A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré
London has changed over the last 50 years and Britain’s role in the world has slipped from central to peripheral. Throughout it all, John le Carré has marked the stages of the UK’s retreat. Now, in his latest and perhaps last novel, A Legacy of Spies, he returns to where it all began.
Le Carré found his voice in his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, creating a world where English public schoolboys and girls run clandestine operations with a mixture of clumsy amateurism and obscure but deep institutional knowledge, where idealistic assets are used politely but without pity and where those who have a nature for lies and loneliness can find a home and often a grave. Betrayed at its very head this world would have collapsed were it not for protagonist George Smiley.
Le Carré deliberately avoided turning Smiley into an espionage version of Hercule Poirot. After 1979’s Smiley’s People, he was barely mentioned again, until now.
In A Legacy of Spies, Smiley’s protégé, Peter Guillam, is recalled from retirement to answer for his and Smiley’s actions in the 1960s. Guillam discovers that what was acceptable then is no longer.
Those of us who have immersed ourselves in John le Carré’s many menacing worlds now have the chance to come full circle, to revisit his original cast of characters and to return to his Cambridge Circus. If it is to be his last novel then this would be the perfect way for John le Carré to conclude his legacy of spies.
This article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of UNRESERVED.