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George Smiley Books in order: How to readJohn le Carré’s series?

Last Updated 10 months ago.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 Books 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

Call for the Dead George Smiley Books in order A Murder of Quality George Smiley Books in order The Spy Who Came in from the Cold George Smiley Books in order The Looking Glass War George Smiley Books in order

  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

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy George Smiley Books in order The Honourable Schoolboy George Smiley Books in order Smiley’s People George Smiley Books in order

  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

The Secret Pilgrim George Smiley Books in order A Legacy of Spies George Smiley Books in order

  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.
The George Smiley Novels 8-Volume Boxed Set

The George Smiley Novels 8-Volume Boxed Set

16 thoughts on “George Smiley Books in order: How to readJohn le Carré’s series?”

  1. I’m sorry, but this article really should NOT be headed by an image from the execrable movie remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The DEFINITIVE George Smiley is the one portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness and if you need an image for this article, it is his you should use.

    1. My thoughts exactly!. The 1979 BBC production brings John LeCarre’s work true to “life”. Alec Guniness’s Smiley is the one and only Smiley. The remake with Gary Oldman: execrable, yes. Why bother to remake a masterpiece?
      BTW: In the Honorable Boy description – it’s Jerry Westerby, not Gerald. Gerald was the name of the mole in Tinker, Tailor.

    2. Execerable? Hardly. An apples to oranges comparison in any case. A multi-episode series allows for far greater narrative sweep. A movie is exponentially more confined and depends on editing to make it work as a contained story. In that respect, the moviemakers did a good job, just as they did with “A Most Wanted Man.”

      1. Agreed. The latest TTSS is too short and unless one had read the book and or seen the Guinness TV version (5 hours) one would not have a clue about what was going on.
        On another matter in the book Tarr’s meting with Irina takes place in Hong Kong but the TV version moved to Lisbon. Was this the parsimonious BBC saving money?

    3. Gary Oldman would have been the “signature”George Smileyhad it not been for Alec Guiness, who, for me, WAS George Smiley.

    4. I believe Le Carre himself, after seeing Sir Alec Guiness’s portrayal of Smiley, said that from then on that was how he thought of Smiley. Don’t be too hard on Gary Oldman. He did a competent job but it was a case of a good actor challenging a great one. Isn’t this at the heart of the book versus film debate? With a book you are allowed to build your personal version of the characters from the information the author provides. Perhaps, like me, you feel Sir Alec Guiness had looked inside your head!

    5. Oh yes, Smiley has more than looked inside my head – he has lived inside my head. Every year, I read the oeuvre of a favourite author and last year it was LeCarre. I read everything in the order written and was lucky enough to find in second hand book stores and thrift shops a couple of Book Edition copies. A Small Town in Germany had disappeared from my local library but was found at another. The 8-week wait was worth it! It was a wonderful time. But alas, I’m finished and now I feel strangely bereft. I miss George Smiley. But is the Cold War over?

    6. The Movie version of Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. introduced me to John Le Carre, and I loved it and all the actors who played in it. I watched the TV series later, and while I thoroughly enjoyed Alec Guiness as Smiley, I felt Gary Oldman was also outstanding . The bottom line is, both representations were good and did not do the author a disservice. I have since immersed myself in John Le Carre books and am enjoying them all.

    7. Agreed. The latest TTSS is too short and unless one had read the book and or seen the Guinness TV version (5 hours) one would not have a clue about what was going on.
      On another matter in the book Tarr’s meting with Irina takes place in Hong Kong but the TV version moved to Lisbon. Was this the parsimonious BBC saving money?

    8. I assume it was indeed a matter of saving money. However, the TV version was far more accurate about Jim Prideaux’ doings in Czechoslovakia.

    9. The 2011 movie is no less a masterpiece than the 1970s mini series. The Christmas party parts, the music, Cumberbatch as Guillam, the precision in narrating the story, in many aspects it is in fact superior to the mini series. Watch it again som if you are sceptical. The only Le Carré movie adaptation that is (possibly) better is The Constant Gardener.

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