“Espionage is not a cricket game.” (pg. 102)
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) is a spy novel written by John le Carré. It is the third novel published in the series. This story was an adrenaline rush type of thriller that left me heartbroken. The story is really short at 200 pages, told in third person narrative. I spent most of my Sunday afternoon reading it all without much interruption. George Smiley is semi-retired due to some case that he was working on in Call for the Dead (1961). His character, who I have heard so much about over the years, is more in the periphery in this installment. In the forefront is Alec Leamas, a British agent who, when the story opens, sees his last best agent shot at the crossing point in East Germany after his cover was blown. After this failure, Leamus figures that he’s written off but his boss gives him one last assignment. So Leamas stays in the cold a little longer.
His target is Mundt. He’s said to be a horrible man with a bad reputation. He rose to power to be the head of counter espionage operations at Abteilung (a German word that generally means battalion). He hates Jews and is known to shoot first and ask questions later. He’s hated by his own department. Alec is asked to put together an operation to get the attention of the right people who will put him in contact with his target. I must say that the change in his circumstances was neatly done. Leamus went from an employed British agent to a pauper working as a library assistant. It is at the library that Alec meets a young woman, Liz Gold. She’s a member of the Party. They work together at the library. The two become lovers but Alec leaves her, telling her to never come find him.
This a great novel that is short with events that unfolded rather quickly. I don’t want to say more because this story is really good and unpredictable. I must note two things: No George Smiley. He’s in here but he’s not the main protagonist. I remember someone telling me he was barely in this one. This is the novel that put le Carre on the map and skyrocketed his career. I can see why. He wrote a spy novel that while purely fiction, it certainly is credible. There’s a good balance of dialogue and action. The pace is excellent. I was gripped by the intrigue and the twists and revelations and couldn’t wait to reach the end. The danger and suspense was well done, too. Especially the ending and that ending was something else.
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was published 50 years ago and it is a great spy novel still today. Much of the exploits in here were informative as it sped along to the denouement. This novel showed/depicted a non-romanticized view of what being a secret agent is actually like in some regards. The characters in here at times showed fear, confusion and anxiety when thrust into unexpected and dangerous situations. They had to keep their wits about them, remember their tradecraft, goals and mission. This is a novel that started off as revenge but then it morphs into something else unexpectedly. The interrogation scenes and debriefing were lengthy but hardly boring. There’s discussion of philosophy, religion and ideology. The secrecy and duplicity was rampant. Innocent people were caught up in events that they had no clue about. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold has held up very well as you can tell from my enthusiasm. I would recommend this story without hesitation. My meaningless letter grade is an A.
The author’s website has interviews, a list of his books and more so check it out if interested. I am about the last person (or close to it to read this book so there are thousands of reviews out there I’m sure good and bad). I enjoyed reading this book and am reading the first book, Call for the Dead. I’m now a fan. I had no problems reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold first.