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.
Andrew Osnard is an old Etonian and spy. His secret mission in Panama is two-pronged: to keep an eye on the political manoeuvrings leading up to the American handover of the Panama Canal on 31st December 1999, and to secure for himself the immense private fortune that has thus far eluded him.
Tim Cranmer, retired scret servant and Larry Pettifer, bored radical don, philanderer and for 20 years Tim's mercurial double agent against the now vanished Communist threat, have an unresolved rivalry that dates back decades. They follow each other to Moscow and then Southern Russia.
The Berlin Wall is toppled, the Iron Curtain swept aside. The Secret Pilgrim is Ned, a decent, loyal soldier of the Cold War, who has been in British Intelligence all his adult life. Now, approaching the end of his career, he is forced by the explosions of change to revisit his secret years.
In these three masterly novels, John le Carré brings to thrilling life the shadowy battlegrounds of the Cold War - a war of ambiguous victories and hidden defeats orchestrated from the corridors of the Circus and Moscow Centre, and staffed by an army of moles and lamplighters, scalphunters and pavement artists. Stalking each other through this twilight landscape are the incomparable George Smiley and his ruthless opposite number, codenamed Karla, the Soviet case officer who has been slowly masterminding the Circus's ruin.
Their extraordinary duel not only raised the spy novel to new heights of realism and complexity, it also constitutes one of the major triumphs of contemporary fiction, confirming John le Carré as a profound chronicler of the post-war world and a novelist of unfailing humanity.
This is the second of le Carre's Smiley novels, featuring the character of George Smiley who was introduced in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". The story involves the betrayal of a Soviet spy and suspicions that the network has been infiltrated from the top downwards.
When London publisher Barley Blair receives an important smuggled document from Moscow, the English spymasters are forced to use him to establish the document's veracity. His collusion with Katya, the Moscow intermediary, may represent the way of the future, to the distaste of espionage professionals on both sides.