May 5th, 2011


Book Review: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carré

One-line summary: The spy game as it really is -- dirty, scary, and played by morally ambigious screw-ups.

Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1963, 256 pages

The story of Alec Leamas - a 50-year-old professional secret agent who has grown stale in espionage, who longs to "come in from the cold" - and how he undertakes one last assignment before that hoped-for retirement.

Leamas is responsible for keeping the double agents under his care undercover and alive, but East Germans start killing them, so he gets called back to London by Control, his spy master. Yet instead of giving Leamas the boot, Control gives him a scary assignment: play the part of a disgraced agent, a sodden failure everybody whispers about.

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Verdict: A book anyone who likes spy novels should read. It's grim and gritty and realistic with sharp plot twists and compelling characters, and captures an era that's fading from memory, the world of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, though I did not read it specifically for the books1001 challenge. But it remains unassigned, so you could!