2018-05-17 / Opinions

Book Review

A Legacy of Spies
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Many of us remember fondly The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. He has done it again with A Legacy of Spies. The same suspense, good characterization, and subtle humor make this new book nostalgic and entertaining. Even George Smiley makes a “cameo” appearance.

Peter Guillam, former British Secret Agent and colleague of former friends of ours, is retired in Brittany. He receives a “command” from his old employer to return to England. He is questioned by unpleasant Bunny and Laura about a covert operation code-named Windfall. When he denies knowledge of it, Bunny throws in a reference to his old colleagues Alec Leamas and Elizabeth Gold, names that former readers will remember.

Back and forth between questions and denial continue until Bunny finally says that Guillam and the Service are defendants in a court case brought by the son of Alec and the daughter of Elizabeth. They are convinced that their parents died as a result of dreadful mistakes on the part of the British Secret Service and Peter in particular. A defense needs to be mounted to protect the Service against them and certain members of the government.

Finally Peter runs out of denials and tells his interrogators more of what they want to know, including how to get into the “safe flat,” still there after all this time, and cared for by his old friend Milly McCraig. Much has remained secret after many years, but now Bunny hopes to learn all.

Peter is provided with a temporary apartment; he is to come every day to headquarters and read old documents in order to explain things to his new bosses. He will be “minded” by two young people who watch him as he works. Thus we and he go back over the adventure known as Windfall, including the story of “Tulip,” a female agent whom he had known, though he did not know the end of her story.

If this sounds tame and boring, it definitely is neither. As Peter reads on, he relives tense moments and learns new, troubling information, and we are back in the frightening time of the Cold War. Lives and reputations are in danger, and he is helpless at this late date to make a difference. Even when he is finally about to be released from supervision, he is threatened by Alec’s son, who may be deranged but is certainly vengeful.

A Legacy of Spies is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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