Home Other Books Good Read: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John le Carre`

Good Read: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John le Carre`


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre’

Review by Shannon Siebert

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggarman, Thief” is a small children’s fortune-telling rhyme used when counting cherry stones, waistcoat buttons, daisy petals, or the seeds of Timothy grass” (as defined in the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes).

I was intrigued by the title of this classic spy novel set in England during the Cold War days of the 50’s and 60’s and was prompted to read the book written in 1974 that was just released as a movie in January.

Although the title comes from this English nursery rhyme it is anything but that and be prepared for a slew of Intelligence lingo:  Babysitters – bodyguards; Housekeepers – internal auditors at Circus (nickname for the SIS- Secret Intelligence Service) because it is located in Cambridge Circus, London; Janitors – operation staff who generally watch doors; Mothers – secretaries who do the clerical work; Pavement Artists – in charge of surveillance and serve as couriers and most important for this story are

Moles – agents groomed and recruited by Russian KGB before they are privy to secret information.  All these labels and nicknames serve as a reminder that nothing is as it seems in the spy world.

The author himself worked in the British Secret Intelligence for several years which makes the book all the more interesting but it is a challenging read.  I read the book on my iPad and used the dictionary often to look up the many English words I was not familiar with. Nevertheless, it is an engaging story but somewhat confusing as the author uses flashbacks to tell the story through the main character George Smiley.  He is a paunchy, middle-aged former agent who was forced into retirement and has been asked back to unravel the very complicated Operation Testify that was created by the former chief of Circus who they all called, Control, that was most appropriate.

Control died before Operation Testify was completed hoping it would uncover a suspected Russian mole that was planted in the British Secret Intelligence Agency otherwise known as Circus.  It was Control who used the words from the nursery rhyme as code names for the several agents he suspected were working for the Russians.  Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Poorman and Beggarman were the names he assigned to five senior officials he suspected in the agency.   As Smiley works his way back through the intricacies of this undercover operation, he finds out that he was included on the list and was tagged Beggarman

Through Smiley’s methodical research, keen observation and persistence he eventually traps the mole who has been feeding information to the Russians posing as a trusted official and friend in the SIS for many years. Smiley likens the mole he revealed to a  Russian Matryoshka Doll “that open up to reveal one person inside the other and another inside of him.” But only the high ranking Russian spy, called Karla, who masterminded and recruited the undercover agent saw the last face of the mole.

Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet with the jargon of the Cold War spy era, I hope to read le Carre`’s next two novels he wrote in this series he named the Karla Trilogy.   I especially look forward to seeing the recent movie based on the book and how in the world it will make sense of this convoluted spy story.




Powered by Facebook Comments


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.