Smiley's People

Smiley's People

infobox Book |
name = Smiley's People
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = John le Carré
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series = Karla Trilogy
genre = Spy novel
publisher = Hodder & Stoughton (UK) & Random House (USA)
release_date = November 1979
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 384 pp (hardback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-340-24704-5 (UK hardback edition) & ISBN 0-394-50843-2 (US hardback edition)
preceded_by = The Honourable Schoolboy
followed_by =
:"For the article by Neal Stephenson, see Smiley's people (essay)."

"Smiley's People" is a spy novel by John le Carré, published in 1979. Featuring British master-spy George Smiley, it is the third novel of the Karla Trilogy, following "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "The Honourable Schoolboy".


George Smiley is called out from retirement, a final time, to investigate the death of an old British agent, a Russian General anonymously living in retirement in London. Smiley learns the General had discovered information that would lead to a final confrontation with George Smiley's nemesis, the Soviet spy-master Karla.

Maria Andreyevna Ostrakova, a Russian émigrée in Paris, is persuaded by a Soviet agent (whom we later identify as Oleg Kirov né Kursky) that her daughter, left long ago in the Soviet Union, may be permitted to emigrate and join Ostrakova. But too much time passes after Ms. Ostrakova completes the formalities; with no sign of her daughter and no further contact with agent Kirov. Ms. Ostrakova comes to realise that she and her real-life story have been used for some unknown reason; most likely used by the KGB. She therefore contacts General Vladimir, a former WWII agent for the British, and an anti-Soviet hero among the Russian émigrée community living in the west. Vladimir begins an investigation on his own (after being rebuffed by the British MI-6), with help from his friend Otto Leipzig and another friend's son, Villem aka William Craven. Vladimir realizes that Ostrakova was unwittingly used to provided a "legend," i.e. a false identity, for an unknown young woman through a scheme personally and clearly unofficially directed by KGB master spy Karla, himself. Vladimir immediately recognizes the unofficial nature of the operation because of its use of Soviet Diplomatic personnel, not properly trained KGB intelligence officers, working under diplomatic cover. In fact, all the operatives seem to be amateur in their operational tradecraft; beginning with Oleg Kirov and his first approach to Ms. Ostrakova.

Vladimir never discovers the reason for these actions by Karla. Nor does he discover any information about who or where the real young woman is. But the import of this information, prompts Vladimir to attempt to pass it on to British intelligence, but the Circus (its London headquarters) is sceptical and uncooperative. Meanwhile, Vladimir's snooping is discovered by Karla's network of informers within the Russian émigrée community in the west. Vlaidimir is soon thereafter professionally assassinated, evidently by a Moscow agent.

New Circus head Saul Enderby wants to protect himself and the Circus from any scandal and calls in George Smiley to help clean up the incident relating to his (Smiley's) former agent in the Russian émigrée community, being clearly assassinated in a London park. Smiley, unlike anyone currently in authority at the Circus, believes Vladimir possessed valuable intelligence. Like Vladimir, Smiley instantly recognized the importance of the very fact that Karla had clearly (and possibly illegally), gone outside of official KGB channels to construct and operate an intelligence operation using (Soviet) government funds, amateur personnel, and to no visible intelligence purpose. For Smiley, that alone is reason enough to investigate.

Soviet agents blunder an attempt to kill Ostrakova. She, recognizing that she is in danger, has already sent another letter to Vladimir.

Smiley retrieves a negative hidden by Vladimir just before his death. A photo developed from the negative shows Kirov and Leipzig, nearly naked, entwined with a pair of naked prostitutes. Smiley also intercepts the second letter from Ostrakova to Vladimir. Smiley then consults with Connie Sachs and flies to Hamburg, where he hopes to find Leipzig and learn the rest of the story.

Ms. Sachs, now retired too, is the former head of intelligence research at the Circus. She is an expert on the Soviet Union's government, and the KGB in particular. Ms Sachs tells Smiley that his information from Vladimir coincides with other background information the Circus had collected years earlier, which indicated that Karla had for a time in the past been having personal and/or domestic problems with a common-law wife (Karla's "hag", as Connie says) and/or, her/their daughter. The wife, after a time with these domestic problems had "died"; and thereafter Karla himself had had to assume responsibility, if not the actual parental custody, for the/their daughter. The domestic anti-social(Soviet) problems had continued with the daughter; and eventually had resulted in her temporary, and later, full time confinement to a mental institution.

Putting these facts together on a single timeline, Ms Sachs and Mr. Smiley determined that the domestic "time of troubles" for Karla had been coincident with the initiation of the activities which Vlaidimir had independently and unknowingly discovered. Smiley first, and then Ms. Sachs came to realize that the murders of Kirov, Vladimir, and Leipzig, and the attempted murder of Ostrakova were not a revenge or a silencing operation. They were part of an on-going cover-up of the "out-of-channels" "legend" operation initiated by Karla. The deaths had been ordered, whenever anyone had come close to the "legend" operation. And that the purpose for that operation, had been in the Circus' KGB background research files of Connie Sachs, all the while.

In Hamburg, Smiley tracks down Claus Kretzschmar, old friend of Leipzig and owner of the seedy night club (brothel / strip club) where the photograph was taken. Kretzschmar gives him directions to find Leipzig. But the Soviets have found Leipzig first, and tortured and killed him. They had also searched fruitlessly for the torn half of a postcard, which Smiley finds hidden underwater in an old shoe. Smiley's discovery is witnessed by too many people, and his rental car is severely damaged in the process, so Smiley finds himself in a rush to finish his work in Hamburg before the German authorities and Soviet thugs close in on him. He takes the postcard to Kretzschmar, who matches it to the other half and gives Smiley the tape recording of Leipzig and Kirov's night at the night club and the photocopy of Ostrakova's first letter, which Vladimir had sent to Leipzig. Smiley reads the letter and flies to Paris, fearing for Ostrakova's life.

Smiley gets Ostrakova to a safe place, and gets (deniable) approval, and funding, from Enderby to lead an operation to cause Karla to defect. While Smiley does research at the Circus, Toby Esterhase sets up a team in Berne, Switzerland, where Soviet official Grigoriev resides. (Kirov revealed on Leipzig's tape recording that US $10,000 was secretly sent to Grigoriev every month, so Smiley expects Grigoriev to lead him to Karla's "Alexandra".) Grigoriev is subjected to the classic blackmail-and-bribe technique, to extract from him all he knows of the Alexandra arrangement, and to get him to arrange for Smiley to visit Alexandra. Following Smiley's visit to Alexandra, Grigoriev passes on Smiley's letter to Karla. Karla, faced with a choice between defection and destruction, not only his own but very likely his daughter's, chooses defection.

In a final scene reminiscent of the opening scene of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold", Karla, posing as a laborer, attempts to defect using a walkbridge at the Berlin Wall; unlike Karl Riemeck in "Spy", however, Karla does not panic during the crossing and makes it safely to the Circus's waiting car. Karla is finally defeated, but the similarity of Smiley's methods to the cold and ruthless techniques of Karla himself robs Smiley of any sense of triumph.


Maria Andreyevna Ostrakova - a Russian émigrée in Paris, mother of a girl, Alexandra Glikman, whom she left with the girl's father when she escaped from the Soviet Union

Oleg Kirov né Oleg Kursky - an agent for Karla, deputed to find a suitable legend for Karla's daughter

General Vladimir - Estonian, former Soviet general, spied for the British for three years, since defected and later retired

Otto Leipzig - freelance intelligence agent and occasional fraud, who works with Vladimir to take down Kirov and Karla

George Smiley - retired, former Acting Chief of British intelligence

Peter Guillam- Head of the British Intelligence section in the Paris embassy

Connie Sachs - retired, former head of Moscow sphere of British intelligence (the Circus)

Oliver Lacon - Whitehall's Head Prefect to the intelligence service, aka Cabinet Office factotum

Nigel Mostyn - young intelligence officer who took Vladimir's calls to Circus

Alexandra Borisovna Ostrakova - Maria Andreyevna's daughter; identity assumed by Karla's daughter

Karla - Chief of the Thirteenth Directorate within Soviet Intelligence. The Directorate is also known as the Karla Directorate.

Saul Enderby - Chief of British intelligence

William (Villem) Craven - son of a deceased friend of Vladimir, performs a courier job for Vladimir

Mikhel - Vladimir's friend at the Free Baltic library in Bloomsbury

Elvira - Mikhel's wife, probably Vladimir's lover

Toby Esterhase - former Circus man, organizes the trapping of Grigoriev

Claus Kretzschmar - owner of night club in Hamburg where Kirov is burned

Grigoriev - Soviet bureaucrat in Berne who is drawn against his will into, first, Karla's services, then Smiley's

Krassky - Moscow courier who handles correspondence between Grigoriev and Karla

Tatiana - Karla's daughter, usually referred to by her assumed identity, "Alexandra"

Mother Felicity - chief of the facility in Thun where Alexandra/Tatiana is kept


"Smiley's People" was dramatised by John Hopkins as a television mini-series for the BBC in 1982, as a sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), again starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley.


*George Smiley - (Alec Guinness)
*Madame Ostrakova - (Eileen Atkins)
*Peter Guillam - (Michael Byrne)
*Toby Esterhase - (Bernard Hepton)
*Oliver Lacon - (Anthony Bate)
*Saul Enderby - (Barry Foster)
*Anton Grigoriev - (Michael Lonsdale)
*Connie Sachs - (Beryl Reid)
*Lauder Strickland - (Bill Paterson)
*Ann Smiley - (Sian Phillips)
*Claus Kretschmar - (Mario Adorf)
*Karla - (Patrick Stewart)
*The General - (Curd Jürgens)
*Otto Leipzig - (Vladek Sheybal)
*Mother Felicity - (Rosalie Crutchley)
*Stella Craven - (Maureen Lipman)
*Oleg Kirov - (Dudley Sutton)
*Mikhel - (Michael Gough)
*Detective Chief Superintendent - (Michael Elphick)
*Villem Craven - (Paul Herzberg)
*Nigel Mostyn - (Stephen Riddle)
*Alexandra - (Tusse Silberg)
*Hilary - (Norma West)
*Elvira - (Ingrid Pitt)
*Molly Meakin - (Lucy Fleming)
*Ferguson - (Andy Bradford)
*Mr. Brownlow - (Alan Rickman)

External links

*imdb title|id=0083480|title=Smiley's People
* [ British Film Institute Screen Online (TV series)]

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