Monday 12 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (Karla Trilogy #1): a British First Edition... and a British First Edition (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974)

This Friday sees the release of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's new adaptation of John le Carré's 1974 spy novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And since le Carré is an author I've returned to a few times on Existential Ennui (click on his tag at the bottom of this post to locate previous entries), and Tinker, Tailor... is among the best books I've ever read, this week's posts will be exclusively dedicated both to le Carré and to the novelist's most famous creation, George Smiley, star of Tinker, Tailor... and its sequels, 1977's The Honourable Schoolboy and 1979's Smiley's People (not to mention many other novels besides). Together, those three books form the "Karla Trilogy" – or "Quest for Karla" – and over the coming days I'll be reviewing the second and third instalments in that trilogy – with a special focus on the 1982 television adaptation of the latter – as well as taking a look at the final le Carré novel to feature Smiley.

But first, this:

A British first edition of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1974. Now, regular readers might recall my having blogged about this magnificent book – in this particular edition – before. Most recently that was in this post, in which I reviewed the novel – although in truth that "review" consisted of little more than a hastily assembled string of nouns – and then banged on about its 1979 BBC TV adaptation; needless to say this is precisely the blueprint I intend to pursue with Smiley's People later this week. But I also blogged about the book in this post, in which I examined various aspects of the British first edition – its cover design, photography and so forth – along with its collectibility and value at that point in time.

So how come I'm now showing you another first edition? Well, while the copy of the first I showcased before – which I bought on Amazon Marketplace last year – is in generally good nick, it does have a fold running vertically down the front of the dustjacket:

Despite this flaw, I was perfectly happy with this copy. But then more recently I happened to be browsing Amazon Marketplace and spied (ba-dum, tish) a very cheap copy – as in, a couple of quid – of what I suspected might also be a first edition (the item description was somewhat minimal). So I took a punt, and it turned out it was indeed the first edition – and first impression (the Hodder first went through at least three printings, later printings of which can be identified by the words "Second impression" or "Third impression" directly after the "First printed 1974" in the copyright text block). Result.

See, while British first editions of the novels either side of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are in fairly plentiful supply (with the exception of the three novels from the beginning of le Carré's career and one or two more recent efforts), firsts of Tinker, Tailor... itself have become rather scarce. That might be down to it being widely regarded as le Carré's best novel – perhaps rivalled only by 1963's The Spy Who Cam in from the Cold – but I suspect it might also be because, back in 1974, there hadn't been an espionage novel from the author for six years. The book immediately preceding Tinker, Tailor..., 1971's The Naive and Sentimental Lover, was an autobiographical work written in the wake of the breakdown of le Carré's marriage; his last spy novel, A Small Town in Germany, was published in 1968. So his return to the genre might explain the multiple printings of Tinker, Tailor... and consequent scarcity of the true first.

Whatever the case, in recent weeks, with the new film imminent, prices for the first of Tinker, Tailor... have skyrocketed. Copies on eBay are currently troubling the £150 mark, and could well go higher. Which leaves me with something of a dilemma: what to do with the additional copy of the first I own – and indeed, which one to keep even if I do decide to sell. Both copies have their merits: the "newer" copy doesn't have the vertical fold in the dustjacket that the "older" one does, but it does have more edgewear and chipping on the jacket:

On the other hand, the page edges of the original copy are a little foxed (and the publisher's-stain on the top edges more pronounced), and the text block is cleaner and brighter in the more recent copy:

And while the indicia is the same in both:

The endpapers are a light peach in the more recent copy and – possibly due to where or how it's been stored – a pronounced orange in the original one:

Curiously, they also feel thicker in the original, as if a heavier paper stock were used. The cases, however, are virtually identical:

So, I'm in two minds as to what to do. Or, more accurately, three or four minds. Do I sell one? If so, which one? Do I keep both? Or – and on previous evidence this is the most likely outcome – do I dither ineffectually until the moment has passed? What say you, readers?*

While we await the answer on that one, let's move on to the next post in le Carré/Smiley Week, which will be on the sequel to Tinker, Tailor..., 1977's The Honourable Schoolboy...

* Belatedly, I decided to sell the first copy. The eBay listing can be found here.


  1. Nah, what you really need to do is buy a US first edition as well. I have the Knopf hardcover and, like most Knopf books of that era (every era?), it is a thing of beauty. In fact, I have the whole Karla trilogy in US editions....

  2. That's no bloody help, Matt! If I bought a US first as well I'd have three bleedin' copies of the same bleedin' book!

    Mind you, I do like the type treatment on the jacket of the Knopf edition...

  3. See-

    You know you want it.

  4. You will dither, of course, but I would keep the most recent copy.

  5. Thanks for the informative words on ID'ing a first of this great book. Unlike you, I didn't hesitate, and mine is posted on ye olde eBay.

  6. True to form, Andrew, I still haven't got round to selling my spare copy. Sigh. Let me know how your auction goes!

  7. For any fans of Le Carre, do you know of any good sites that would have information on Le Carre American first editions, mainly the early ones? Trying to figure out how to determine if you've got a real first for his early books is a bit challenging. Any advise is appreciated! Managed to pick up signed 1st copies of the three Karla books and would like to keep going.

  8. I haven't looked into American firsts of the early Le Carres specifically, spywrite, so I can't, off the top of my head, suggest a site for you, other than AbeBooks. But I can give you some pointers about identifying true firsts. This post:

    is as good a place to start as any – it's on a Parker novel, but it talks about how to identify US first editions – but you can always leave a question on this post, or drop me a line on and I'll do what I can to help.

  9. Thanks for the offer. I've got two questions regarding early LeCarre American editions. I've got a first edition of Call for the Dead with this cover -

    However I picked it up pretty cheap and I'm skeptical this is the true first American. I've also seen this cover out there - Both were published by Walker and Company, but I'm thinking the first is a book club edition?

    The other question comes with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. From looking at various listings online, it appears that, similar to the British edition, there was a First Edition with many impressions (I've seen up to the 22nd listed online.)

    It appears at some point there was a change to the cover, going from 3 quotes on the back to 4. There are also occasional vague references to some sort of elusive "W" appearing in certain editions, maybe signifying a true first?

    Anyway, if you or anyone else out there has any knowledge on this, that would be great!

  10. Ha, having offered to help, I realise I'm probably not going to be much help at all. But it does look as if the edition of Call for the Dead you have is the book club edition, although there's some dispute over that. As to your Spy question, that one I have no idea on. Anyone else...?

  11. Ok, not sure if anyone will really be interested, but I’ve done some searching and have some answers on a true first "The Spy Who".

    According to one of the standard 1st Edition identifying books and my own research, a true 1st American edition has –

    3 quotes on the back of the dust jacket (not 4)
    Lists no impression AND does not have a W printed on the copyright page
    ( Copyright page also references being released in Canada at the same time)
    Lists the price $4.50 on the dust jacket

    The last point is important, because it appears there was a 25th anniversary edition that recreated everything seen on a true first edition, except for the price. It was released with a pamphlet written by the American editor that took a chance on it being a best seller. It can really fool you.

    Hopefully that will help someone, so far I’m still looking…

    On a slightly related note, for a couple dollars online, I picked up a omnibus edition from the 80’s of Spy who, Lookingglass, and Small town in Germany that had been signed by Lecarre. The interesting thing is, it was signed on the main page, but also on each of the title pages of the different novels. So it’s quadruple signed by Lecarre. Not sure that adds much value, but it’s kind of fun as a curiosity.

  12. I'm certainly interested, Jeff – that's the kind of minutiae I thrive on. Nice score on the signed omnibus as well. Quite unusual for a book to be quadruple-signed, I'd say. I have the odd double-signed one – on the endpaper and title page – but not quadruple. And the only signed le Carre I have is a first of Our Kind of Traitor.