OK, but certainly didn’t mention a first gush, never mind the repetitions…

This is a spy novel where the author’s favorite (or most famous) character, George Smiley, is always in the background. But in the center of the stage is Peter Guillam, an ex spy, retired and living in France. One day, he is dragged back to the establishment by litigation from family members of some who died in the Cold War. Guillam and others are blamed, and the Secret Service is trying to cover its backside. Just what was going on between Guillam and Smiley, and the other spooks? All will be revealed.

The narrative flits from past to present, in nice flowing language which manages to glide over the death and tragedy unfolding in its pages. Then you realize what has happened, and you go back and read it again. Chilling.

The lead character is a good one: likeable, a bit of a rogue, and with his own (flawed) moral compass.

The atmosphere, especially when the book touches on the Cold War events, is terrific. The modern perspective is best when the author shows us the hard edge of the sneaky civil service, and a different type of dicing with death.

A Legacy of Spies is good, but not this author’s best work. Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, it is still absolutely worth reading. Just don’t let all that gushing get in your way.

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