Barley Blair is not a Service man: he is a small-time publisher, a self-destructive soul. But it was Barley who, one drunken night at a dacha in Peredelkino during the Moscow Book Fair, was befriended by a high-ranking Soviet scientist who could be the greatest asset to the West since perestroika began, and made a promise.
West Germany, a simmering cauldron of radical protests, has produced a new danger to Britain: Karfeld, menacing leader of the opposition. At the same time Leo Harting, a Second Secretary in the British Embassy, has gone missing - along with more than forty Confidential embassy files.
The Cold War is over and Ned has been demoted to the training academy. He asks his old mentor, George Smiley, to address his passing-out class. There are no laundered reminiscences; Smiley speaks the truth - perhaps the last the students will ever hear.
Stella Rode has twice disturbed the ancient cloisters of Carne School. George Smiley, who has his own connection with the school, is asked by an old Service friend to investigate. As Smiley probes further beneath Carne's respectable veneer, he uncovers far more than a simple crime of passion.
When the Department - faded since the war and busy only with bureaucratic battles - hears rumour of a missile base near the West German border, it seems like the perfect opportunity to regain some political standing in the Intelligence market place. The Cold War is at its height and the Department is dying for a piece of the action.