Written by: John le Carré
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf Incorporated
Copyright: © 1974
David John Moore Cornwell, alias John le Carré, a son of a con-man, whose father was a sometimes Rich Man, Poor Man; worked for British Intelligence in the 1950s and 1960s but was betrayed in 1964 to the Russians by Kim Philby, a British KGB double agent working within the MI6.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the fictionalized tale of the hunt for Philby, nom de guerre Gerald, by retired British spy, George Smiley. Smiley, the physical antithesis of James Bond; is an overweight, over the hill, myopic, failure in love; but intellectually superlative, standing shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock and Columbo.
The title of the book comes from a children’s counting rhyme that traces back to at least the late Renaissance:
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.
and was used for assigning code names to one of the five suspected Soviet moles in British Intelligence. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poor Man and Beggar Man were all senior intelligence officers within the Circus, an euphemism for British Intelligence, with Smiley being Beggar Man.
John le Carré writes with heavy characterization to the point of distraction along with frequent time and space jumps that will often bewilder. The opening sentence “The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.” is absolutely critical to the plot development but remains a complete mystery for most of the tale. Read carefully but do not tarry.