George Smiley, who is known as a “case man” for British intelligence. He is called out of retirement when one of his agents, General Vladimir, is murdered. Oliver Lacon, the foreign office liaison with the intelligence service, wants Smiley to wrap up the case quickly, but the dogged Smiley scents a trail that leads directly to his arch nemesis, Karla, the head of Soviet intelligence. Twenty years earlier, Smiley had caught Karla and had tried to convince him to defect, but Karla had refused and was later sent back to the Soviet Union in a deal between the intelligence services. One by one, Smiley calls on his old contacts, braving considerable danger to penetrate to the core of Karla’s spy network. A weary Smiley does so more out of loyalty to General Vladimir and others who have risked their lives for British intelligence than out of any zeal for Britain. Smiley realizes that his time is over, and he is left with considerable doubt about the value of his efforts. His personal code of integrity drives him toward a final showdown with Karla.
Peter Guillam, Smiley’s right-hand man, who has to fight Smiley’s rivals within the intelligence service to preserve his chief’s plans. Smiley often keeps Guillam in the dark.
Connie Sachs, a dying alcoholic researcher for British intelligence. Retired and embittered, she nevertheless provides Smiley with crucial data that help him to unravel Karla’s spy network.
Mostyn, a new British intelligence officer who first takes the call from General Vladimir asking for Smiley. Because Smiley has retired, Mostyn follows standard procedures, referring the case to his superior, who fails to follow up on it. As Mostyn relates the case background to Smiley, he is watched carefully by his superiors, who want Smiley to know only those details that are absolutely necessary to learn...
(The entire section is 810 words.)