John Le Carre is back with his first novel featuring the character of George Smiley in over twenty-five years and weaves in major plot points from many of his previous novels, including the espionage classic, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”. The main character here is Peter Guillam, Smiley’s former right hand who has long retired and now lives in France. Guillam is drawn back to England when an official letter arrives questioning his role in the events of Operation Windfall because descendants of those killed are now suing the government and George Smiley, the architect of the events cannot be found.
The novel is set both in the present when Guillam must justify the actions taken during the height of the Cold War to members of the current establishment who barely remember it and in the past. Many of the participants have died since the early 1960’s and as Peter works to uncover and verify what happened using recollections and pilfered top-secret documents, he soon learns that much of what occurred both now and at the time had been carefully manipulated and that some secrets are still deadly.
One of the most remarkable things about the novel is how fresh le Carre’s writing feels during both the time settings which is remarkable for a man of 85. He manages to catch the feelings of postwar sentiment and the fear of Communist Eastern Europe and balance that with the bland, computer-powered intelligence world of modern London. His main character works well for the story from a clever, energetic and driven young man to the equally wily but cynical old man he has become. Whether this is your first or your fiftieth le Carre novel, ‘A Legacy of Spies” is well worth reading.