John le Carré’s novel The Honourable Schoolboy, the second in the Karla trilogy, centers on the attempts of George Smiley, chief of the British Secret Service (or the “Circus” as it is known to insiders), to restore confidence in the Service by tracking down and capturing Nelson Ko, a Chinese official long ago recruited by the Soviets. Within five years, the “Dolphin Case,” as it has come to be known, has become a legendary problem for new Circus recruits. The nostalgic and ironic tone of the novel is partially created by the narrator, who attempts to explain objectively the failure of this operation. As in a tragedy, the narrator indicates from the first that something crucial went badly awry, and le Carré’s use of foreshadowing grows as the novel moves to its climax. Even the narrator is at a loss to explain or blame anyone for the eventual tragic outcome. Although some historical facts may be ascertained, the key characters’ motives, and hence the final mystery, remain ultimately unfathomable.
The overarching plot line of le Carré’s complex novel traces the actions of George Smiley to rebuild and revitalize the British Secret Service after the defection of its chief, Bill Haydon, to Russia. Smiley must reestablish credibility both with the English Intelligence Committee (to regain funding) and with its American “Cousins,” the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Smiley and his researchers therefore backtrack through files in London to discover when, where, why, and about what Haydon had undertaken cover-up activities. In Circus lingo they are “taking a back-bearing,” determining Moscow’s priorities and knowledge gaps by discovering what information its agent Haydon most thoroughly destroyed.
When they first find and trace cover-ups of large Russian gold payments which are found in a Hong Kong trust account, Smiley sends one of his personally groomed agents, Jerry Westerby, undercover as a journalist to Hong Kong, to flush the trustee, Drake Ko, a Hong Kong millionaire. Thus, part of...
(The entire section is 835 words.)