The Pigeon Tunnel (Paperback, 2017, Penguin Books) 4 stars

A Memoir of Quality

4 stars

A fascinating look at the life of John Le Carré (né David Cornwell) as the author weaves the (mostly) true history of his life as a writer with the fictional characters inspired by his real life encounters and acquaintances. Looming throughout, and dealt with directly in the defining chapter of the book, is the spectre of Ronnie, Cornwell/Le Carré's grifter of a father. Another weighty thread linking a number of these brief sketches together is the presence of Kim Philby. These two outsized deceivers are wonderfully linked in Le Carré's "A Perfect Spy" which feels even deeper and personal having seen glimpses of the rage and anger the author felt towards these two men. The short anecdotes that make up most of the book's chapters are riddled with surprising (and often dismaying) characters from the Cold War era as well as the chaotic muddle of Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some of these monsters have gone on to become bigger monsters, others are captured before a tragic end or before a horrible comeuppance. In one recounting Le Carré reflects on a conspiracy theory around the death of Robert Maxwell who died after an allegedly accidental fall from his yacht "The Lady Ghislaine" (named after his daughter, yes, that Ghislaine Maxwell). Russians gangsters, German radicals, spooks and spies of all sorts fill the pages along with movies stars and literary luminaries. It is a dizzying and exciting tour through the life of one of the English language's best writers. Ultimately though, and I think Le Carré/Cornwell would agree, his best writing remains the wonderful fiction he's left behind, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable peek behind the scenes.