Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy pdf, Summary, Movie by John le Carré

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Overview

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy pdf novel by John le Carré, a spy novel written by British-Irish author John le Carré in 1974. 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy pdf Movie Thriller

The story follows the endeavors of taciturn, aging spymaster George Smiley to uncover a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. The novel has been adapted into both a television series and a film, and remains a staple of the spy fiction genre.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Summary (Wikipedia)


As the tension of the Cold War is peaking in 1973, George Smiley, former senior official in Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (known as “the Circus” because its London office is at Cambridge Circus), is living unhappily in forced retirement, following the failure of an operation codenamed Testify in Czechoslovakia which ended in the capture and torture of agent Jim Prideaux. Control, chief of the Circus, had suspected that one of the five senior intelligence officers at the Circus was a Soviet mole, and had assigned them code names for Prideaux to relay back to the Circus, derived from the English children’s rhyme “Tinker, Tailor”:

  • Tinker, tailor,
  • soldier, sailor,
  • rich man, poor man,
  • beggarman, thief.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy pdf summary and review

The failure resulted in the dismissal of Control, Smiley, and allies such as Connie Sachs and Gerald Westerby, and their replacement by a new guard consisting of Percy Alleline, Toby Esterhase, Bill Haydon, and Roy Bland. Control has since died, and Smiley’s former protege, Peter Guillam, has been demoted to the “scalphunters”.

Guillam unexpectedly approaches Smiley and takes him to the house of Under-Secretary Oliver Lacon, the Civil Servant who oversees the Circus. There they meet Ricki Tarr, an agent recently declared persona non grata due to suspicion of having defected. Tarr defends himself by explaining that he was informed of a Soviet mole, codenamed Gerald, at the Circus’ highest level whilst in Hong Kong by Irina, the wife of a trade delegate. Irina claimed that the mole Gerald reports to a Soviet official stationed at the embassy in London called Polyakov. Shortly after Tarr relayed this to the Circus Irina was forcibly returned to the Soviet Union, leading Tarr to suspect that the mole was real, and now knew his identity. Tarr went into hiding, resurfacing to contact Guillam.

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Lacon reasons that Smiley and Guillam cannot be the mole due to their dismissal and demotion, and requests that Smiley investigate the presence of the mole in total secrecy to avoid another PR scandal for both the Government and the Circus. Smiley cautiously agrees, and forms a team consisting of himself, Guillam, Tarr, and retired Scotland Yard Inspector Mendel. Smiley is also given access to Circus documents, and begins by examining Alleline’s restructuring, discovering the ousting of Jerry Westerby and Connie Sachs, as well as slush fund payments to Jim Prideaux.

Smiley begins the hunt

Smiley visits Sachs, discovering that she confronted Alleline about her discovery that Polyakov was actually a Soviet Colonel called Gregor Viktorov, but he ordered her to drop the subject. She also mentions rumors of a secret Soviet facility for training moles, and makes allusions to Prideaux and Bill Haydon’s relationship being more than just platonic friendship.

Smiley examines Operation Witchcraft, an operation in which Soviet intelligence was obtained through a key source “Merlin”, which was treated with suspicion by both Smiley and Control. Alleline obtained ministerial support to circumvent Control’s authority, and his post-Testify promotion supporters Haydon, Esterhase, and Bland have sponsored it. Smiley also learns that this ‘Magic Circle’ has obtained a safe house somewhere in London where they obtain information from a Merlin emissary posted in London under a diplomatic cover, whom Smiley concludes is Polyakov himself.

Smiley suspects that the Circus does not realize the flow of information is going the other way, with the mole Gerald passing important British secrets (“gold dust”) in return for low-grade Soviet material (“chicken feed”), which would make “Witchcraft” simply a cover for the mole.


Smiley also discovers that the log from the night Tarr reported in from Hong Kong has been removed, and Guillam starts to suffer from paranoia as a result of their operation. Smiley tells Guillam that he suspects a Soviet intelligence officer named Karla is linked in some way to the operation, and reveals what he knows about him. Karla is believed to have followed his father into espionage, getting his start during the Spanish Civil War posing as a White Russian émigré in the forces of General Francisco Franco, recruiting foreign, mainly German, operatives. After this, the Circus lost track of Karla, but he resurfaced during Operation Barbarossa, directing partisan operations behind German lines. Smiley explains his belief that somewhere in the gap between these two conflicts, Karla traveled to England and recruited Gerald.

Smiley points out that Karla is fiercely loyal to both the Soviet Union and communism, highlighting Karla’s current rank despite his internment in a gulag by the Stalinist regime, and reveals that Karla turned down an offer from Smiley in India to become a double agent, even though his return to the USSR in 1955 was to face a likely execution. During his attempt to obtain Karla’s defection, Smiley plied him to defect with cigarettes and promised that they could get Karla’s family out to the West safely. Smiley suspects that this only revealed his own weakness, his love for his unfaithful wife, Ann. Smiley offered Karla his lighter, a present from Ann, to light a cigarette, but Karla rose and left with it.

Merlin and Testify

Smiley suspects a link between Merlin and the botched Operation Testify. Sam Collins, who was duty officer that night, tells Smiley that Control ordered him to relay the report of the Czech operation only to him, but that when he did so, Control froze up, and that Bill Haydon’s sudden arrival was the only reason the hierarchy didn’t fall apart that night. Smiley then visits Max, a Czech operative who served as a legman for Jim on the operation, who tells Smiley that Prideaux gave him instructions to leave Czechoslovakia any way he could if Jim didn’t surface at the rendezvous at the appointed time. Next, Smiley pays a visit to Jerry Westerby, who tells Smiley of his trip to Prague where he picked up a story about Jim by a young army conscript, who insisted that the Russians were in the woods waiting a full day before the ambush.

Finally, Smiley tracks down Prideaux. Prideaux tells him Control believed there was a mole in the Circus, and had whittled it down to five men, Alleline (Tinker), Haydon (Tailor), Bland (Soldier), Esterhase (Poorman), and Smiley himself (Beggarman), and that his orders were to obtain the identity from a defector in Czech intelligence who knew. He tells Smiley he almost didn’t make the rendezvous with Max because he noticed he was being tailed, and that when he arrived to meet the defector, he was ambushed, taking two bullets to his right shoulder. During his captivity, both Polyakov and Karla interrogated him, focussing solely on the extent and status of Control’s investigation. Prideaux suggests that the Czech defector was a plant, contrived by Karla to engineer Control’s downfall through Testify’s failure, all conceived to protect the mole.

Catching the mole

Smiley confronts Toby Esterhase, stating that he is aware that Esterhase has been posing as a Russian mole, with Polyakov as his handler, in order to provide cover for Merlin’s emissary Polyakov. Smiley compels Esterhase into revealing the location of the safe house, through making him realize that not only is there a real Soviet mole embedded in the SIS, but also that Polyakov has not been “turned” to work in British interest pretending to run the “mole” Esterhase, and in fact remains Karla’s agent. Tarr is sent to Paris, where he passes a coded message to Alleline about “information crucial to the well-being of the Service”. This triggers an emergency meeting between Gerald and Polyakov at the safe house, where Smiley and Guillam are lying in wait.

Haydon is revealed to be the mole, and his interrogation reveals that he had been recruited several decades ago by Karla and became a full-fledged Soviet spy partly for political reasons, partly in frustration at Britain’s rapidly declining influence on the world stage, particularly on account of the failings at Suez. He is expected to be exchanged with the Soviet Union for several of the agents he betrayed, but is killed shortly before he is due to leave England. Although the identity of his killer is not explicitly revealed, it is strongly implied to be Prideaux, due to the method of execution echoing the way he euthanized an injured owl earlier in the book. Smiley is appointed temporary head of the Circus to deal with the fallout, and is still head at the start of the second book of The Karla Trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Author – John le Carré

John le Carré - Author of tinker tailor soldier spy pdf
John le Carré – Author of tinker tailor soldier spy pdf

David John Moore Cornwell (19 October 1931 – 12 December 2020), better known by his pen name John le Carré. He was a British author, best known for his espionage novels. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), became an international best-seller and remains one of his best-known works. According to his son Nicholas, le Carré took Irish citizenship shortly before his death.

Following the success of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, he left MI6 to become a full-time author. 

John le Carré’s Books in Order

  • John le Carré’s books include:
  • The Looking Glass War (1965)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974)
  • Smiley’s People (1979)
  • The Little Drummer Girl (1983)
  • The Night Manager (1993)
  • The Tailor of Panama (1996)
  • The Constant Gardener (2001)
  • A Most Wanted Man (2008)
  • Our Kind of Traitor (2010)

All of these books have been adapted for film or television series.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Characters

  • George Smiley: Educated at Oxford, he was a senior officer in the Circus, before being eased out upon Operation Testify failure. He is called upon to investigate the presence of a Soviet mole in the Circus.
  • Sir Percy Alleline: Chief of the Circus following Control’s ousting. Alleline spent his early career in South America, northern Africa and India. He is seen to be vain and overambitious, and is despised by Control. Alleline is knighted in the course of the book in recognition of the quality of the intelligence provided by the source codenamed Merlin. A Lowland Scot, son of a Presbyterian minister, Alleline came to the Circus from a City company.
  • Roy Bland: Second in command of London Station to Bill Haydon. Recruited by Smiley at Oxford, he was the top specialist in Soviet satellite states and spent several years undercover as a left-wing academic in the Balkans before being instituted in the Circus.
  • Control: Former head of the Circus and now dead. Before the war he was a Cambridge don.
  • Toby Esterhase: He is the head of the lamplighters, the section of the Circus responsible for surveillance and wiretapping. Hungarian by birth, Esterhase is an anglophile with pretensions of being a British gentleman. He was recruited by Smiley as “a starving student in Vienna”.
  • Peter Guillam: He is the head of the scalphunters, the section of the Circus used in operations that require physical action and/or violence, and is based in Brixton. Son of a French businessman and an Englishwoman, he is a longtime associate of Smiley.
  • Bill Haydon: Commander of London Station, he has worked with the Circus since the war. A polymath, he was recruited at Oxford where he was a close companion of Prideaux. One of Ann Smiley’s cousins, he has an affair with her, and this knowledge subsequently becomes widely known. One of the four who ran the double agent codenamed Merlin.
  • Oliver Lacon: A Permanent Secretary in Great Britain’s Cabinet Office. Civilian overseer of the Circus. A former Cambridge rowing blue; his father “a dignitary of the Scottish church” and his mother “something noble”
  • Mendel: Retired former Inspector in the Special Branch, he assists Smiley during his investigation. Frequently a go-between for Smiley and other members helping him investigate.
  • Jim Prideaux: His Circus codename was Jim Ellis. Raised abroad partially, he is first identified as a prospective recruit by fellow student Bill Haydon at Oxford. He was shot in Czechoslovakia during the collapse of Operation Testify. Former head of the scalphunters. Now teaches at a boys’ prep school.
  • Connie Sachs: Former Russia analyst for the Circus, she is forced to retire, and now runs a rooming house in Oxford. Alcoholic, but with an excellent memory. She is said to have been modeled upon Milicent Bagot.
  • Miles Sercombe: The Government Minister to whom Lacon and the Circus are responsible. A distant cousin of Smiley’s wife, he plays a peripheral role in Smiley’s investigation. Not highly regarded.
  • Ricki Tarr: A field agent who supplies information that indicates there is a Soviet mole in the Circus. He was trained by Smiley. Works for Guillam as one of the scalphunters.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Film

The Swedish director Tomas Alfredson made a film adaptation of the novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  in 2011, based on a screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. The film was released in the UK and Ireland on 16 September 2011, and in the United States on 9 December 2011. It included a cameo appearance by John le Carré in the Christmas party scene as the older man in the gray suit who stands suddenly to sing the Soviet anthem. The film received numerous Academy Award nominations including a nomination for Best Actor for Gary Oldman for his role as George Smiley. The film also starred Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, and Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy pdf Book Information

tinker tailor soldier spy pdf
tinker tailor soldier spy pdf

Below are some of the basic information about the book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Scribner (October 1, 2002)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 400 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0743457900
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0743457903
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 12.5 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1 x 8.25 inches
  • Best Sellers Rank: #2,885,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • #16,030 in Espionage Thrillers (Books)
  • #94,883 in Suspense Thrillers
  • #127,223 in Literary Fiction (Books)
  • Customer Reviews: 
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars
  • 4,917 ratings

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy pdf Book Review

George P. Wood


5.0 out of 5 stars

With George Smiley in the Wilderness of Mirrors

Reviewed in the United States on May 30, 2017

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James Jesus Angleton, the legendary (and controversial) chief of CIA counterintelligence, described his work, borrowing a phrase from T. S. Eliot, as a “wilderness of mirrors.” In such a wilderness, it is difficult to discern between reality and reflection. Add the element of danger, and the wilderness induces paranoia in the viewer. The setting of John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is this wilderness of mirrors.

The story takes place in 1973. It opens with Jim Prideaux, former British agent, being hired as a substitute teacher at a boys’ prep school. “Control” (head of Britain’s intelligence service, MI6) has died, George Smiley (Control’s chief lieutenant) has been sacked, Operation Testify (Prideaux’s last op in Czechoslovakia) ended in abject failure, and “Circus” (MI6), has been reorganized under a new chief.

Then, a British agent named Ricki Tarr comes across information that the Soviets are running a mole in the Circus, who is code-named “Gerald.” Oliver Lacon, the Civil Service officer responsible for MI6 oversight, approaches Smiley and asks him to investigate. As the novel unfolds, Smiley discovers that there is a mole, he is a double agent feeding the Circus bad Soviet intel, and he is responsible for blowing Prideaux’s op.

It is a testament to John Le Carré’s skill as a writer that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a page-turner despite the fact that it contains so little action. Instead, the plot moves forward and the truth is revealed by means of conversations, flashbacks, and Smiley’s seemingly inexhaustible memory. Smiley walks us through the wilderness one mirror at a time until we see reality.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the fifth of seven novels in which George Smiley plays a part and the first of Le Carré’s famed “Karla Trilogy,” in which Smiley matches wits with “Karla,” head of “Moscow Center” (the KGB). It is followed by The Honorable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People. Of the five novels I have read so far, this and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (in which Smiley plays a small role) are the best.

Interestingly, Le Carré is releasing what is billed as a new George Smiley novel in September. It’s called A Legacy of Spies, and I look forward to reading it after I finish this series.


5.0 out of 5 stars

A Classic British Spy Novel with First-rate writing

Reviewed in the United States on November 8, 2016

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“Tinker Tailor soldier spy pdf.” is the fictionalized story of the Cambridge spies–notably Kim Philby. It’s a Cold War story that takes you back to the 1970s. This is the first of three novels that were later published as a trilogy. I reread this old classic after many years as part of a John Le Carré book course. We read it along with a biography of Kim Philby, the British mole who spied for the USSR while a member of MI6, the British intelligence service. The writing is on a very high level. George Smiley is the main character, who appears in a number of Le Carré novels. He is quintessentially English, modest, and retiring, but with a sizable ego when it comes to intelligence work. Imagine Alec Guiness in the role, as he appeared in the BBC series, and you will get an accurate picture. There’s a bit of moderate, non-graphic violence, as well as allusions to moderate, non-graphic sex, and nothing in the way of profanity that I recall.

There’s much debate about whether Le Carré (né David Cornwell) is a literary writer or just at the top of spy novelists. I believe he’s both. This novel, in particular, has a lot of biographical material, thinly disguised. I read a biography of Le Carré at the same time as the course. There are many parallels to Philby’s life, and much is taken from David Cornwell’s experience as a member of the two British Secret Service organizations, MI5 and MI6. You can easily see where some of the characters were drawn from. Not necessarily so blatant as to be actual profiles, but the similarities are obvious. Reportedly, Le Carré”s friends liked the idea of their names being used in his novels, or their serving as inspiration for a character.

Highly recommended for those who like spy fiction and appreciate good writing.

MJ Smith

5.0 out of 5 stars

One of the all time greatest spy novels

Reviewed in the United States on January 18, 2020

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John LeCarre is almost in a class of his own when it comes to writing spy novels. He was a spy himself, before turning to writing. Good writers write what they know. John LeCarre does just that. This novel is the first in a three part trilogy called the Karla Trilogy, where George Smiley is brought back from retirement to find a mole in the British Intelligence Service referred to as The Circus. What Smiley uncovers is that the mole is being run by Moscow’s mastermind known as Karla. I won’t go into the story itself. It’s a great novel filled with descriptions of real spy tradecraft, how spies really operate in their shadowy world. This book ranks right up there with my other favorite LeCarre novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, as probably the two best spy novels ever written.

Stiven Skyrah

5.0 out of 5 stars

The greatest espionage novel.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 10, 2019

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I’m one of many people who think that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the greatest espionage novel of all time. Let’s take the obvious things first. Unlike most examples of this genre, it’s extremely well-written. Also, having worked in espionage himself, le Carré is able to get the atmosphere right. It feels 100% authentic, and you see that spying is like most other jobs. The greater part of it is routine and office intrigues, though every now and then something unexpected and dramatic happens.

So, even if there was nothing more to it, I’d still say that this book was very good. What makes it great is that the author isn’t content with giving you a realistic account of what it’s like to be a spy. He’s gone much further than that, and written a book that’s not just about espionage, which most people never come into contact with, but about betrayal, which we see all the time.

The thing about betrayal is that you’re generally aware that it’s happening before you know how, or why, or who. Things used to be good, and now they’re not, and you know that even if you do figure out what’s happened you’ll never be able to put it right. At best, you’ll be able to cut your losses, and move on. In TTSS, the main character, George Smiley, is being betrayed in two different ways. First, it’s gradually become clear that there is a mole in his department. It can only be someone at the very highest level. One of his most trusted colleagues, someone he has worked with for years, and shared things with, and treated as a friend, is actually working for the Russians. They have it narrowed down to four people. He has to find out which one it is, and do what’s necessary. And, at the same time, he’s also realized that his wife is sleeping around. He can’t really prove anything, and they never talk about it. But he knows that too.

I can imagine any number of clumsy, over-obvious ways to link up these threads. Le Carré does it with a very light touch. You see these two things happening, and every now and then there is an echo of correspondence. He wants you to be a spy too, and put together the little bits of evidence until you reach a conclusion. It’s a book that completely transcends the genre, and shows how a writer who has enough talent can achieve stunning results in any medium. Strongly recommended to anyone who’s ever been betrayed, or themselves betrayed a person they’re close to. Which, unfortunately, is most of us.


5.0 out of 5 stars

A classic of the genre

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 19, 2018

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The title will be familiar to many who have never even read this book. Without doubt one of the very greatest spy novels, the icy atmosphere of the Cold War is brought brilliantly to life via a cast of memorable characters who all have their own deep motivations for acts of loyalty, friendship, daring… and betrayal. There’s no 007 glamor here, simply move and counter-move in a deadly game for the highest stakes.

Although there are previous books in the Smiley series (this is book 5), in my opinion “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy pdf” would be suitable as the first to read – to be followed by the other two books in the trilogy that forms the heart of the series: 

Eiger Enthusiast

5.0 out of 5 stars

Richly engrossing classic of the Spy genre

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 6, 2019

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Re-reading this book after a gap of many years, I was reminded just how exceptional it really is. The writing is superb and engrossing, with deep plotting and immense characterisation, making it something to really savor as your mind folds around the words.

If you are looking for action a la Fleming or Ludlum, then this is not for you; but if your desire is for a spy story that is deep and rich in detail, then this book will delight you.

An understanding, or appreciation, of the Cold War that raged in the decades after WWII is not essential to enjoyment of the book but it will enhance it because it helps you grasp what is driving the story and, most importantly, the characters. Comparing this book to real-life spy stories coming out of the Cold War era, such as Ben MacIntyre’s superb ‘The Spy and the Traitor’ about Oleg Goridievsky (thoroughly recommended!)It is amazing to see how close to reality the tale actually is.

This time around, I read the book closely after watching the BBC’s superb 70’s dramatization of the novel starring Alec Guinness – and this has really helped to flesh out (almost literally) the characters in the book. The adaptation is incredibly close to the source material and I find myself not only visualizing the scenes as they play out but vocalizing (in my head) the conversations as they are portrayed on screen – a very interesting and enriching experience.


5.0 out of 5 stars

Back to the Icebox

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 27, 2017

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Many will be familiar with this story from the BBC series of the same name quite a number of years ago now. The BBC series didn’t stray very far from the book, but the book occasionally has scenes which differed but usually to the book’s advantage.

I think this is a really good book, and reflects well the cold war period and the hostility & suspicion which existed between the two armed camps, NATO and the Soviet Union. It moves at a good pace, and the characters are very much of the time. After all this time it is really quite a period piece, and a good read for anyone who is not familiar with the period of the Cold War and its tensions, as well as anyone who loves a good spy story.

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