Tuesday, August 4, 2020

"The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" by John le Carre

My husband and I watched the 1965 Richard Burton film based on The Spy Who Came in From the Cold a couple of weeks ago, and I decided I wanted to read the book because it had been sitting on my TBR shelves for longer than most of my children have been alive, and that's a nonsensical way to live.

So, I read it.

And I really dug it.  I've never read something by John le CarrĂ© before, and I quite liked his style.  It struck me as a mix of Robert Ludlum's swift pacing, Ernest Hemingway's terse understatements, and Raymond Chandler's overall gloomy-yet-not-depressing outlook on humanity.  I could see myself becoming a le Carre fan.

The story revolves around a British spy, Leamas, who is getting up there in years, but has a lot of fight in him yet.  He's been in charge of the whole British spy network in Germany, and since this is all about the Cold War, that was a pretty important position.  But he's weary, and when he loses yet another agent to the Communists at the beginning of the book, he gets recalled to London.  There, the head of British Intelligence tells him it's perfectly fine if he's tired of being out in the cold, fighting alone in the dark against unseen enemies.  But if he wouldn't mind, they do have one special operation in the offing that he could help with.  One last foray into the cold before he comes in for good.

Leamas accepts.  He doggedly sets his teeth into this project, setting out to ruin his reputation and convince the Communists he's sick of British Intelligence and wants to defect.  And, because he's an expert spy, he does exactly that.  By the way, Richard Burton was perfectly cast as Leamas -- I could hear him saying most of the dialog in my head while I read.  Partly because a great deal of the movie's dialog came straight from the book.  But mostly because nobody could make crabby weariness look appealing like Richard Burton.

Particularly Good Bits:

He met failure as one day he would probably meet death, with cynical resentment and the courage of a solitary (p. 13).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some scattered curse words, derogatory innuendo about people's sexual orientations, a few bawdy moments, and some torture and violence.

This is my first book read and reviewed for my third go-'round with the Classics Club and my 29th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.


  1. I might try reading John le Carre some day. I'm curious about him.

    1. Katie, his writing is very dry, in a bare-bones, no-frills way. I liked him a lot and got another book of his from the library this week to try out!

  2. Great review! I reviewed this last year.


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