The Little Drummer Girl is an espionage novel by John le Carré. It was published in 1983 and, unlike many of his previous novels, focuses not on the Cold War but on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It does not feature le Carré's iconic spy George Smiley, nor his MI6-influenced workplace, the Circus.
Among the novel's fans was William F. Buckley, Jr., who, according to an excerpt printed on the back cover of the paperback edition I bought at a used bookstore, described it as "mature, inventive, powerful" in The New York Times Book Review.
The plot centers around three main characters: Kurtz, an Israeli secret service agent who wants to take out a Palestinian terrorist who has been targeting Jewish targets throughout Europe; Joseph, another Israeli spy who is coaxed out of retirement to participate in the case; and Charlie, a left-wing pro-Palestinian English actress who is recruited by Joseph and Kurtz to act as a double agent and help them snare their mark.
Charlie agrees to the plan because she falls for Joseph. The scheme puts her in highly dangerous situations, including bomber training in Lebanon. Throughout her involvement, she must come off as publicly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause (which she is, at least at first) while secretly working for the Israelis.
Le Carré has a solid knowledge of the conflict in question (and acknowledges the experts who helped him in the book's foreward) and manages to depict humanity on both sides while not condoning any of the acts he describes. The most interesting part of the narrative is Charlie's inner struggle; helping the Israelis means deceiving people who were already in her life. The novel's action is also absorbing enough to keep the reader interested. As is the case with other le Carré novels (I've read about half of them), there are a number of secondary characters who represent different types of spies and different attitudes towards their work.
The New York Times's review (not to be confused with the Buckley review referenced above) notes that this novel came within four years of le Carré wrapping up his trifecta of novels centering around his signature character, George Smiley.
"In pitting Israeli intelligence against Palestinian terrorists, Mr. le Carre seems to want to get out of Smiley's mind and into the world of action," Anatole Broyard wrote. "It's as if all the flamboyance he has so carefully repressed all these years is finally bursting out. In The Little Drummer Girl, he seems almost to be reborn as a novelist, and for all our admiration of his earlier books, it must be said at once that the change has done him a world of good."
The book was made into a film starring Diane Keaton as Charlie; the character's nationality was changed to American. I haven't seen the movie but it got mixed reviews; Roger Ebert noted that the main characters were miscast and that this detracted from the experience.
Roger Ebert's review of the movie (two stars)
New York Times book review