A Legacy of Spies

Written by John le Carré

Review written by Philip Gooden

His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.


A Legacy of Spies
Viking
RRP: £20.00
Released: September 7, 2017
Hbk

It’s more than fifty years since The Spy Who Came In  From the Cold came in (or out), and now we have, from the eighty-five year old le Carré, a sequel to that mould-breaking novel.

A Legacy of Spies is a kind of prequel as well as a sequel since it looks at the machinations which led up to the death of Alec Leamas and Liz Gold at the Berlin Wall in an operation cryptically titled Windfall, which formed the climax to Spy.

Along the way the new novel glances at the ‘Karla trilogy’ which began with Tinker, Tailor... and there are appearances by a roster of characters from the Circus running from Peter Guillam and Bill Haydon to Control and George Smiley. Very welcome they are too, too, on this trip down memory lane though I’m not sure the book would mean a great deal to any reader who doesn’t know their way round the Circus world.

The context for Legacy is that an aging Peter Guillam is recalled from hibernation in Brittany by the secret service, now housed in the glossy building at Vauxhall, to be questioned over his part in Operation Windfall. Alec Leamas’s son and Liz Gold’s daughter, themselves both well into middle age, are pushing for compensation and a public investigation into this botched mission from the Cold War era. There’s talk of a parliamentary enquiry too.

Once detained in London, Guillam is questioned by a pair of service lawyers, who are perky and intimidating in a style that’s very familiar to le le Carré aficionados. Woven into official transcripts of meetings, classified accounts and memos, are Peter’s own memories of what actually happened, a secret buried beneath secrets, known only to a handful of people and one which he is still determined to hang onto.       

There is plenty to enjoy in A Legacy of Spies. It may deal with old, even age-old, events but there’s a very tense account of the exfiltration of an agent from East Germany. The route of which le le Carré traced himself, and some fascinating material about recruiting and maintaining a network. The bureaucracy, the rivalry between the different branches of the secret service, the odd mixture of patriotism and cynicism - all vintage le le Carré.

Above all, there is the late appearance by George Smiley, the book’s final flourish. Forget the fact that, over fifty years ago, he was about to retire. It is good to have him back, for a moment.



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