The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

by John LE  CARRÉ

256 p.


Read for this Reading Challenge:

– What’s in a name.

Category Movement

Incidentally: I had chosen another title for this Challenge Category, Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs. The book description says “by turns horrifying and hilarious.” It was too much horrifying for me, and I didn’t find it that hilarious.



On its publication in 1964, John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold forever changed the landscape of spy fiction. Le Carré combined the inside knowledge of his years in British intelligence with the skills of the best novelists to produce a story as taut as it is twisting, unlike any previously experienced, which transports anyone who reads it back to the shadowy years in the early 1960s, when the Berlin Wall went up and the Cold War came to life.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was hailed as a classic as soon as it was published, and it remains one today.


David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), who writes under the name John le Carré, is an author of espionage novels. During the 1950s and the 1960s, Cornwell worked for MI5 and MI6, and began writing novels under the pseudonym “John le Carré”. His third novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) became an international best-seller and remains one of his best known works. Following the novel’s success, he left MI6 to become a full-time author.

Le Carré has since written several novels that have established him as one of the finest writers of espionage fiction in 20th century literature. In 2008, The Times ranked le Carré 22nd on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″.


It would be an international crime to reveal too much of the jeweled clockwork plot of Le Carré’s first masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But we are at liberty to disclose that Graham Greene called it the “finest spy story ever written,” and that the taut tale concerns Alec Leamas, a British agent in early Cold War Berlin. 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. Control sends him back out into the cold–deep into Communist territory to checkmate the bad-guy spies on the other side. The political chessboard is black and white, but in human terms the vicinity of the Berlin Wall is a moral no-man’s land, a gray abyss patrolled by pawns.

“Superbly constructed, with an atmosphere of chilly hell.” –J. B. Priestley

“Le Carré is simply the world’s greatest fictional spymaster.” —Newsweek


This is I believe the first spy book I read. Apart from Medieval detective stories, my experience with that type of book is rather limited.

I read this book in 2 days: it is extremely well written, it flows so well, it drags you along into the fate of the characters. There’s such a great balance between the plot itself, the character development, the description of the milieu, and even little snippets on philosophy and meaning of life, or rather lack of meaning?

And yet at the same time, I was not of course smart enough to figure out what was going on, who was who, who was really a spy for whom, who was a double agent. Until the very end, you never really know for sure. I had the opportunity to watch the movie right after I finished the book, and the same thing is true for the movie: until the very last scene, you never really know for sure.

This is a rather bleak book, but that seems to give an amazingly good description on that type of milieu during the Cold War. It is not sur[rising as the author got his inspiration from his work in secret services.






5 thoughts on “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

  1. Pingback: Read in January 2011 « Words And Peace

What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.