Review: A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré

Legacy.jpgI opened A Legacy of Spies with a high sense of both anticipation and trepidation. A new book by John le Carré is always cause for celebration — at 85, who’s to say how many more novels we’ll be treated to by the genius writer — but that old saying, You can’t go home again, chimed in my ears when I learned the book was a sequel, of sorts — maybe “coda” is the better word — to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Which was exciting to learn, absolutely, but also terrifying. Because even though a bad sequel can’t (ostensibly) detract from the original work, it can taint it; can cast a shadow over your memory. The two are forever linked. Like when you think of Daniel Craig as James Bond, you think, Wow, Casino Royale and Skyfall were awesome, but yikes, remember Quantum of Solace and Spectre? Last thing I wanted was for A Legacy of Spies to tarnish my memory of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which, alongside Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love, ranks as one of my all-time favourite spy novels. It doesn’t. And while it’s nowhere near as seminal as its predecessor, both in terms of its scope, plotting and execution, A Legacy of Spies adds depth to that earlier work, which readers mightn’t have needed, but will accept and devour feverishly.

In A Legacy of Spies, Peter Guillam — loyal acolyte of George Smiley — is retired and living in France, when he is abruptly summoned back to London. And when you’ve been out of the game as long as Guillam has, a summons can only signify one thing: trouble. In this instance, that trouble comes in the form of a couple of descendants of Cold War casualties from an operation detailed in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, who are threatening expensive and public legal action against British intelligence. To justify the events that occurred, Guillam sifts through old paperwork in order to reconstruct proceedings, thereby allowing le Carré to revisit long-dead characters. The plot bounces between the present day — an aged, but dogged Guillam — and the 1960s, when familiar characters were in their pomp.

As is always the case with le Carré’s work, A Legacy of Spies is best read scrupulously. Allow yourself to absorb the details, to savour the delectable prose, and appreciate its nuances. This isn’t a novel that will leave you breathless, but it still satisfies. It is intricate and intelligent, and if this truly marks the end of our time with George Smiley and his cohorts formerly of the Circus, it is a fitting conclusion. My only advice to interested readers: read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold first.

ISBN: 9780241308554
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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