Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: Review

One of the game changing novels of the spy and thriller genre, John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) portrays the espionage methods of both the East and the West as equally amoral--willing to sacrifice anyone in the name of national security and willing to use their own people as pawns on the chess board of spy and counterspy. His murky world with the worn-out and jaded Alec Leamas contrasts with the glossy, shaken martini world of James Bond.

The story begins in East Germany where the final link in Leamas's chain of informants is gunned down as he tries to escape to the West. Leamas is waiting for him on the other side and watches as his last man is taken. The intelligence agent is tired and ready to "come in from the cold"--give up the intelligence game altogether when he is made an offer that he can't refuse. To play the game one more time and take out a senior East German operative named Mundt. Leamas can't resist the chance to eliminate the man most likely responsible for the loss of his agents. In order to get Leamas where he can do the most damage, the Circus (British Intelligence Service) begin laying the groundwork for him to become a defector. Leamas is booted out, given a pension that is substantially less than a intelligence man of his experience might expect, and reduced to drifting from one odd job to another. He drinks heavily and grumbles often of his treatment by his former employers.

It isn't long before he's approached by the other side and after playing a bit hard to get, he gives in and goes East. But the game is more difficult than he expected and he didn't plan on falling for a girl along the way. He also finds that someone has rigged the dice...but is it the opposition or his own side? It's hard to tell when everyone seems to be playing two hands instead of one.

I'm known for saying that the spy/thriller book just isn't for me. But when someone like le Carré writes it, it winds up that it is for me. This is an absolute first-rate spy novel that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat waiting to see if Leamas is going to pull it off--and if what he pulls off is really what he thinks he's set out to do. This has everything--love and loyalty, betrayal, secrets, and a "trial" scene that reveals the chilling fiendishness of the plot within the plot within the plot. The finale is a wrenching and horrifying surprise. Well done. ★★★★

This fulfills the "One Person" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Anonymous said...

This is a title I've heard for years but never investigated. Sound like a thrilling story!

fredamans said...

This is the only Bond book I have actually read. :-)