9 Thrilling Reads: George Smiley Novels In Order

George Smiley is the name of a fictional character you may not have heard of for a while.

9 Thrilling Reads George Smiley Novels In Order

For 27 years he has been living under the radar, but now author John le Carré has brought him back for some brand new adventures! 

Previous installments of books featuring George Smiley have been hugely successful.

He is present in various book series written by le Carré, from George Smiley’s Early Days of Spring to The Karla Diaries to George Smiley, A Retired Spy. 

George Smiley is arguably one of the most famous fictional spies in the world, second only to the legendary James Bond.

He has been portrayed in various forms of media, including cinema, radio, and TV, and played by various actors, including Rupert Davies(1965), Peter Vaughan (1983), Gary Oldman (2011), and much more! 

There are 9 George Smiley books spanning 3 series’. In this article, I will discuss what order is best to read these books, as well as some pros and cons of each! 

About George Smiley Books

About George Smiley Books

As previously mentioned, there are three different series’ of George Smiley books. 

The first series, George Smiley’s Early Days is centered more around mystery than spies. Here, Smiley investigates murders and deep secrets hidden within powerful institutions. 

Smiley is a very present character within these first two books, unlike later installments.

In later installments, he takes a background role as Le Carré explores the aftermath of the Cold War and the reality of being a spy during this time for Smiley and many other characters.

In the second series, The Karla Diaries, Smiley is at the forefront of the stories again, this time trying to discover double agents and deal with the consequences of a world filled with betrayal and without heroes.

Finally, in the third series, George Smiley, A Retired Spy, Smiley is officially retired, but still doing what he can to help The British Secret Service.

However, old haunts and past secrets can be found everywhere, and the characters must learn how to navigate them in an ever-changing world. 

All book series consider themes of right and wrong, the past and future, manipulation, human connection, and betrayal.

George Smiley Books In Order: George Smiley’s Early Days Of Spring

Call For The Dead

Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley, 1)

In this first-ever George Smiley book, our hero has made a mistake. Now, a man he deemed innocent is dead.

But who killed him? Smiley must work to solve the clues and discover the truth about what happened on this fateful day, and quickly! 


  • Well-written, engaging plot 
  • Engaging characters, especially the protagonist, George Smiley


  • The writing style can be difficult to get into

A Murder Of Quality

A Murder of Quality: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley, 2)

George Smiley receives a call from an old colleague, Miss Brimley, who requests he protects a friend of hers, Mrs. Stella Rode, who believes her husband is trying to kill her.

Unfortunately, the call comes too late, and Mrs. Rode is already dead. 

Now, Smiley must work to solve the mystery of what happened to her, in a world where not everything is as it seems. 


  • The characters are interesting and memorable 
  • Immersive worldbuilding


The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels)

This is one of the more famous George Smiley novels, but you should make it the third Smiley book you read. 

Here, Alec Leamas, head of the Berlin Station, watches as his final agent is shot dead in the shadows of the Berlin Wall.

Now, he must face two options: a desk job or retirement. 

But, he is offered the chance of getting revenge and assumes a secret identity in order to trap a member of the East German Intelligence Service. 

However, there is more than one card at play here, and George Smiley is waiting in the background with his own set of orders to follow. 


  • A story with many layered characters
  • Interesting themes that will make readers think


  • A lot of telling not showing which makes the story lack suspense 

The Looking Glass War

The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel

The way of the past was simple: The Department handled military matters, and the Circus dealt with politics.

But, ever since the war, the Department has been waning, making the new jobs for the Circus more and more difficult to handle.

Their latest responsibility, ensuring the safe can of film moved from Helsinki to London, is no exception. 

And the mission could not have gone worse. Now, important evidence is missing and an agent is dead.

The Circus’ only hope is John Avery, a young member of the British Secret Service. What could go wrong?


  • A sense of foreboding throughout the story
  • Interesting themes 


  • The story is a little bleak, which some readers may not enjoy

George Smiley Books In Order: The Karla Trilogy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A George Smiley Novel

In this famous Geroge Smiley story, our protagonist isn’t quite ready for retirement just yet!

With colleagues now dead, foes in places where friends should be, and the smell of betrayal around every corner of the British Secret Service, Smiley must prepare for another adventure.

 This time, he must set a trap in order to catch his Moscow Centre nemesis: Karla. 


  • A well-plotted story full of high stakes 
  • Well-written, layered characters


  • Long, drawn-out sentences and writing style that can be confusing for readers

The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy

Thanks to the events of the previous book, the Circus has been brought to its knees.

George Smiley enacts his newfound responsibilities by attempting to discover what other secrets Moscow Centre is hiding.

But, when the trail goes cold, Smiley must instruct part-time operative Gerald Westerby to go undercover in dangerous places where his life will certainly be at risk. 


  • A plot with many twists and turns 
  • Strong sense of mood and atmosphere throughout the story 


  • The story gets off to a slow start

Smiley’s People

Smiley's People: A George Smiley Novel

George Smiley has retired. However, for this legendary spy, the work doesn’t seem to end. Pretty soon, he is summoned to identify the body of a former spy. 

Now, Smiley must work to discover the secrets this former spy – and friend – was hiding.

With danger lurking in the shadows, Smiley knows it is time for one final reckoning with his arch-enemy: Karla.


  • Nuanced characters
  • A complex plot that will keep you turning the pages


  • Complaints that the story is formulaic and predictable

George Smiley Books In Order: George Smiley, A Retired Spy

The Secret Pilgrim

The Secret Pilgrim: A Novel

Ned is a loyal veteran of the Circus and has been given the responsibility of training new spies.

Inspired by his mentor George Smiley, Ned recounts many decades of espionage across the Far East and Europe, spinning tales of passion, triumph, traitors, death, and secrets that can come back to haunt you. 


  • Powerful storytelling 
  • Evocative, immersive descriptions throughout 


  • Critics claim that the story is lackluster 

A Legacy Of Spies

A Legacy of Spies: A Novel

Peter Guillam, a colleague of George Smiley, is now living peacefully on a little farm in Brittany.

However, his peace is soon interrupted by a letter summoning him for duty in London.

 It seems that his past with the Cold War has come back to haunt him, and names buried deep in the Circus archives have resurfaced once more, and Guilam must learn how to navigate his situation as well as the scrutiny that comes from a generation with no 

experience of the past. 


  • Intricately plotted
  • A story full of nostalgia for George Smiley fans


  • Inconsistencies in the story 

Final Thoughts

John le Carré is a revered author, known for interesting characters, complex plots, and beautiful, if not complicated, writing. He is best known for his George Smiley stories.

The George Smiley stories are considered to be a part of the espionage genre. George Smiley is a British career intelligence officer, also known as a spy.

The themes of these stories deal with betrayal, the morally ambiguous reality of “right” and “wrong”, friendship and human connection, manipulation, and the disparity between the past, present, and future.

 John le Carré has written 3 collections of George Smiley stories, with 9 books in total. George Smiley is the protagonist of some of these stories.

Here, he will solve murders, uncover secrets that threaten everything he holds dear, and face showdowns with his arch-nemesis. 

However, he is merely a minor character in other stories, with other characters taking center stage.

But, his legacy shines strong throughout these stories, and his legacy as one of the most famous literary spies of all time is stamped into the fiction-book canon. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Genre Are The George Smiley Books?

The George Smiley series is listed as part of the espionage genre. They are cited to be more realistic depictions of a life of espionage compared to the James Bond series.

Is George Smiley In Every Book?

George Smiley appears in every book spanning the George Smiley series.

However, while he is the protagonist of many of these books, he is only a minor character in others.

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Noah Burton