I don’t know if you heard, George Smiley is back after 27 years of absence. Let’s take a look at his previous apparitions.

Who is George Smiley?

George Smiley is a fictional character created by John le Carré. He is a spy or, more precisely, a career intelligence officer with ‘The Circus’ – the British overseas intelligence agency.

Smiley wasn’t necessarily a central character each time he made an appearance in one of Le Carré’s book. After all, even with a long career, being a spy required to live in the shadows. Smiley may be the most famous British spy after James Bond, but he was definitely another kind of spy.

George Smiley novels in order:

What is known as The Karla Trilogy is the most important part of the Smiley story, but his story started in 1961 in Call for the Dead.

The early days of spying


  1. Call for the Dead – George Smiley apparently made a mistake. After a routine security interview, he concluded that the affable Samuel Fennan had nothing to hide. Why, then, did the man from the Foreign Office shoot himself in the head only hours later? Or did he?
  2. A Murder of Quality – Miss Ailsa Brimley is in a quandary. She’s received a peculiar letter from Mrs. Stella Rode, saying that she fears her husband is trying to kill her. Reluctant to go to the police, Miss Brimley calls upon her old wartime colleague, George Smiley. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Mrs. Rode has just been murdered. As Smiley takes up the investigation, he realizes that in life – as in espionage – nothing is quite what it appears.
  3. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – In the shadow of the newly erected Berlin Wall, Alec Leamas watches as his last agent is shot dead by East German sentries. For Leamas, the head of Berlin Station, the Cold War is over. As he faces the prospect of retirement or worse – a desk job – Control offers him a unique opportunity for revenge. Assuming the guise of an embittered and dissolute ex-agent, Leamas is set up to trap Mundt, the deputy director of the East German Intelligence Service – with himself as the bait. In the background is George Smiley, ready to make the game play out just as Control wants.
  4. The Looking Glass War – 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 matters military. But the Department has been moribund since the War, its resources siphoned away. Now, one of their agents is dead, and vital evidence verifying the presence of Soviet missiles near the West German border is gone. John Avery is the Department’s younger member and its last hope.

The Karla trilogy


  1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – The man he knew as ‘Control’ is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley isn’t quite ready for retirement – especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla – his Moscow Centre nemesis – and sets a trap to catch the traitor.
  2. The Honourable Schoolboy – The mole has been eliminated, but the damage wrought has brought the British Secret Service to its knees. Given the charge of the gravely compromised Circus, George Smiley embarks on a campaign to uncover what Moscow Centre most wants to hide. When the trail goes cold at a Hong Kong gold seam, Smiley dispatches Gerald Westerby to shake the money tree. A part-time operative with cover as a philandering journalist, Westerby insinuates himself into a war-torn world where allegiances – and lives – are bought and sold.
  3. Smiley’s People – A very junior agent answers Vladimir’s call, but it could have been the Chief of the Circus himself. No one at the British Secret Service considers the old spy to be anything except a senile has-been who can’t give up the game – until he’s shot in the face at point-blank range. Although George Smiley is officially retired, he’s summoned to identify the body now bearing Moscow Centre’s bloody imprimatur. As he works to unearth his friend’s fatal secrets, Smiley heads inexorably toward one final reckoning with Karla.

Smiley, Retired spy


  1. The Secret Pilgrim – To train new spies for this uncertain future, one must show them the past. Enter the man called Ned, the loyal and shrewd veteran of the Circus. With the inspiration of his inscrutable mentor George Smiley, Ned thrills all as he recounts forty exhilarating years of Cold War espionage across Europe and the Far East – an electrifying, clandestine tour of honorable old knights and notorious traitors, triumph and failure, passion and hate, suspicion, sudden death, and old secrets that haunt us still.
  2. A Legacy of Spies – Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications.