0354 | The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | John Le Carré

0354 | The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | John Le Carré

Context: Finished this off as we headed back to the Markham valley in a dugout canoe on our Silisili Survey.


I’ve read a few of Le Carré’s novels before and always found them very complex and difficult to follow. I’ve found them a little like a game of chess or a teach-yourself book: I start out fine but about 15 mins in I realise that I’m supposed to know more than I actually do. At that point, I persevere but feel very insecure. Hardly an enjoyable experience. But this, thankfully, was so, so different.

Leamas is a spy who’s seen his better days (or has he). His fumbling of the Berlin office leads to his repatriation and reassignment to a desk job at the Circus (or does it). He lets himself go, drinking heavily and living in squalor (or does he). In the end, he decides to make the spy’s ultimate choice and defect (or does he).

Once behind the Iron Curtain, Leamas recent past catches up with him: his love life gets involved (or does she), and this spells doom for both of them (or does it).

Le Carré keeps you guessing at every turn of this short novel. It’s hard to believe that this was written in the early 1960s, it seems so modern a spy novel.

While many say that the humanity of Leamas stands in marked contrast to the woodenness of his contemporary Bond, I think this is because they are comparing him to the Bond that has emerged from the films. Certainly the Bond of Casino Royale has feelings similar to Leamas.

This novel is one of the finest spy novels you will ever read, and I’d recommend it as a quick and easy introduction to some of Le Carré’s more complex works.


The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”


Leamas was a short man with close-cropped, irongray hair, and the physique of a swimmer. He was very strong. This strength was discernable in his back and shoulders, in his neck, and in the stubby formation of his hands and fingers.

He had a utilitarian approach to clothes, as he did to most other things, and even the spectacles he wore had steel rims. Most of his suits were of artificial fibre, none of them had waistcoats. He favoured shirts of the American kind with buttons on the points of the collars, and suede shoes with rubber soles.

He had an attractive face, muscular, and a stubborn line to his thin mouth. His eyes were brown and small; Irish, some said. It was hard to place Leamas. If he were to walk into a London club the porter would certainly not mistake him for a member; in a Berlin night club thy usually gave him the best table. He looked like a man who could make trouble, a man who looked after his money; a man who was not quite a gentleman.

CLOSING LINE This is a bit of a giveaway so if you want to see it click show


0354 | The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | Le Carré | 80% | Excellent

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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