The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and this book was first published a year later. Back then it was believed that as the Cold War was over, the spying espionage novel was finished. Redundant. Passé.
Of course that wasn’t the case, the world’s second oldest profession was never going to go as quietly as that, and so it proved. Today in 2007, the intelligence services are busier than ever.
The Secret Pilgrim centres on George Smiley’s retirement, and the progress of his protégé, Ned. In many ways it is not a single book at all, but a collection of flashback stories set in such varied locations as Estonia, Israel and Lebanon, and Thailand and Cambodia. The individual stories come in varying degrees of intensity, and many of the images it brought to my mind lived with me long after I had set the book down. Some of them I will never forget. Is this the true test of a novel’s power?
Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of Britain’s intelligence services, the first woman to hold the post, and the first person ever to hold the post whilst known to the public, stated recently that John Le Carré, of all the espionage writers, painted the most accurate pictures of her times in the service. It is not difficult to believe, and The Secret Pilgrim will not disappoint any espionage aficionados, though you don’t have to be such a buff, to glean enjoyment from this work.
I have always preferred Mister le Carré’s earlier works, of which this just about is. I found it an easy book to read, hard to put down, easy to follow, (not always the case in this genre) and well worth the effort in returning to his back catalogue. I suspect spy books are set for a comeback, something that will suit Mister le Carré admirably. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then I would. I’m hooked you see. Give it a try. Codebook anyone?
The Secret Pilgrim by John Le Carre.