Details: (c) 1974 David Cornwell; Pub Simon & Schuster Pocket Books 2000; ISBN 0-671-04273-4
Verdict: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy is reasonably clever.
Reasons for reading it: le Carré is highly regarded, and I quite enjoyed The spy who came in from the cold years ago. To tell the truth I'm running low on books that I both strongly want to read, and actually have copies of.
How it came into my hands: RS's books hamper.
What I most appreciated about Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy was the background. I really got a strong impression of the intelligence world (not the faintest idea whether it's accurate, but it's extremely solid and detailed and plausible). It's especially evident in the little details of how the characters think like spies, from constantly checking for bugs to assuming that everything is some form of complicated intrigue. In general, there's a really strong atmosphere and sense of period and situation.
However, it doesn't quite match up to the creepiness and sheer disorientation of The spy who came in from the cold, it lacks some of the sense of everybody double-crossing everyone else and even themselves and being manipulated when they think they are in control. Possibly this is because of the different setting; Smiley's point of view gives us a relatively high ranking intelligencer who is anyway working on his own, so there's not so much scope for multiple levels of misdirection.
As a story, TTTS is only moderately exciting, but readable enough. As a puzzle it's just too complicated to be interesting; the use of multiple viewpoints often seems like a cheap trick to obfuscate, and I didn't have enough information to work out whodunnit or enough motivation to try. I just let the story carry me along and waited to see how Smiley would resolve things.
The characterization is sparse, but effective. I think the sections with Jim Prideaux as a substitute teacher are very effective, underlining the emotional impact of the betrayal without being overly maudlin. Smiley is also easy to like but isn't too perfect. There are slightly too many minor characters but they're distinguished just about enough. I didn't really get what Ricki Tarr was doing in the story, but that's a minor thing.
I think part of the reason that I'm lukewarm about TTTS is that Brust does this kind of detailed intrigue at least as well, but with added glee and shoulder dragonets. Ah well.