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The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold


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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. Le Carré beats most spy writers for two reasons. First, he knows what he's talking about, since he raced around working for British Intelligence while the Wall went up. He's familiar with spycraft's fascinations, but also with the fact that it leaves ideals shaken and emotions stirred. Second, his literary tone has deep autobiographical roots. Spying is about betrayal, and Le Carré was abandoned by his mother and betrayed by his father, a notorious con man. (They figure heavily in his novels Single & Single and A Perfect Spy.) In a world of lies, Le Carré writes the bitter truth: it's every man for himself. And may the best mask win. --Tim Appelo

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It really could be 'the greatest spy novel of all time'

In 1963, David Cornwell published his third novel. Because he was then an agent for British Intelligence, he used, as his government required, a pseudonym: "John Le Carré". Graham Greene, who pretty much invented the modern spy novel, called The Spy Who Came in from the Cold "the best spy story I ever read." It was. And the thing is, it's even better now. In a decade when James Bond was all the rage, "Spy" revolutionized the spy novel. The Bond books --- and, even more, the Bond movies --- were thrill rides. The suave hero never mussed his tux. He had no need to; his car had more armament than one of Patton's brigades. The explosions that went off just a few feet from him always were just background flash. And, of course, he possessed the ultimate weapon --- his deadly quips, capable of killing any villain within earshot. Le Carré had no interest in superheroes. For him, spycraft was the antithesis of a glamour profession. It was thinking and planning, waiting and watching, and lying --- always lying. It operated by a single moral law: results. You may be assured that good people were betrayed along the way. "Spy" was an instant classic precisely because Le Carré showed readers exactly what Intelligence is about --- sometimes a roll of film, more often a list of names, never an atom bomb in a briefcase. Even better, it revealed how the trick is done. And, most of all, it asked a question: Us and Them --- how different are we, really? In London, men schemed long and hard to think up ways to misdirect the Communists. In East Berlin, men much like them plotted to deceive and damage the Brits. Between them was the Wall --- and a brightly lit, barb wired checkpoint. The Wall is where this novel starts. Alec Leamas, a 50-year-old British agent, waits at the West Berlin checkpoint for a German --- a British agent --- who's in danger of being found out. Tonight, he's crossing over. You get the scene quickly: coffee, cigarettes, idle chatter. And then you see the man on a bicycle. He stops at the East Berlin gate, shows his papers, pedals on. But then he hears something. He pedals faster. Shots are fired. He sags, falls. Leamas, the ultimate realist, "hoped to God he was dead." The career of Alec Leamas certainly is; he failed to get his man across. And this leads to an opportunity for his employers. They would love to discredit --- or, better --- destroy --- Mundt, head of German Intelligence in East Berlin. The way they'll do this? Retire Leamas. Watch him sink into booze and despair. Let him be recruited by the East Germans. And then, in his debriefings, let him present these Communists with evidence that Mundt has been taking money from the Brits --- that Mundt is a British agent. This is mental chess. It calls for 24/7 acting skills. And the bar is set high. Leamas, flawlessly failing. Leamas, jailed. Leamas, released and bitter. Lemeas, expertly recruited by the Germans. Leamas, credibly sneering at his new employers. But that's

A chilling tale of deceit and deception

This classic became a worldwide bestseller and was turned into a successful movie starring Richard Burton as the British spy Alec Leamas (AL). It also enabled John Le Carré (JLC) to say farewell to the British Foreign Office and devote himself full time to writing. First published in 1963, this book has not really aged. JLC's books are about what Americans call HUMINT (human intelligence), characters living under cover, determined to go unnoticed. In contrast to Ian Fleming's creation James Bond, JLC's heroes attach little importance to technology. For them no high living, casinos, amazing gadgets or crazy men planning to rule the world or steal the gold from Fort Knox. With one exception (A Murder of Quality), in the novels from the 1960s and 1970s the Cold War is the backdrop and the Russians and their satellites, the enemy. AL has been the Circus West Berlin man for ten years, when his networks in East Germany are destroyed one by one by Mundt, who has quickly risen inEast Berlin's intelligence apparatus after killing two of his own agents in London and managing to escape from the UK. Empty-handed, AL returns to London, where he is shelved in the Circus' Banking section. This is the beginning of his life spiralling downward, or is he being brought back into play? Where people work with people, mistakes are made. AL meets the assistant librarian Liz, who has been a Communist party member since 1954, and decides not to involve her in the legend being created around his person by Control and his staff, amongst whom George Smiley. The Circus is unaware of their affair... Superlative writing, great characters, mounting tension, unexpected turns in the plot and a dramatic and cynical finale. It is a recipe for compulsive reading. JLC's oeuvre is eminently re-readable. Masterpiece.

The Cold War at its Coldest

A word of warning: "The Spy who Came in From the Cold" is not just an espionage thriller, it's a horror story.British MI-5 agent Alec Leamas, the eponymous hero of John Le Carre's brutal little espionage masterpiece "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", discovers that being a secret agent at the height of the Cold War is a little like being a man outside in the cold, looking in on the friendly warmth of home and hearth but unable to come in---so close, yet so far. His life depends on keeping up a charade, on cloaking his intentions and lying about his work. He can trust no one but himself, and he keeps an eagle eye on himself.To make matters worse, a botched defection at the Berlin Wall sends Leamas's career into free fall, prompting his recall to London, a subsequent reassignment to a desk job in Personnel, and, simultaneously, the hatching of one of British intelligence chief Control's more byzantine little schemes: use Leamas's fall from grace as a means of ferreting out and destroying Hans Dieter Mundt, a high-ranking East German master spy and Leamas's shadowy nemesis. To say more would be unfair to the reader. Le Carre, himself a former British intelligence officer, is perfectly suited to composing the elaborate, excruciating fencing match between London and Moscow that lies at the heart of so many of his best tales. The typical Le Carre protagonist and his handlers are not James Bondian pulp heroes with Union Jacks painted on the pommel of their 9MM Walther PPKs; instead, they tend to be bland, non-descript ciphers, poker-faced and cynical creatures who hide their machinations under bland exteriors. "The Spy" is Le Carre at his deftest, and the Cold War at its coldest. Leamas is re-introduced into the world as a potential defector, but his ruse is haunted by the unexpected relationship with a British librarian he leaves behind in London. And really, the relationship, and the emotions it awakens in this grizzled Cold Warrior, is what makes "Spy" so compulsively entertaining and riveting: Alec Leamas wants to love and to reveal himself, just as his East German interrogator Fiedler wants desperately to believe in the purity of the Revolution and in the ideals of Communism. But this is a Le Carre novel, and ideals and emotions are the luxuries of the dead or the doomed. "The Spy" has the advantage of excellent pacing and deft characterization, and as with many of Le Carre's best novels, it manages to condense a considerable amount of treachery in a minimum of exposition. Le Carre is not only a good storyteller and a master at plotting out the grim duel between his spies, he is also a consummately gifted writer who uses words like a surgeon uses a scalpel. Best of all, "The Spy" is a nastily clever work, in which the plot turns in on itself suddenly and viciously, casting some light on a dark arena in which no one can be trusted."The Spy who Came in From the Cold" is a classic in espionage and a timeless literary masterpiece, but it is also a ru

The Best of the Best

Arguably the best spy novel ever written. It was out of print for years. I envy the readers who can now buy this newly printed copy. I had to make due with a decades old moldy copy that fell apart as I read it. Not that I'm complaining--I loved the book! Le Carre knows his spy stuff. This is not some techno-filled, action-packed, lets-throw-in-a-plot-twist-for-the-h@ll-of-it book. This is a tightly-packed page turner that will lead you by the hand in the beginning and then drop a piano on you at the end. Le Carre's heroes are not Bond, they are overworked, overweight, underpaid, highly intelligent characters who love their country. This book was one of Le Carre's first books, and I feel his very best. The "winners" and "losers" are blurred in the spy game, and this book clearly illustrates that point. If you want to get a feel for what real Cold War spy work was all about, read this book. Highly recommended.

The definitive Cold War espionage novel

This book defined a genre. From the elegance of the language, to the betrayal and harsh brutality of the plot's finale, this novel set the standard against which all other espionage fiction of the Cold War would be judged. Whatever the truth of the matter, Le Carre's fiction created a world which is so real that subsequent spy novels departed from its parameters at their peril.The story at the heart of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold implicates all sides in the struggle in a hypocritical conspiriacy of betrayal and disloyalty. The message seems to be that no good deed goes unpunished and that things certainly are not what they seem.A truely great book, with characters one cares for and a deftly plotted story that both surprises and distresses the reader. The message of the book is not a pleasant one, but then the reality of Cold War espionage was not pleasant either.

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