As the author's introduction warns, this Smiley novel was appreciated only by actual CIA-type spies, at first. I found it grim, rather wry in its humor, ominous. It's challenging to follow incompetent men through their decisions. The author warns us that we should hold our breath when we hear high claims of patriotism being made. Worth the long, slow read to reach the concluding pages.
I rated it 5 stars, even though it is a bit overlong. It’s just that engaging. There’s some similarities to the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, although I found this even more tragic. Smiley also appears in this, although in a smaller capacity, as he did in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I find Le Carre to be at his best when he is writing about the games and treachery, and using innocents as pawns, committed by the US and UK, or rather all three governments of the time - the US, UK, and USSR, and the grey areas involved. This novel definitely has that.
It would have been an easy job for the Circus: a can of film couriered from Helsinki to London. In the past, the Circus handled all things political while the Department dealt with military matters. The department has been moribund since the war, however, its resources siphoned away. Now one of their agents is dead, and vital evidence verifying Soviet missiles near the the West German border is gone. John Avery is the Department's youngest member and its last hope. Charged with handling Fred Leiser, a German-speaking Pole left over from the War, Avery must infiltrate the East and restore his masters' former glory. (Description/synopsis is edited from the paperback edition and presumably provided by the publisher.) This edition includes a forward and an introduction by John le Carré.
I'm initially gave this book a four star rating. I am increasing that to five stars. The reason: The Looking Glass War followed The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, generally considered one of the best spy novels of all time. It would difficult for the next book – in this case, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – to better that. It's not that I think The Looking Glass War did surpass The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but I think that that's an onus it should not have to overcome. The Looking Glass War is a superb spy novel in its own right, and it deserves five stars. Additionally, like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War has what I refer to as The Grapes of Wrath ending – a haunting and memorable end to a superb novel.
A fading rival to the Circus mounts its own spy operation in this melancholy (and slightly overwritten) novel.
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