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Le Carré’s New ‘Silverview’ — and a Ranking of His Best Books

A longtime fan reviews the late spy-fiction master’s last thriller and his 10 greatest works of all time

silverview by john le carre next to a portrait of john le carre from 1965

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John le Carré fans can exhale.

Silverview, the master storyteller’s 26th and final novel, has arrived and it’s cause for celebration.

With the book reportedly shelved a number of times over the past few years, there’s been some concern that it might not be up to the exacting standards of the esteemed British author (once a British spy named David Cornwell), who passed away last year at age 89.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth: Silverview is a propulsive and elegantly written tale about the turbulent life and times of Edward Avon, a mysterious stranger in a small English seaside town who enters a bookshop minutes before closing time. What follows is a fully formed thriller that provides a stinging look at the British Secret Service operating under crisis. Less labyrinthine than some of le Carré’s early work, it has all the grand themes of his best novels — love and betrayal, loyalty and morality — fully on display.

For those new to le Carré, a ranking of his best:

10. The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life (2016)

In le Carré’s enthralling memoir, the world-class raconteur recounts the fascinating moments of his life, with storytelling of the highest order.

9. Absolute Friends (2003)

Friendship, love and betrayal are writ large in this decade-spanning story of two politically minded friends. It’s a devastating and under-appreciated gem set in the post 9/11 world.

8. The Night Manager (1993)

The night manager at a luxury hotel takes on a jet-set arms dealer in the aftermath of the Cold War. It includes exotic locales, unholy alliances and one man’s personal journey for redemption.

7. The Constant Gardener (2001)

A blistering indictment of the methods employed by international pharmaceutical companies, this is a story about global conspiracy, exploitation and a diplomat’s search to find the truth behind his wife’s murder in Africa. But amidst the chaos is a poignant love story that is both harrowing and heartbreaking.

6. The Little Drummer Girl (1983)

Charlie, a young English actress, commits to the role of a lifetime in the theater of the “real.” It’s intricately plotted and tremendously suspenseful, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict taking center stage.

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5. A Perfect Spy (1986)

British spy Magnus Pym is missing. Where is he? More importantly, who is he? Le Carré’s most autobiographical novel is a story of fathers and sons and the making of a “perfect” spy. It’s dense, dark and demanding.

4. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963)

This is the breakthrough novel that propelled le Carré into the first rank of spy novelists alongside Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. Lean and mean with the eye-opening kicker, this masterwork redefined the genre.

3. Smiley’s People (1979)

(Karla Trilogy book 3)

The last book in this classic trilogy leads to the final confrontation between George Smiley — le Carré’s greatest character — and Karla, his Moscow Centre counterpart. It offers palpable suspense as the story hurtles to its shattering conclusion in spy fiction’s greatest set piece.

2. The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)

(Karla Trilogy book 2)

Smiley goes on the attack in le Carré’s grand East Asian adventure. It’s byzantine and beautiful, with lush writing on a broad canvas.

1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)

(Karla Trilogy book 1)

Smiley comes out of retirement to hunt down a Russian mole in British intelligence. Unforgettable characters, unparalleled tradecraft and unequaled writing make this the gold standard in spy fiction.

Steven Ritterman is a Manhattan-based advertising executive and one of the world’s foremost book collectors focused on the work of John le Carré. His collection numbers more than 300 volumes in varied form (first editions, galleys, variants, etc.). Like many readers of the genre he considers le Carré to be spy fiction’s greatest practitioner.

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