Book Review: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre

This short 250 page novel has become somewhat of a spy classic and the book that really launched Le Carre’s career as a novelist and one of the best crime writers out there. Reading the book it is clear to see just exactly why this small novel changed so much not just for the writer but in terms of spy novels and writing about spies. The book follows 50-something spy Alec Leamas, he’s been a spy for decades now and has seen so much that he only sees the world for the horror and truth that it actually is. Opening in Germany in the 60’s, the wall is still up and though the war is over there is still plenty of checkpoints and security between East and West Germany. Waiting for one of his own to cross the checkpoints and the wall, Karl Liemack is shot before he reaches the safety. Leamas flees back to England without Liemack and safe in the knowledge that head of German spying proceedings Mundt has killed another of his men, another British spy.

It then becomes a story of spying, betraying countries and plenty of lies. Leamas is the key to the whole story it seems as he recites his account of the past decade to German spies such as Fiedler who becomes a main character of the story, a man set on destroying his boss Mundt and because of that he forms an unlikely alliance with Leamas. Regular Le Carre readers will recognise and be aware of London’s Circus and Control, Smiley and Guillam all of which make small and regular appearances throughout.

There is an enquiry that takes place towards the end of the story this is where everything is pieced together and we find out the true extent of lies and subterfuge and exactly what has been going on between London, Mundt, Riemack and Germany and just how Leamas and Fiedler have come to be in the middle of all of this. It may not exactly be the happiest of endings depending on which way you look at it but in the world of spying there are never any truly happy endings are there. In such a small amount of pages this is such a well written and complicated story with many twists, turns and cover ups. With this being such a brilliant story throughout there is no wonder that this novel was such a success and still is now one of the most respected and talked about spy novels.


Book Cover


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