Sunday, 17 September 2017

A Legacy of Spies

There are some authors whose newly published books I read as soon as they are available. John le Carré is one such author, and I have just finished reading his latest book, A LEGACY OF SPIES.

The main character in the book is Peter Guillam, who appears in most of John le Carré’s books that feature George Smiley. It is set in the modern day, but concerns itself with the operation that was the subject of one of the earlier books, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. In a climate where a litigious blame culture is prevalent and ‘someone has to pay’, the children of Alec Leamus and Elizabeth Gold – who were killed at the end of the earlier book – are seeking to find out who in the Service (AKA the ‘Circus’) had their respective parents killed. Their motivation seems to be either financial (in the case of Christoph Leamus) or political (in the case of Karen Gold).

As the book unfolds we find out more about Peter Guillam’s early life, his reasons for joining the ‘Circus’ as well as the background to the operation that ended up with the death of Leamus and Gold. Other characters from the earlier Smiley novels also appear, if only in passing or in a comment. These include Oliver Lacon (later Sir Oliver Lacon and even later Lord Lacon of the Treasury), Inspector Oliver Mendel (ex-Special Branch and whose first name – also Oliver – I did not know until I read this book), Jim Prideaux (former Head of Scalphunters, who was shot in TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY), and Millie McCraig (the best Housekeeper the ‘Circus’ ever had). Even George Smiley himself makes a fleeting appearance as a self-exile living in Switzerland and doing research in a university.

I expect that this will probably be the last of the George Smiley novels that John le Carré will write, and it tied up so many of the loose ends from the other books. I enjoyed reading it, and found it so engrossing that I did so almost at one sitting.

A LEGACY OF SPIES was written by John le Carré and published in 2017 by Viking Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House) (ISBN 978 0 241 30854 7). The cover price for the hardback was £20.00 but I bought mine from Amazon for £9.50.


  1. I really ought to read more of John le Carre's novels. I think I've read two or maybe three. Well written and moody, his portrayal of the world of espionage comes across as dark and bleak and lonely - far from the exotic excitement of, say, the Bond movies (much as I like them).

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      If you are interested in giving the Smiley books a go, I'd recommend starting with CALL FOR THE DEAD. It introduces most of the main characters that feature in the later books, and contains several vivid descriptions of the London of my childhood.

      His books - which are based on his own experiences - have the ring of truth about them, and I know that members of the Security community in the UK hold them in high regard.

      All the best,


    2. I read somewhere - a long time ago now - as how the then head of MI6, or someone high up in the 'Security' world thought that John le Carre ought not to be allowed to publish his novels. They were a little too close to home.

    3. Archduke Piccolo,

      John le Carre started his career in MI5, where his boss was a writer of thriller novels. He encouraged his young colleague to write, but when le Carre transferred to MI6 his superiors were nowhere near as supportive, which is why he published under a nome de plume. When the defection of Kim Philby brought le Carre's career to a premature end, he left the Service and became a full-time writer.

      I am given to believe that much of the jargon used in the books has become used within the intelligence community. A case of life imitating art.

      All the best,