Le Carré and journos
Thursday 17 December 2020
Here is just a note following the death of John le Carré, distinguished author of spy novels, and a strayed story of a failed love affair.
When I read le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel, a collection of personal accounts, it was most welcome to see Michela Wrong, a former Reuters colleague, receive a prominent name check and a plug for her book, In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz.
I happened to be re-reading Smiley’s People when news broke of le Carré passing away on 12 December.
In that well-crafted tale of Cold War espionage, one of the characters is Pauli Skordeno, who plays a Reuters stringer, armed with a fake press pass, cable cards and other journo impedimenta.
Skordeno is one of the scalp hunters in the unofficial and deniable operation to grab Karla, the Russian arch enemy of George Smiley, a brilliant British spy placed on the shelf by the Whitehall powers that be. Skordeno is one of the lucky few operatives who are Smiley’s People, the last novel in the Karla trilogy.
The second title in the trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy, offers the proposition that being a correspondent serves as good cover for a spy. The titular character is Jerry Westerby, a warm-hearted but less than stellar reporter with a failed attempt to write that wretched book. Westerby plays a key role in the drama set in southeast Asia, complete with a sideshow in South Vietnam.
Another key character in that novel is William Craw, a seasoned foreign correspondent based on Australian reporter Richard Hughes.
I seem to recall one of my former colleagues on the trusty Capital Markets desk saying something along the lines of if it were not journalism, then spying would be the chosen occupation.
The Karla trilogy comprises Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People. The novel of broken romance is The Naive and Sentimental Lover, the sole and unsuccessful attempt to escape writing about the shadowy world of espionage. ■