Cold War, UK: Retired Spook Recalled to Duty
George Smiley, hero of the Karla Trilogy, was recalled from retirement when his government needed an outsider for a very special job, hunting a mole in the sacred precincts of the British secret service. Set during the Cold War.
The best spy novels--ever
Believe the hype: these are the best spy novels ever. I love these books because they are as rich as my favorite dark chocolate: rich in character, in story, in social commentary. And beautifully written.
Each novel stands alone, so start anywhere. Book #1 and Book #3 are set in the UK. Book #2 is set in Asia.
Below, a list of the George Smiley spy novels in chronological order:
(1974, Karla Trilogy Featuring George Smiley #1)
George Smiley comes back from retirement to investigate the allegation that there is a mole in the Circus's top management. He roots out Gerald, the mole at the top of the Circus.
(1977, Karla Trilogy Featuring George Smiley #2)
Smiley is in charge of the spy service, which is almost moribund. In a daring operation, he attempts to bring the Circus back to life and punish Karla, the Russian spymaster who recruited and ran Gerald. Smiley, still in charge of the Circus, finally finds Karla's weak spot--a daughter hidden in an asylum in Switzerland--and launches the operation that will result in the Russian's downfall.
Welcome to the Circus
These books tell the story of a generation of English secret servants: those who came of age as spies during World War II and went on to run their country's intelligence services during the morally ambiguous days of Cold War.
The Circus is the nickname for the British intelligence outfit whose activities are chronicled in these books. Like most closed societies, the spooks of the Circus speak their own peculiar jargon (invented by the author).
Circus top management is called "the fifth floor" (because that's where their offices are located) by officers of lower rank. Meetings are held in the "rumpus" or conference room. Officers who work in London are called "juju men" by the "hard men," who work in the field, the "scalp-hunters," who handle assassination, kidnapping and blackmail, the "baby sitters" or body-guards, the "pavement artists," who tail people on foot, the "ferrets," who find and remove electronic surveillance, and the "lamplighters," who install electronic surveillance.
The job of the officers in London is "running joes," people with access to intelligence, usually because they work for "the Opposition" or "Moscow Centre" (the Soviet Union and its Satellites). Joes are identified by their "handwriting" or tradecraft. To ascertain the veracity of intelligence, one takes "back-bearings." To get a joe to work for you, you "burn him," perhaps by using a "honey-trap" (seduction for the purpose of blackmail).
Other jobs at the Circus include: Housekeeping (finance, cover identities, safe houses), the Janitors (building security), Registry (files the intelligence), the Mothers (secretaries working on the fifth floor), and the Burrowers (researchers).
Sarrat is the name of the compound that holds "the Nursery" (training school) and the interrogation center, which is manned by the "Inquisitors."
"The Cousins" are the CIA specifically, and American spies in general. "The Competition" refers to other branches of the British Secret Service.