Saturday, September 09, 2017

Brief Mention, John Le Carré, A LEGACY OF SPIES

British cover
Lovers of British espionage know about each new John Le Carré book long before publication. So this brief note, a few days after the American release of the newest from this master of character-focused revelation, is more or less a bookmark ... and a reminder that if you're a fan of the genre or this author, it's time to pick up your first printing.

Word on A LEGACY OF SPIES before publication tended to focus on either the "follows The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" or the presence as main protagonist of Peter Guillam, long-time loyal team member for British chief of the global espionage network George Smiley. Smiley's position as reluctant but ever-caring planner of spy take-downs and infiltrations has been so large in Le Carré's work that one of the titles in the series is Smiley's People. It is, in fact, George Smiley's grasp of human love and beliefs that makes him such an expert in planning operations. But that same affection and respect for the people he maneuvers makes George vulnerable and wounded, in ways that compel affection from his staff members -- and from many a reader.

In fact, A LEGACY OF SPIES is both a follow-up to the tragedy of Alec Leamas, and an exploration of Guillam's position in retirement, which he spends -- when possible -- on his family's old farmland in French Brittany. Most of all, it's a probing test of how Guillam functions without Smiley's presence. Has he been deserted, left alone to face accusations about Leamas's long-ago betrayal and death, and possibly a high-stakes trial? How does he judge his own actions of the past -- which include many a liaison of the heart?

US cover
Le Carré engages in a book-long probe of the family dynamics of his extended spy network, testing and revisiting its connections and emotional costs. Much of the first part of the book is slow going, especially because it's framed in Peter Guillam's first-person voice, which doesn't work quite as well as the haunting third-person novels earlier in this oeuvre. But for any fan of George Smiley's fictional life and career, the book is a must-read ... with the added reward of some final words on where "England" was and is, and a little bit of grounding for today's British choices. At least, as far as these characters may see.

Worth the time spent reading it, and worth keeping on the shelf.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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