It’s That First Puff, Sip, Chapter…and You’re Hooked!
John le Carré must take the blame for starting me down this path of life-long addiction to mysteries of many genres. His books started appearing in the early 60s and I had my first taste of a murky underworld of death-dealing spies for which Nancy Drew and The Manchurian Candidate had not fully prepared me. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was le Carré’s first big hit and he has been with us ever since, moving from a series of spy novels focused on one character to very literate tales of espionage and other spooky goings on. His hero in those early stories became my idea of the perfect problem solver when murder and mayhem was involved—a kind of everyman of espionage. That was George Smiley. It’s been years since I read any of the books featuring Smiley but I’m remembering him as a rather unprepossessing guy all the way around. His personal life was downright dysfunctional, at least part of the time; his work life troubled to say the least. So I got to thinking that’s how spies should be. Even when I moved on to police procedurals, murder mysteries and thrillers, I never found the dashing types believable or appealing.
Le Carré’s post-Smiley novels have (in my humble opinion) varied from brilliant to just okay. And part of that may be that his heroes are generally the personification of anti-heroes. One can dislike flash and dash in fictional characters but still want to connect with them in some way. Le Carré’s leading men (and occasionally women) do wind up with certain redeemable beliefs and behaviors but if you never felt close to them through many preceding pages…who cares at this stage of the game?
The qualities of le Carré’s books that are particularly appealing to me are the quality of his writing—it’s good, somewhere nicely situated between clean/clear and dense (usually)—and his thoughtful but opinionated (on the right side!) inclusion of contemporary politics and social issues.
I read le Carré’s website and the article in Wikipedia to remind myself of everything he’s accomplished and why he is one of my writer heroes (along with Henning Mankell and Paul Theroux who both have written extensively in different genres and made it all very, or at least mostly, interesting).
I am anxiously awaiting the new novel, due out this year, and hope it will meet the standards of what the author previously named as his favorite novels: The Spy who came In from the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener. I wholeheartedly concur.
Here’s a list of le Carré’s books. He has also written many short stories, articles and had a number of his novels made into movies. I have read almost all of the following and am looking forward to the new one, hopefully to love, surely to enjoy.
Novels (from Wikipedia) Call for the Dead (1961), A Murder of Quality (1962), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) (Edgar Award 1965, Best Novel), The Looking Glass War (1965), A Small Town in Germany (1968), The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), Smiley’s People (1979), The Little Drummer Girl (1983), A Perfect Spy (1986), The Russia House (1989), The Secret Pilgrim (1990), The Night Manager (1993), Our Game (1995), The Tailor of Panama (1996), Single & Single (1999), The Constant Gardener (2001), Absolute Friends (2003), The Mission Song (2006), A Most Wanted Man (2008), Our Kind of Traitor (2010), A Delicate Truth (2013)
Non-fiction The Good Soldier (1991) collected in Granta 35: The Unbearable Peace, The United States Has Gone Mad (2003) collected in Not One More Death (2006)