I have read almost all of John Le Carré’s books and I have to admit the ones I really liked are the older Soviet cold war stories. They simply seemed to carry so much more menace and intrigue. So you can imagine how delighted I was when this book, “A Legacy of Spies” was announced. Here’s a chance to revisit all the old characters and places and cases and victories and defeats.
Even the legendary George Smiley was supposed to be returning, so memorably played by Sir Alec Guinness in the unsurpassed BBCTV series, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.
And George Smiley is indeed here, though not for a good while, though he is constantly referred to, and occasionally messages are received from him, as various people, some known, some not, wonder what George might say about that, or what George might do about this, or what George might be up to, though by my reckoning he doesn’t actually appear until around page 178.
But at least he’s not dead. I had rather assumed that happened years ago!
So what’s the story all about? Well, without giving any spoilers away, it harks back to an incident in the late fifties or early sixties when two people/agents/spies, (you pay your money and take your pick) were killed in a disaster, I will say no more on that, and years later descendants sue the Service for big bucks for mishandling their relatives’ careers and deaths.
Old names are dragged up and summoned back to London and the New Forest for interviewing/questioning/interrogation (again you choose what you want to call it) - sessions conducted by young people who have little idea what the Cold War was all about because they weren’t even born when it was at its height.
I didn’t think it was an easy book to get into, but perseverance did pay off in some kind of way. In the end the more I read the more I enjoyed it, though the writer’s rather heavy-handed interjection on how truly dreadful Brexit is wasn’t really necessary and didn’t add a thing.
If you have read the earlier Le Carré’s and enjoyed them then you will probably enjoy this one too. If you haven’t read those books then you might be better starting out there, most particularly with “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, indeed you might even enjoy this one all the more if you read or recently re-read that one before this.
Either way, ALOS was a worthy effort if not exactly top notch from Mister Cornwell.
Aficionados will probably love it, newcomers may well find it rather heavy going, and may even wonder what all the fuss is about.
I’d rate it at a solid 4 stars****.