IN PRAISE OF READING LE CARRÉ’S ENTIRE OEUVRE IN ORDER: Ben Winters on finishing a project he never wanted to end (BEN H. WINTERS, 3/08/24, CrimeReads)

I started at the top, not wanting to miss anything, and not wanting to allow someone else’s arbitrary rankings to dictate which books I read, in what order.

And so I traveled with John le Carré from the beginning, with Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality (1962) two delightful if unremarkable mystery-thrillers very much of their time and place. It is only with book number three, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963) that we can feel the great man becoming great; it is in In From the Cold that he finds his metier, the grubby heroics of Cold War spies, and the sophisticated nuance and drollery of his voice. By the time we get to The Looking Glass War (1965) one has the sense of a true artist, alive in a world he would make his own, adding notes of comedy and world-weary melancholy to his canvass, expanding outwards from the core.

And does he ever, in books six, seven, and eight—Tinker, Tailor (1974), Honorable Schoolboy (1977), and Smiley’s People (1979), the famous trilogy starring the flawed spymaster George Smiley, whose owl-frame glasses and air of heroic melancholy will forever define for me what a protagonist should be: not a hero who is always heroic, but one who tries to be, and never quite can.

And of course, le Carré was only get started.

Actually, he’s pretty near the end. Only the novels where he brings Smiley back to relive the old days are really worthwhile. But I too have recently been reading them in order and highly recommend the practice. Without Call for the Dead you fail to understand the Smiley of In from the Cold and the deep silliness, if not actual malice, that LeCarre’s bothsidsism aimed at the West in the Cold War.