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With a cast including Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L Jackson, and a script that doesn’t take itself too seriously (or even slightly seriously) this was always going to be a good film, with lots of laughs – not to mention lots of violence and lots of swearing (something to maybe consider if this puts you off).

The Kingsman are a secret spy organisation and Colin Firth is Harry Hart (code name Galahad). The service is looking for a new recruit and Galahad’s nominee is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a streetwise kid, often in trouble with the police. Eggsy has to pass a series of tests, in a group which consists of upperclass, rich kids, who mostly resent his presence and his success at the tests.

Meanwhile, megalomaniac film producer Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) has a plan to cull the human race in order to save the planet. Accompanied by his sidekick and bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) their plan starts to take hold and only the Kingsman can stop it.

I laughed all the way through this film – it’s absolute ridiculousness works somehow because it acknowledges the outrageousness of the plot throughout. The cast are excellent and seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the roles. If swearing and violence are not off-putting to you and you want to kick back and watch something really funny and action packed, I recommend this film highly.

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Year of release: 2014

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic book ‘The Secret Service’), Dave Gibbons (comic book ‘The Secret Service’)

Main cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Samantha Womack, Sophie Cookson

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This book is the first one to feature one of le Carre’s recurring characters, British Intelligence Agent George Smiley (a subsequent Smiley book was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was made into a very popular tv series in 1979, and more recently a film starring Gary Oldman – as Smiley – and Colin Firth).

After a brief introduction to Smiley – a small, morose, and probably rather uncharismatic man – the story gets underway.  Smiley is sent to interview Samuel Fennan, a Foreign Office civil servant, who is suspected of being a spy.  The interview is informal, and Smiley is confident that Fennan is innocent.  He reassures Fennan, but later that night, Fennan is found dead, having apparently committed suicide.

Smiley suspects that Fennan was murdered, and investigates with the help of Inspector Mendel, about to retire from the Metropolitan Police, and Peter Guillam, one of Smiley’s own colleagues.

The investigation uncovers deception and espionage – and Smiley soon realises that his own life is in danger.

I liked this book a lot.  It’s short (less than 200 pages), but packs a lot of story in.  The storyline itself is not over-complicated, but there are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting and exciting.  The writing itself flows beautifully, and made me want to keep reading.

The book is also the perfect introduction to George Smiley, and I definitely want to read further books in the series.  Despite Smiley being in some ways an unremarkable character, rather than a typical handsome hero, he was a very interesting character, and entirely believable.  He is a decent but flawed man, and his emotions during the investigation were well portrayed.  I ended up liking him very much.

Overall, this was an exciting and hugely enjoyable read, and I will definitely be reading more by le Carre.  Spy fiction has never been a favourite genre of mine, but I picked this book up on a whim – and it might just have converted me!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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