The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, by John le Carré

This has been on my TBR for a little while; I'd never read John le Carré, and when this book came across the donation table, other folks said he was pretty good and I should give him a try.  It was, indeed, pretty good, but not at all as I was expecting!  Also, the copy I have turned out to be a sort of commemorative edition to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall -- it has an introduction by le Carré written just afterwards -- because the novel was inspired by the building of the Wall in the first place.

Alec Leamas is a British spy overseeing operations in Berlin, but his contacts have all failed, and the best one is killed just as he's about to cross and escape from East to West.  Leamas goes home, a failure expecting to be shoved into a corner, but his boss offers him one last job.  In order to do it, Leamas must enact the part of an embittered loser going down the drain, and get recruited for the other side -- and he must do it perfectly.

This is a spy story stripped of the Bond glamour and swashbuckling action, a deliberate reversal of the popular spy story tropes.  No gadgets, no beautiful betrayers, no posh hotels or cars.  Instead, Leamas drinks too much and gets a rotten job that doesn't even pay for his awful little flat.  He and his fellow spies are cynically resigned to the ruthlessness of the job.  They hardly ever run around in action scenes; nobody is hunted across a country or two.  Instead, they hole up in ratty little houses and talk endlessly.

So it's a good spy novel, but nothing like the usual thing.  I'll probably read a couple more
 le Carré stories; I'm interested to see what he did next.

Oh hey, a blurb on a newer edition informs me that this series (about George Smiley, who barely comes into this one) has been turned into a TV show starring Tom Hiddleston.  I presume he plays Smiley.


  1. Alec Guinness played George Smiley in a couple of TV mini-series -- in the 80s I think.

  2. I've been meaning to read Le Carre as well to see what the fuss is about. I hated the one Bond novel I read (Casino Royale) so I'm up for something different for sure. A more realistic glimpse behind the scenes of that shady would could be interesting.

  3. Lory, I think this would be more realistic; le Carre was drawing on his own brief experience in MI5. (I mean, Ian Fleming also worked there, but I think we can all agree that Bond novels are fantasy!) I didn't much care for the one Bond novel I read, either, though it did have a hilarious description of fancy shampoo.


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