A Book Spy Review: ‘A Legacy of Spies’ by John le Carré


It’s been nearly thirty years since John le Carré last wrote about George Smiley, but the old spymaster is back once again in A Legacy of Spies

Fans may initially be bummed out to learn that George Smiley (last seen in the 1991 thriller The Secret Pilgrim) is not the lead character in A Legacy of Spies. Instead, MI6 agent Peter Guillam fills the spotlight in this direct sequel to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was written fifty years ago. 

When the new story kicks off, Peter Guillam is enjoying retirement. Living in France, the old spy is happy. Old, white-haired, and hard of hearing, but happy. A sudden summons from MI6 changes that, though, and he soon finds himself back in the “circus” answering questions about operation Windfall. 

Windfall, of course, was the mission detailed in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and now, all these years later, children of some of the operatives involved way back when are now threatening legal action for certain deaths which may or may not have been avoidable. That’s where Guillam comes into play–to help answer those very questions. As he’s forced to reexamine the entire operation, new details emerge as le Carré pulls on old threads and heart strings, landing one surprise blow after another. 

Smiley, who has got to be close to triple digits by now, does have a role here, and he’s the same old spook fans fell in love with many years ago. Other old faces and voices return too, as Guillam combs through old interrogation transcripts, mission debriefing summaries, and other intelligence reports connected to Windfall. 

John le Carré.jpgBy telling the story this way, le Carré is able to take readers on a nostalgia-filled, suspense-driven, twisting and turning trip down memory lane while at the same time still advancing his story onward. And onward, indeed, does Legacy surge, though it’s still more of a slow-burn style, which the iconic author is known for, rather than the high-octane style fans have come to expect from other thriller authors. 

John le Carré’s legendary prose is still strong and on point. Even at 85, the author proves to be every bit as witty and cunning as his earlier days. Never a flame-thrower, le Carré was always known for his finesse, and he can still command the strike zone with ease. In fact, not much has changed, ensuring that if you enjoyed his work before, you’re in for a treat with this one. 

If this is, in fact, the final book from le Carré, he managed to save one of his best stories for last, and his fans will not be disappointed. A Legacy of Spies is a vintage John le Carré thriller, and this breathless tale of espionage, told from one of the spy genre’s founding novelists, is not to be missed.

Book Details

Author: John le Carré
Series: George Smiley
Pages: 272 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0735225117
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 9.0/10
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