John e Carre - Smiley novels

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John e Carre - Smiley novels

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Jul 7, 2011, 7:36 am

I thought I would give some spy fiction and go and I decided to start with le Carre. The Smiley series looks good but I was wondering if I should begin from the start. I have checked the listings on librarything and I could not work out which novel was the start of the Smiley series. Of course I could just start with some of the classics like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, what would people recommend?

Jul 7, 2011, 8:54 am

I have always read them out of sequence, because although there is some slight connection between sucessive stories, and some characters reappear, in the main they stand alone well enough. I would start with whatever you can get your hands on, and then if you enjoy them (they arent' to everybodies taste) you can go back and dig out the missing ones in the correct sequence. They do feel very dated these days, and le carre's more modern works such as constant gardener have to me at least, greater appeal.

Jul 7, 2011, 12:36 pm

I still prefer the Cold War classics - it's a matter of taste, really. Tinker, tailor and The spy who came in from the cold are the most Le Carré-esque of his books, so they would give you a feel for whether to read further.
A perfect spy is one from the end of the Cold War, and it is halfway between a thriller and a serious novel, so it might be another good entry point.

The really early ones you can skip until you're a hardcore fan: A murder of quality, Call for the dead, The looking-glass war, A small town in Germany.
The more recent books are a mixed bag. As reading_fox says, The constant gardener is very good, but others like The Mission song and The tailor of Panama are flimsy potboilers; others again are just leftover bits and pieces of Cold War warmed up for re-use.

Jul 7, 2011, 4:39 pm

...Sorry, answered my own question, not the one you asked:
The first book Smiley appears in is A murder of quality, but there's no need to read that first: it's unlike all the others anyway, as he is doing a sort of Hercule Poirot impersonation solving a murder in a public school. Some of the characters are former spies, but it's not a spy story. He appears in the margins of several other books as well, but the ones in which he plays a central role are the so-called Karla trilogy. It's not essential to read these in order, as there's a lot of recapping, but if you're going to then you might as well start with Tinker, tailor, as it's easy to find anyway.

Jul 7, 2011, 6:42 pm


I thought that Call For The Dead was the first Smiley book. It is still not quite a spy story although we do get some bits of Smiley's past.

Starting with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was Le Carré's breakthrough book. It also slightly retconned Smiley's history as it had been revealed in the previous two novels (Call For The Dead and A Murder Of Quality). Smiley is a minor character in The Looking-Glass War so I wouldn't recommend that as a starting point.

I would start with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and then move on to The Karla Trilogy.

Jul 8, 2011, 6:51 am

Thanks for the advice everyone, I might start with Tinker Tailor. The trailer for the new movie looked quite good so I will try and read it before I take a trip to the Cinema.

Jul 8, 2011, 9:28 am

I second Andyl--I would recommend starting with The Spy who came in from the Cold and then move on to Tinker Tailor and the rest of the Karla trilogy. They are some of my favorite books.

Jul 15, 2011, 4:49 am


Jul 18, 2011, 8:40 am

I think it's best to read the books in order, starting with the two before The Spy who Came in from the Cold, le Carre's "breakthrough" novel. Many characters, both main and minor, pop in and out of various books. Reading the novels in order allows you to reference the characters to the other works they appear in, giving you more insight into them and into Smiley's world.
A Perfect Spy is perhaps Le Carre's best work and I think best appreciated after reading the novels that came before it and getting a flavor of le Carre's viewpoint of how the whole business of spycraft is absurd in many ways and really just a game between the countries involved.

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