The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John le Carré

It seems I am on a bit of John le Carré roll. I really loved Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, so when I was flying home and none of the books I had with seemed appealing, I went to WHSmith in the airport and there The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was waiting for me.

Alec Leamas, our protagonist, witnesses death of one of his agents while he was trying to cross the border to West Germany. He is tired, his network is shot to pieces, Mundt, German intelligence boss, is killing Leamas agents one by one. Finally Leamas is called back to London, where Control tells him he’ll be able to retire (or come in from the cold), but he has to complete one more task. An elaborate conspiracy follows, everything goes according to the plan, Leamas does his work with cold cynicism, until he meets a woman and he realizes what his job has been robbing him of. How he never lived a real life, how he was never close to real people. Leamas promises himself that after completing his task he’ll try to recover some of what he’s been missing. I won’t go into more details of the plot for obvious reasons.

As with Tinker, Tailor this book is focused on more things that just the plot. Leamas feels old, tired, disillusioned, he continues with his work, but he starts questioning why does he even bother. He is a man destroyed by his work, almost beyond hope. He knows he is a pawn in someone else’s game and he goes along with it, but when he meets someone he cares about things change. He still is a pawn, fully aware of this, but not so willing to accept it, on the other hand he knows he is powerless.

Another interesting aspect of the book is how little citizens of western countries knew about what’s going on in soviet countries. How easy prey they become because of this lack of understanding and awareness. We also see how powerful the political machine is, how it’s willing to use extreme measures and ignore the individual if it is going to help the ultimate purpose. This is valid for both sides, in le Carré’s world no one is inherently good or evil, the only difference between them is different ideology. It is a bleak world, one that we’d like to forget exists.

When I was reading this book I was comparing it to Tinker, Tailor and I do think Tinker, Tailor is more atmospheric, but what made me appreciate The Spy was the ending, it was masterful, showing that le Carré was in full control fo the story. A very good book, I will probably get my hands on other books by le Carré soon.

5 thoughts on “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John le Carré

  1. I tried to read som le Carre books but find his characters too much of the Cold War stereotypes…certainly the people from the Eastern countries do not come across believable if you know the cultures first hand. I was a bit disappointed and wondered what all the hype was about?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree with what you say about Eastern Europeans represented. I focused more on his study if the western spy, how they are damaged by the life of lies and how disillusioned they become. I think it is difficult if not almost impossoble to understand the soviet countries for someone who’s never been exposed to this type of regime and propaganda, so my expectations in this area were not very high.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read any le Carre yet, but this one is on my TBR as part of my Classics Club list, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I’ve watched films and TV adaptations in the past and frankly often found the plots so complicated they’re baffling, so it’s good to know you think the plot works well in book form.


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