Cover image for The Secret pilgrim
The Secret pilgrim
Le Carré, John, 1931-
Personal Author:
Large print edition.
Physical Description:
543 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
FICTION Adult Large Print Large Print
FICTION Adult Large Print Large Print

On Order


Author Notes

David John Moore Cornwell was born in Poole, Dorsetshire, England in 1931. He attended Bern University in Switzerland from 1948-49 and later completed a B.A. at Lincoln College, Oxford. He taught at Eton from 1956-58 and was a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964.

He writes espionage thrillers under the pseudonym John le Carré. The pseudonym was necessary when he began writing, in the early 1960s because, at that time, he held a diplomatic position with the British Foreign Office and was not allowed to publish under his own name. When his third book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became a worldwide bestseller in 1964, he left the foreign service to write full time. His other works include Call for the Dead; A Murder of Quality; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley's People.

He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1986 and the Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association in 1988. Several of his books have been adapted for television and motion pictures including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Russia House, and The Constant Gardener.

Le Carré's memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my Life, became a New York Times bestseller ist in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography) John le Carre was born in 1931. After attending the univesities of Berne and Oxford, he spent five years in the British Foreign Service. He's the author of eighteen novels, translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in England.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The world's favorite spy novelist is still drawing more drama, humor and poignancy than one would have believed possible from a profession that seems, at least in the traditional East-West arena, doomed. Le Carre, however, will not acknowledge that, though he understands--none better--how profoundly the world has changed in recent years; he sees that the yearning for secrets, for undercover manipulation, is a basic, ineradicable obsession of men and their governments. The Secret Pilgrim seems almost a valedictory. Ned, the Circus veteran last seen in The Russia House , is now in command of training new recruits, and invites the legendary George Smiley down to address them. The narrative beautifully interweaves Smiley's remarks and reminiscences to the enthralled youngsters with Ned's own recollections of his experiences, jolting and disillusioning as they often were. In effect the book is a collection of superbly crafted stories illuminating every aspect of security work: sometimes absurd, as in the tailing of a kleptomaniac Arab visitor through a London department store; sometimes brutal, as in the ``turning'' of Polish security chief Jerzy; sometimes touching, as in the preservation of a British soldier's pride in his rotten son; and sometimes, as in the unmasking of a mild, opera-loving code clerk, a breathtaking high-wire act that balances satire, pathos and horror. It is becoming tedious to say that le Carre just gets better and better; but it is difficult to think of another contemporary writer with the knowledge, the range, the sureness of touch and the storytelling skills to bring off a book like The Secret Pilgrim. As for where le Carre is heading, there is a splendidly enraged sketch of a rich, contemptuous British arms dealer that demonstrates a passion and engagement new to the author. He could turn out to be a major novelist of the post-Cold War world, as he has been of that war itself. 350,000 first printing; BOMC main selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This title is an oddity among le Carre's espionage fiction for being a loosely connected group of stories more than a novel, as top spy George Smiley's protege Ned reflects upon his career during a lecture by his mentor. Ned's story reflects upon his growing awareness of the moral ambiguity of his endeavors. The first-person narrative gives veteran le Carre interpreter Michael Jayston an excellent opportunity to use inflection to convey nuances to reveal both theme and character. VERDICT The anecdotal, episodic nature of the tale makes it easier to follow than some of le Carre's labyrinthine novels.-Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr., New York (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Let me confess to you at once that if I had not, on the spur of the moment, picked up my pen and scribbled a note to George Smiley inviting him to address my passing-out class on the closing evening of their entry course--and had Smiley not, against all my expectations, consented--I would not be making so free to you with my heart.   At the most, I would be offering you the sort of laundered reminiscence with which, if I am honest, I was a bit too inclined to regale my students: feats of secret chivalry, of the dramatic, the resourceful and the brave. And always, of course, the useful. I would be enthralling you with memories of night drops into the Caucasus, hazardous crossings by fast boat, beach landings, winking shore lights, clandestine radio messages that ceased in midtransmission. Of silent heroes of the Cold War who, having made their contribution, modestly went to earth in the society they had protected. Of defectors-in-place snatched in the nick of time from the jaws of the opposition.   And to a point, yes, that is the life we lived. In our day we did those things, and some even ended well. We had good men in bad countries who risked their lives for us. And usually they were believed, and sometimes their intelligence was wisely used. I hope so, for the greatest spy on earth is worth nothing when it isn't.   And for the lighter note, over a second whisky in the Probationers' Mess, I would have picked out for them the occasion when a three-man reception team from the Circus, operating inside East Germany, and gallantly led by myself, lay freezing on a ridge in the Harz Mountains, praying for the flutter of an unmarked plane with its engines cut, and the blessed black parachute floating in its wake. And what did we find when our prayer was answered and we had slithered down an icefield to claim our treasure? Stones, I would tell my wide-eyed students. Chunks of honest Argyll granite. The despatchers at our Scottish airbase had sent us the training cannister by mistake.   That tale, at least, found a certain echo, even if some of my other offerings tended to lose their audience halfway through.       I suspect that my impulse to write to Smiley had been brewing in me longer than I realised. The idea was conceived during one of my regular visits to Personnel to discuss the progress of my students. Dropping in on the Senior Officers' Bar for a sandwich and a beer, I had bumped into Peter Guillam. Peter had played Watson to George's Sherlock Holmes in the long search for the Circus traitor, who turned out to be our Head of Operations, Bill Haydon. Peter had not heard from George for--oh, a year now, more. George had bought this cottage in North Cornwall somewhere, he said, and was indulging his dislike of the telephone. He had some kind of sinecure at Exeter University, and was allowed to use their library. Sadly I pictured the rest: George the lonely hermit on an empty landscape, taking his solitary walks and thinking his thoughts. George slipping up to Exeter for a little human warmth in his old age while he waited to take his place in the spies' Valhalla.   And Ann, his wife? I asked Peter, lowering my voice as one does when Ann's name comes up--for it was an open secret, and a painful one, that Bill Haydon had counted among Ann's many lovers.   Ann was Ann, said Peter, with a Gallic shrug. She had bits of family with grand houses on the Helford Estuary. Sometimes she stayed with them, sometimes she stayed with George.   I asked for Smiley's address. "Don't tell him I gave it you," said Peter as I wrote it down. With George, there had always been that certain kind of guilt about passing on his whereabouts--I still don't quite know why.   Three weeks later Toby Esterhase came down to Sarratt to give us his celebrated talk on the arts of clandestine surveillance on unfriendly soil. And of course he stayed for lunch, which was greatly enhanced for him by the presence of our first three girls. After a battle lasting as long as I had been at Sarratt, Personnel had finally decided that girls were all right after all.   And I heard myself trailing Smiley's name.   There have been times when I would not have entertained Toby in the woodshed, and others when I thanked my Maker I had him on my side. But with the years, I am pleased to notice, one settles to people.   "Oh look here, my God, Ned!" Toby cried in his incurably Hungarian English, smoothing back his carefully pomaded mane of silver hair. "You mean you haven't heard?"   "Heard what?" I asked patiently.   "My dear fellow, George is chairing the Fishing Rights Committee. Don't they tell you anything down here in the sticks? I think I better take this up with the Chief actually, one to one. A word in his ear at the Club."   "Perhaps you'd tell me first what the Fishing Rights Committee is," I suggested.   "Ned, you know what? I think I get nervous. Maybe they took you off the list."   "Maybe they did at that," I said.   He told me anyway, as I knew he would, and I duly acted astonished, which gave him an even greater sense of his importance. And there is a part of me that remains astonished to this day. The Fishing Rights Committee, Toby explained for the benefit of the unblessed, was an informal working party made up of officers from Moscow Centre and the Circus. Its job, said Toby--who I really believe had lost any capacity to be surprised--was to identify intelligence targets of interest to both services and thrash out a system of sharing. "The idea actually, Ned, was to target the world's trouble spots," he said with an air of maddening superiority.--"I think they fix first the Middle East. Don't quote me, Ned, okay?"   "And you're telling me Smiley chairs this committee?" I asked incredulously when I had attempted to digest this.   "Well, maybe not much longer, Ned--Anno Domini and so forth. But the Russians were so frightfully keen to meet him, we brought him in to snip the tape. Give the old fellow a treat, I say. Stroke him a bit. Bunch of fixers in an envelope."   I didn't know which to marvel at the more: the notion of Toby Esterhase tripping to the altar with Moscow Centre, or of George Smiley presiding over the marriage. A few days later, with Personnel's permission, I wrote to the Cornish address Guillam had given me, adding diffidently that if George loathed public speaking half as much as I did, he should on no account accept. I had been a bit in the dumps till then, but when his prim little card arrived by return declaring him delighted, I felt a probationer myself, and just as nervous.   Two weeks after that, wearing a brand-new country suit for the occasion, I was standing at the barrier at Paddington Station, watching the elderly trains disgorge their middle-aged commuters. I don't think I had ever been quite so aware of Smiley's anonymity. Wherever I looked, I seemed to see versions of him: tubby, bespectacled gentlemen of a certain seniority, and every one of them with George's air of being slightly late for something he would rather not be doing. Then suddenly we had shaken hands and he was sitting beside me in the back of a Head Office Rover, stockier than I remembered him, and white-haired, it was true, but of a vigour and good humour I had not seen in him since his wife had her fatal fling with Haydon.   "Well, well, Ned. How do you like being a schoolmaster?"   How do you like retirement?" I countered, with a laugh. "I'll be joining you soon!"   Oh, he loved retirement, he assured me. Couldn't get enough of it, he said wryly; I should have no fears of it at all. A little tutoring here, Ned, the odd paper to deliver there; walks, he'd even acquired a dog.   "I hear they hauled you back to sit on some extraordinary committee," I said. "Conspiring with the Bear, they say, against the Thief of Baghdad."   George does not gossip, but I saw his smile broaden. "Do they now? And your source would be Toby, no doubt," he said, and beamed contentedly upon the dismal subtopian landscape while he launched into a diversionary story about two old ladies in his village who hated each other. One owned an antique shop, the other was very rich. But as the Rover continued its progress through once-rural Hertfordshire, I found myself thinking less about the ladies of George's village than about George himself. I was thinking that this was a Smiley reborn, who told stories about old ladies, sat on committees with Russian spies and gazed on the overt world with the relish of someone who has just come out of hospital.   That evening, squeezed into an elderly dinner jacket, the same man sat at my side at Sarratt high table, peering benignly round him at the polished plate candlesticks and old group photographs going back to God knows when. And at the fit, expectant faces of his young audience as they waited on the master's word.   "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Smiley," I announced severely as I rose to introduce him. "A legend of the Service. Thank you."   "Oh, I don't think I'm a legend at all," Smiley protested as he clambered to his feet. "I think I'm just a rather fat old man wedged between the pudding and the port." Excerpted from The Secret Pilgrim by John le Carré All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.