Monday, July 03, 2006

"There are three of them, and Alleline."

Those were the words of Control, head of the Circus (British Secret Service, so named because of its address), speaking of a new power clique formed around a mysterious new Russian source of "gold dust". But there was a mole in the Circus! Five possible suspects were outlined and aliased with occupations in the children's poem "Tinker, Tailor". But now Control was dead and with him went any pursuit of the mole. Until one day, a "scalp hunter" returns from the field with a story that could "change all their lives"...

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is John Le Carre's masterpiece of spy fiction. Only it doesn't read like fiction. A former member of the intelligence community, Le Carre brings no 'Bondian' exploits here but a messy web of psychological intrigues to be deciphered with research, deduction and wits. Little pieces of information are assimilated until finally a clear picture emerges. But it's not just the realism that makes this so great. It's because Le Carre asks why.

Why does one become a spy? What things in a person's make up draws him into a secretive world? Where is the line drawn to where the end no longer justifies the means? Le Carre mulls all these things as he takes us on a tour of the "secret world". Nothing is black and white, there is heroism and villainy on both sides - as is in the real world.

There are some moments in film you never forget. One of mine was watching what was to be the trapping of the mole and his revelation. I too was nervous as they made the final preparations to flush him out. As if I were truly there, a million things were running through my mind on what could go wrong. The tension was overwhelming and I was wringing my hands...and then it all happened.

I also have a spot in my heart for the romantic side of the spy game. I spoke of Sidney Reilly in a previous post, the inspiration for James Bond. Reilly was a man with the vain hope of manipulating the world to his satisfaction. But being such a master of intrigue he thought he could make it happen. Ian Fleming mythologized Reilly into a person who walked among us but lived in a different world. With the dull, boring lives most of us lead, the idea of life being filled with excitement and adventure is intoxicatingly alluring.

"Who on earth do you think you are? A superstar? Well, right you are!"
-John Lennon, "Instant Karma"

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