A Legacy of Spies by John LeCarre revisits the uneasy days of the Cold War when British Intelligence mounted an operation in East Germany that went cruelly wrong.
In LeCarre's fictional world, the British spy agency is called the Circus. The novel follows a newly opened investigation by present day authorities into an early 1960s Circus operation with the code name Windfall. The events of Windfall were famously portrayed in the author's early novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
In this retrospective look back at what really happened in Windfall, old buried secrets are exposed. The novel is narrated by retired former spy Peter Guillam, who is called back to London to answer tough questions. Files about Windfall are missing. Things have been covered up. Lives were lost during the execution of Windfall. How much does Guillam know?
The novel moves between flashback events of the past spy operation and the current interrogation of Guillam. What is revealed are the cold blooded decisions that were made to sacrifice lesser British agents in order to protect a more highly placed undercover spy within East German intelligence. This is the author's sour commentary on the amoral compromises and personal betrayals that are always at the heart of any intelligence work.
A Legacy of Spies is a slow, thoughtful read, not a spy thriller. The novel will be appreciated most by long time John LeCarre readers, especially for the reappearance of familiar characters like spymaster George Smiley and Peter Guillam.