Title:                      The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Author:                 John Le Carré

Le Carré, John (1964). The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. New York, Coward-McCann

LCCN:    64010430

PZ4.L4526 Sp3


Date Posted:      March 11, 2015

Review by Theo WolfTiger[1]

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is set at the height of the Cold War. I started reading this book because I’ve been following the Edward Snowden/NSA leaks controversy closely, and I thought it would be interesting to see what spying was like in the past.

I think that this book gives a very accurate representation of this topic. After all, the author worked for MI5 and MI6 before starting his writing career! It was interesting to compare the spying methods of countries in the past and today–double agents and spies vs. internet surveillance and HTTPS hacking. It was a very good read and I will certainly be reading more by Le Carré.

I found the book very interesting for numerous reasons. The storyline itself is very complex. There are many settings, but the main focus is on East Germany. The descriptions of the action are vivid–and scary (you would not want to be in Leamas’ shoes).

One of the most important and complicated characters is Mundt, who is one of the top men in the German intelligence agency, Abteilung[2]. A former Nazi, he is completely loyal to his task, which is to protect East Germany from the West. Leamas, the main character, is an English agent (spy) for the Circus, a fictional version of MI6. He is intelligent, and doesn’t really believe in what he is doing. Fiedler, my favorite character, is a Jew, and is the other most important person in the Abteilung. He is secretly plotting Munt’s downfall by calling him a traitor. I like Fiedler because he seems to be the most sensible of all the characters.

The characters are like what I’d imagine real spies to be like, as they nearly all seem to have no sense of right or wrong. But despite this, it is not the plot or the characters that really makes this make book excellent. It’s what the author is talking about. Le Carré uses the novel to explore unethical world of espionage. The writing is very suspenseful. Le Carré’s writing style involves plenty of description and dialogue, and sometimes it’s hard to tell who is speaking. I actually found this a bit annoying at times.

Le Carré does not give us any heroes; that includes the agents in London and East Germany. In short, there are no good guys in this story, only bad guys. I found this very, very interesting as in practically every fiction book I have read, there are good guys. For example the Fellowship in the Lord of the Rings are obviously the “good guys”, as is Dumbledore in Harry Potter. It is, of course, unfair to compare these very different books, but in this way they are comparable.

I found that overall this book gave a very complete story; the end is really the end. When I finish some books, I feel that it isn’t really the end of the story (should I mention Richard Adams’ Shardick, where the end isn’t the end at all?) In The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the end is the end of the story–utterly.

Overall, I’d rate this book nine point five out of ten for its excellent plot and profound understanding of British intelligence during the Cold War. The book certainly reaches my list of top 25 books! I’d recommend this book to an advanced reader of ten plus who enjoys a very exciting and challenging book! Now to read Our Man in Havana[3] by Graham Greene…

[1] Theo WolfTiger in The Guardian (September 30, 2013). Downloaded March 11, 2015

[2] Die Abteilung in German means simply detachment. It is a non-threatening word to any country.

[3] Greene, Graham (1958, 2007). Our Man in Havana. New York: Penguin

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