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John le Carré’s third novel—A #1 New York Times bestseller for 34 weeks—and the book that launched his career worldwide

In the shadow of the newly erected Berlin Wall, Alec Leamas watches as his last agent is shot dead by East German sentries. For Leamas, the head of Berlin Station, the Cold War is over. As he faces the prospect of retirement or worse—a desk job—Control offers him a unique opportunity for revenge. Assuming the guise of an embittered and dissolute ex-agent, Leamas is set up to trap Mundt, the deputy director of the East German Intelligence Service—with himself as the bait. In the background is George Smiley, ready to make the game play out just as Control wants.

Setting a standard that has never been surpassed, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a devastating tale of duplicity and espionage.
Published: Penguin Group on
ISBN: 9781101573181
List price: $11.99
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I got this from a book sale over a year ago. It met the "slender" requirement, which was the primary reason I selected this title despite it's duller than dull cover. I've never been gladder that aesthetics didn't stop me, because this book was EXCELLENT. After a certain point, it's physically impossible to stop reading. I spent eight hours of a Saturday on the couch trying to cram all the excitement in as fast as I possibly could. It was deceptively jam-packed (and not all that slender, as the print was painfully small and compact).more
I missed this book when it first came out, although its title has almost become a cliché. I could hardly put it down once I began reading it. Le Carré is so well known now, that it is hard perhaps to imagine the impact this slim volume had when it was first published. Of the Edgar Best Novel winners I've read so far, I think it was the most deserving of the award -- literary without being pretentious and the sort of book that makes one's heart beat faster and continue reading to the inexorable conclusion. Very highly recommended to anyone who has not read it already, maybe time for a re-read for those who caught it years ago.more
Depressing but brilliant. Sums up the entire Cold War, essentially.more
I expected more from this book, and was very disappointed. For a spy thriller, the action is very slim. The main character, George Smiley, is a pudgy, nerdish man. The book centers on Smiley's thought processes. And George is tenacious as a dog with a bone when he senses foul play. The case involves the suicide of another agent who George had just interviewed. George goes to see the widow and quickly senses that she is lying to him. In the course of events, George is nearly beaten to death, and receives a cryptic postcard from his ex-wife. Le Carre develops his characters, but the action is lame.more
I have always liked political intrigue and Machiavellian style plots but for some reason never read many spy novel other than the odd James Bond, which is rather more like a male fantasy than a real spy novel. So in steps The Spy Who Came In From The Cold which most consider to be one of the best spy novels ever written and while I don't really have anything that I have read to compare it to I will say that it was damn good. I think the part I liked the best was that there was no black and white just varying shades of gray. The book masterfully shows both the British and East German agencies having similar practices and (SPOILER) by the end one question who has the moral high grounds (End SPOILER)One of the problems about reviewing mystery's and thrillers is that one doesn't want to give too much away so as to spoil the book for future readers. There is a reason this book constantly appears on top reading list as even though the Cold War is over many of the nuances of the book are still relevant today. I can also see why the book was thought of revolutionary in its day as its striped away the glamor of the spy showing it for what it was dirty, dangerous, and filled with gray. (Minor Spoiler) The feeling you take away from the book is that Intelligence does things that might be abhorrent to the average person so that said person sleeps soundly at night while not fully making judgments about the characters' actions leaving it up to the reader to decide whether in the end it is worth the cost (end spoiler)If you only ever are to read one spy novel, you should make The Spy Who Came In From The Cold the one to readmore
A 1960s Cold War spy novel John le Carré, this book introduces us to Alec Leamas, a British spy who is sent to East Germany supposedly to defect, but in fact is there to spread disinformation about his nemesis Mundt. In the end however he learns that we are all just part of the game. This is not really my type of "mystery"--it is much more a thriller--though I found it slow going. I would give it a 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.more
This is the book that made Le Carre's career and it's clear to see why he is held as a master story teller. What often gets overlooked in al the accolades about the craft of his spy thriller story telling is that his prose is gorgeous -- crystal clear, precise yet evocative. Take note, all you aspiring writers out there: this is what your prose should aspire towards.more
I'm not sure how much I can reveal about the plot without spoiling it completely, so I'll play it safe. This is a pure spy mystery involving agent Leamas, fired by the Secret Service for failing to protect his agents properly and given only a minimal pension. He quickly falls into hard drinking and major debt, then lands himself in jail. The day he comes out of jail, he's approached by a stranger and is eventually taken to East Germany to deliver intelligence gathered in the years working for the British service. There is eventually a trial held by the communists during which it comes to light that everyone might be guilty of double and triple-crossing, and seen through the prism of totalitarianism and paranoia, all we've been told till then might be a complete fiction. I was expecting to enjoy this novel more than I did, especially considering the fact that I enjoyed the first two George Smiley novels quite a lot, but maybe I'm not such a big fan of spy novels after all? At one point it all got too confusing and convoluted for me to care much, but looking at the overall construction, it's a very good book and I can objectively say I can see why this is such a popular story and might appeal to such a large audience.more
I wondered if this would age well, and it seems to. The quality of the writing is still above par for espionage novels. The main female character is a bit of a B-movie ninnie, but it was still a fun read with plenty of cold war nostalgia.more
This was my first real attempt at reading one of Le Carré's works. As I got further and further into the book, I was more and more intrigued with the plot, and how it kept twisting. An excellent book, although I was displeased with how it ended, but that's my personal opinion, not a reflection upon the author.Would I reread? I'm not sure, but I would highly recommend this book.more
An excellent novel by one of the premier soy writers of our time, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold keeps you hooked from first to last as a complex plot unfolds at a fast pace.more
The book gets off to a gripping and suspenseful start. At the height of the Cold War around 1962, veteran British operative Alec Leamas waits for one of his agents to cross the East German border. He can only watch as the man is gunned down before his eyes within feet of making it across. With that death, the East Germans have succeeded in unraveling his entire network.Brought back to England, Leamas is convinced to do one more job. He's dangled as bait, presented as apparently broken and bitter, in the hopes their communist adversaries will entice him to defect and swallow what he has to tell them. I've been reading a recommendation list for suspense novels, including several spy thrillers, and I've read a couple of dozen, leaving Le Carre for almost last precisely because so many have told me his works are among the best. If The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is any evidence, I'd say that's right. Along with Alan Furst (Night Soldiers) and Eric Ambler (A Coffin for Dimitrios) Le Carre is both the most plausible in his depiction of espionage and among the strongest in a literary sense. It's not surprising he'd be credible. Along with Ian Fleming of the James Bond novels, he's one of the few such writers who can claim actual experience--he worked in British Intelligence for years, and in his introduction he tells of how he saw the Berlin Wall go up.Alec is no James Bond though--and I like him the more for it. This isn't some escapist male fantasy where being a secret agent allows you to indulge in gorgeous women on your arm as you gamble high stakes at casinos and consume caviar and champagne. Alec is around fifty years old, disillusioned and close to burnt out even before this mission. The woman he gets involved with, Liz Gold, is no glamorous Bond girl, but a hopelessly naive idealist whose very innocence points up the ruthlessness of the game as played by both sides. This is much more intricately plotted than any of the other espionage fiction I read. Seeming plot holes close up and become plot points and there's enough twists and turns to satisfy a fan of Christie. Don't expect a black and white morality or characters or a happy rainbow at the end though.more
I'm embarrassed about giving this only three stars when I know it's a classic of the genre, but it felt very dated to me, and I find spy books confusing, and I thought the hero was too James Bondish to be true. But it earned its stars by persuading me that it was a gripping story in the heart of the Cold War, very well written and atmospheric. But I prefer his later books.more
Of course I had heard the title of this book before... and LeCarre's name... I just have never read any of his stuff, and, normally, don't like cold-war type novels 'cause, well, they're so political and politics just ain't my thing.This book was very well written (duh) and had a very convoluted plot, but not so convoluted that I got lost as to who was working for whom. Well, perhaps it's more accurate to say that I understood as much as the main character understood which may or may not have been the "truth".I think the only part of it that I didn't like was the naivete of Liz and the little bit of "complaining/moralizing" that occurs at the very end of the novel. And this moralizing was only annoying because it came from such a naive character who, at this point in the story, should have known better.more
Extremly good. This book is a real spy story, dense with content and twists. The characters are very believable too. Far from the thrillers published today.more
Alec leamus has been recalled to London after the loss of all his East German agents but instead of being retired he is given one last job...This is a book with very little action which surprised me. Luckily Le Carre is very good at evoking the place, from a lonely, creaking hunting lodge to a dirty tiny boarding house they all become alive with just a small, judicious amount of description. The characters are sadly very hard to like, which hinders connecting with the story, but even so the plot setup is good enough to draw you in and the tense conversations cement your interest. It's a pity then, that later on I started to become irritated and towards the end downright fed up. It's sad that the only reason I sensed the alienation was down to everyone else liking this book.Ok so it is dated and I am over familiar with the cynicism and nihilism that imbues the page so that stops the shock and surprises. Also it’s hard for the ending to be anything to be formulaic*, not the books fault it happens to overused. Of course your reaction to this will depend on your reading experiences.Then (and most damningly) there were the female characters, amongst the hatred of communism and Jews, it was the misogyny that undid me. Ok out of the few women there was a judge (alongside the bitter shrew & traitorous mistress) but it was the main character that was the nail in coffin. I think it annoyed me so much because the books ultra realism was so modern (the sex out of wedlock was accepted for example) but ultra devotion to your man is just a horrid idea and if you do it in a book you better do it damn well.So I recommended it to fans of the spy genre (who lets face it probably have already read it) and to everyone else I say avoid (especially to sensitive Communists). However this book seems to be well loved on LT so check out others reviews instead, it’s possible I might be wrong :-)*SPOILER - Or maybe fated tragedies that kill suspense.more
I don't read spy novels, but I've always been curious about John le Carré and chose this as my sample of his work. He identifies it as one of his best, and it's hailed as a classic. I can see why.I've almost no experience with the genre, so my only basis of comparison is James Bond. The differences are obvious. James Bond is a no-nonsense superman who any man can idolize, the 'ideal spy' in a black-and-white world. Alex Leamas, on the other hand, is an everyman, just trying to do his job and hating it a good amount of the time. He gets fired from a senior posting, only to receive a second chance as an undercover operative. He has to go to extremes to establish this cover that would be far below Bond's dignity, and must resign himself to his role as expendable pawn in an enormous game he doesn't understand the full workings of.Alex has no special gadgets at his disposal, and he can't fight his way out of his problems. He shies away from discussion about right and wrong because it makes him uncomfortable. He recognizes his enemy is a mirror image of himself. He feels the toll his work takes on his life, he feels the sacrifices, and he knows fear. With James Bond, we wish we were in his shoes. With Alex, we're very glad we're not. That difference made this novel a hit when it was published in 1963, hailed as a landmark for its very human and realistic portrayal of unglamorous international espionage that probably opened a lot of people's eyes. Maybe someone who reads contemporary spy thrillers will find nothing unique here, since I'd imagine it must have set a template for many acts to follow, but it will always remain a quick read and well told story.more
A perfect book for anyone who has not been reading fiction/for pleasure for a while. It is written in a style which seems very efficient. It manages to create a sense of action and description with a limited amount of prose used. A fiction book, very much of its time. Written in at the turn of the 1960s, it portrays this early decade and the spy business, not as a glamerous and straight forward confrontation, a la Flemming's tradition, but as a confusing, bitter and ultimately cold existance, which is utilitarian in its nature. The style and writing of the book reflects this theme well, and the ultimate multiple bluffs that the book provides is skilled, in as much as it draws you into the conclusion you believe (or perhaps hope), but lifts several more veils that are present before the end.This is not to say that Le Carre holds back, or is guilty of assuming an arrogant withholding of information from the reader, to play his hand when he so chooses. In fact, the skill of his writing demonstrates that we are all duped by the establishment, and leaves the reader with the impression that trust cannot be something that enters into the discourse of both international diplomacy, but even more so with your own administrative establishment, where the idea of the 'Greater Good' is a true motivation with terrible and tragic consequences for any individual in the way.more
A very exciting spy story, about a plot to discredit Mundt (an East German spymaster who also featured in "Call for the Dead"). George Smiley is a shady character plotting in the background, not a major character in this book. It is very grim, showing how the constant fear and the need to keep up a facade takes its toll on spies over the years, and how the British spies are as amoral as their East German opponents. I really don't want to give anything away about the plot, but rest assured that there are many twists and turns and Le Carré keeps up the tension right to the last page.more
At a dinner discussion I got John le Carre confused with Stephen King for some bizarre reason and said that I'd been thinking about trying one of his books. It turned out that two of those present were passionate le Carre fans and one kind person insisted on lending me his copy of "The spy who came in from the cold." I didn't like to say that I'd actually confused the author with Stephen King - I think both fans would have been severely unimpressed. So I gratefully accepted the offer.And I'm glad I did. It's very Callan-esque, which automatically appeals to me. I was not surprised by where the plot ended up - the actual surprise was that the main character didn't see through it earlier. But it was cleverly wrought, and I liked the fact that le Carre didn't feel the need to build the plot too quickly or drench the book in excitement. Until close the end it remains slow-paced and thoughtful, and intriguing.I wouldn't probably make a habit of reading spy fiction, but this is definitely a good book to have read.more
This was the October choice for our book group and I must say it proved to be a popular one given that several of the group had moaned not a Le Carré when I suggested it; however this one’s relative brevity, tautness and utter plausibility won out.Since the recent BBC Radio 4 dramatisations of the all Le Carré’s George Smiley novels, I had been itching to start re-reading them. Spy, in which Smiley only makes some brief appearances, is the first and the one I’ve forgotten more than the others. The cover of the handsome new Penguin Modern Classics edition captured my imagination from the outset.Set shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected, Alec Leamas is due to come back in from the cold after spying in Berlin for years. He’s seen it all, and survived – so far, but Control has one last mission for him before he can come home for good. In a big game of bluff, Control and Leamas set up a plan to catch Mundt, the German spymaster which will involve Leamas betraying his country. He’s set up as a disgraced ex-spook, living in drab lodgings, a dead-end job, and drinking far too much. What he doesn’t bargain for though is striking up a friendship with young co-worker Liz – a member of the Communist party who falls for him, and indeed she comes to mean a lot to Leamas too…Leamas is a wonderful character – having also seen the film ages ago, he came to life off the page for me very much in Richard Burton mode (perfect casting I thought), and this quote from the novel gets him to a T for me …"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 they 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."Leamas is also a consummate professional. During his life as a spy, he’s always played a role, rarely allowed to be himself – but there are flashes here and there and underneath it all he’s a tortured soul. The whole novel was suffused with these shades of grey – nothing is ever quite what it seems – you can trust no-one completely.Le Carré’s third novel was the one that made his career take off. Legend has it that the British Secret Services gave it to all new spies to read and learn from but the self-effacing author insists that despite having been a spook for a while, it is all made up. Fantasy it may be, but it feels so real. It is also full of what we would call good old-fashioned ‘spy craft’ – there’s none of the gloss of the current TV Spooks. It is anchored in its own zeitgeist, where the post-war legacy of the 1950s has yet to give way to the new youth-led culture of the 1960s. Then there is the wall looming over this book, that symbol of the Cold War, the then new barrier between them and us.more
This is the first John le Carre novel I have read. The scene is set in London and Berlin during the Cold war era. The plot revolves around Leamas a former operator with the Circus aka the British Intelligence. He has recently lost all his spies in East Germany. The novels describes an elaborate plot where Leamas infiltrates the East German intelligence agency as a defector and incriminates on of its top agents.The novel includes a love story and a discussion oabout the morality of the espionage business. A beautifully crafted novel and very entertaining.more
Not much else needs to be said about this classic novel of Cold War espionage. Le Carre elevates the genre and set a new standard of expectation for what a spy novel could be.Our "hero", Alec Leamas, has recently been recalled from Germany after his entire network of spies in the Communist bloc has been rounded up and eliminated. Expecting to retire in disgrace, Control, instead, has other plans. Leamas and the reader eventually realize that they cannot discern the true plans Control has and the actual point of his mission. Leamas becomes a double agent, sent to infiltrate the East German intelligence service on a mission that becomes more abstract as additional information is revealed. To spill more would be a disservice.The spooks and their masters have real human emotions and backstories. They are not just characters to be manipulated in service of a plot. That is where Le Carre excels beyond the average spy story. Rather than engaging in elaborate, globe-spanning, exotic conspiracies, this novel is rooted in realistic depictions of a dirty, but necessary, craft.Needless to say, if you're a fan of spy fiction, especially the work of Alan Furst, you've probably read this already. If you haven't, you owe it to yourself to do so immediately.more
Considered to be one of the best spy thrillers of the modern age, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the the novel that put John le Carré's on the best-seller list (and essentially he's there to stay. Given this fantastic piece, it is well-deserved. Published in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was le Carré's third novel, but the first espionage thriller of its kind -- namely, the first with the painfully realistic notion that there is no "good" or "bad" side in a conflict and no one is particularly moral or just when it might come at the expense of victory.Alec Leamas is a burned-out English spy enduring his final mission so that he might "come in from the cold" and retire after a long career in the British Secret Intelligence Service. This chance comes shortly after Leamas's stint as commander of the West Berlin office where he witnessed his last decent agent get shot trying to escape East Berlin. Now, his job is to destroy his own life and give the illusion of a washed-up agent ill-used by his superiors so that he might appear to be a man who's very willing to defect to the East German Communists and sell them information. Leamas is a pro and he plays his role well -- except he does what it seems like every spy does... he gets involved with a girl. Liz Gold is a young Jewish woman who works at a library, a registered Communist who falls hard for Leamas, even though he tries to push her away (though he doesn't try very hard). Whether Leamas falls in love with Liz or simply develops an affection for her, no one should be too surprised if Liz becomes a liability in the high-stakes game that he's playing. Before diving headfirst into his dealings with the East German Communists, he makes Liz promise to not try and find him and similarly asks his British superiors to leave her alone. Yeah. Sure.To say too much about the plot would be criminal, so I'll simply note that it's all quite worth reading. It's so refreshing to find a novel where things move quickly and the author doesn't pander to a slow audience. I actually wondered at the beginning of the book if I was going to be quick enough to follow along with everything, particularly considering my Cold War knowledge is a bit rusty, but it turned out I had everything I needed to know. The thing that's fascinating now is to be familiar with the jaded concept that neither side is "right" in a conflict, but to see the origin of this idea in the novel that best brought it to light in terms of the modern age. Clearly, this is no James Bond novel where he easily bests the bad guys in the name of Queen and country while sleeping with sexy women and drinking martinis. Leamas is a grizzled case who's been in the field for much too long and he's beyond disillusioned with it all... and yet still, he might retain his own understanding of honor. He's lived a cover for so long that who knows what is "true" and it takes a woman from the outside to prove that not everything is about lies and subterfuge... but such a perspective can hardly survive the onslaught of underhanded dealings. There is, indeed, a real villain in this story, but an individual's blackened soul doesn't necessarily represent an entire country, particularly when the only other true idealist with a good dream to improve the lives of his people is on the exact same side. Leamas, despite being disillusioned with it all, still does seem to have some moral understanding and perhaps that's what draws him to naive Liz.My book club read this at the suggestion of a member who is writing her own spy novel and so has been immersing herself in fiction and non-fiction that pertains to the topic as research. Perhaps an unlikely choice, it made for some great discussion as we dissected the motives of various characters and sighed over just how annoying Liz was. (Seriously, it's painful how useless and frustrating she was in the face of everything.) There was a movie made of this novel that a few of us had seen, though I personally casted Jeremy Irons as Leamas as I read the book and pictured everything playing out. So much of this spy work is about calculation, planning, and nervous execution. Whenever physical force is used, it's rarely flashy and frequently fails in its objective. It's certainly not the spy thriller that we're all familiar with, but that only makes it more interesting.John le Carré is the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell, a former MI5 and MI6 employee who was very familiar with the intelligence game. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was so successful that it enabled Cornwell to quit MI6 and start writing full time. His first two novels featured the character George Smiley, who makes a brief appearance in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as having a role in the British side of this plan (though not an official Circus agent, supposedly), and Smiley became one of le Carré's leading protagonists. The author calls The Spy Who Came in from the Cold one of his best four novels and it's quite easy to see why. Despite having the appearance of a jaded man and a lone wolf, Leamas is an incredibly sympathetic hero. Before reading this, I had kind of passed over le Carré as a writer whose work wasn't quite my style, but such intelligent writing about the spy game is fascinating for any smart reader with the desire to be told a twisted and complicated story. I already have my eye on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as a future read for when I want to dive into le Carré once more... though I certainly hope that future female characters are a bit less irritating than poor Liz or I'll be quickly disappointed.more
It's been a long time since I first read this, in high school. It didn't make as big an impression on me as the George Smiley novels did - it's much less epic, more subtle, I think. I'm reading books that were published in my birth year so when I found that this was one of them I put it on the list. I'm glad I did, it's a very different book when read as an adult. Maybe it's just that I'm in the same part of my life as the main character, Alec Leamas - I understand his growing and vague sense of dissatisfaction, of time running out before you get to do that one really cool thing. le Carré can write - there is no doubt of that - and his novels written during and about the Cold War are mostly brilliant. I've never been a huge fan of the James Bond-type spy novels. I much prefer the notion that le Carré lays out - of a game grounded in utter pragmatism, its heroes largely unsung. The game as it is presented in these books has no clear answers, no clear victories, nothing, but ambiguity stacked on ambiguity - that's what makes these brilliant.The Berlin Wall came down when I was in grad school. Throughout my earlier life it loomed there in the distance, a place where desperate people were killed by their own governments, where families were separated by an ideology made real through stone and barbed wire. These days it's easy to forget what that might have been like, but le Carré definitely captures that in this book.Spare, cynical, dispassionate, and utterly tragic this book lays the groundwork for the George Smiley books that followed. It's a wonderful read.more
The first John LeCarre book I read (or attempted to read) was The Night Manager, but the obtuse language made it difficult to continue (I'm not a big fan of having to read pages two or three times, then doubling back about ten pages that I had previously read two or three times to figure out what was going on). Also didn't help that the plot felt like it was being artificially complicated by the opaque language. However, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was far better. The language didn't add any false opaqueness to the plot, which was plenty complex and intriguing. The book moved at a good pace and at every point I wanted to know more about what happened next.I also love the moral ambiguity of the book and how even the ostensible "good guys" could do some pretty shady things in the Cold War spy vs. spy game. All of it made the book far better than a mere genre thriller. And it was enough for me to give some of Le Carre's other books (that aren't The Night Manager) a chance.more
Mere hints of what le Carré will become.more
Alec Leamas, British spy handler, has suffered a series of setbacks at the hands of his arch-enemy, the East German, Mundt, and is ready to retire. When Alec’s boss, Control, asks if he wants to go on one last mission to shut Mundt down, Alec agrees and, “the plot thickens.” It sounds funny, but I enjoyed the size of this book. It was a relatively short book, just over 200 pages, but there was a lot packed into those pages. This is a spy story, though not an action packed spy story. Instead it is a riddle that slowly unwinds itself. Trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is on whose side is the fun of reading it. Having said that, sometimes I think my mind was too old to keep up. The clues are very subtle—like spywork should be—and I had to read a synopsis after I finished reading it to help me pull it all together. That made me mad (and made me feel inadequate) because I should have been able to figure it all out myself. Like I said, I am getting old.The book was written in 1963 so it is almost as old as I am. In a way it seemed dated. The characters, Cold War warriors each, struggle with the ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, morality and immorality in the service of a cause. Do the ends justify the means? They spend a lot of time parsing that through. Nearly 50 years later it seems like we don’t even bother wondering any more. The answer is always, sadly, yes.more
Graham Greene called it the best spy story he had ever read, and the Crime Writers' Association honoured it as the best crime novel in fifty years; who am I to argue?Very tautly written - barely an unnecessary word - and amazing characterisation. It's the last couple of paragraphs, though, that turn it from a good book into a great one.more
The best of Le Carre, though, I'm sure I'm influenced by the film with Richard Burton too.more
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Reviews

I got this from a book sale over a year ago. It met the "slender" requirement, which was the primary reason I selected this title despite it's duller than dull cover. I've never been gladder that aesthetics didn't stop me, because this book was EXCELLENT. After a certain point, it's physically impossible to stop reading. I spent eight hours of a Saturday on the couch trying to cram all the excitement in as fast as I possibly could. It was deceptively jam-packed (and not all that slender, as the print was painfully small and compact).more
I missed this book when it first came out, although its title has almost become a cliché. I could hardly put it down once I began reading it. Le Carré is so well known now, that it is hard perhaps to imagine the impact this slim volume had when it was first published. Of the Edgar Best Novel winners I've read so far, I think it was the most deserving of the award -- literary without being pretentious and the sort of book that makes one's heart beat faster and continue reading to the inexorable conclusion. Very highly recommended to anyone who has not read it already, maybe time for a re-read for those who caught it years ago.more
Depressing but brilliant. Sums up the entire Cold War, essentially.more
I expected more from this book, and was very disappointed. For a spy thriller, the action is very slim. The main character, George Smiley, is a pudgy, nerdish man. The book centers on Smiley's thought processes. And George is tenacious as a dog with a bone when he senses foul play. The case involves the suicide of another agent who George had just interviewed. George goes to see the widow and quickly senses that she is lying to him. In the course of events, George is nearly beaten to death, and receives a cryptic postcard from his ex-wife. Le Carre develops his characters, but the action is lame.more
I have always liked political intrigue and Machiavellian style plots but for some reason never read many spy novel other than the odd James Bond, which is rather more like a male fantasy than a real spy novel. So in steps The Spy Who Came In From The Cold which most consider to be one of the best spy novels ever written and while I don't really have anything that I have read to compare it to I will say that it was damn good. I think the part I liked the best was that there was no black and white just varying shades of gray. The book masterfully shows both the British and East German agencies having similar practices and (SPOILER) by the end one question who has the moral high grounds (End SPOILER)One of the problems about reviewing mystery's and thrillers is that one doesn't want to give too much away so as to spoil the book for future readers. There is a reason this book constantly appears on top reading list as even though the Cold War is over many of the nuances of the book are still relevant today. I can also see why the book was thought of revolutionary in its day as its striped away the glamor of the spy showing it for what it was dirty, dangerous, and filled with gray. (Minor Spoiler) The feeling you take away from the book is that Intelligence does things that might be abhorrent to the average person so that said person sleeps soundly at night while not fully making judgments about the characters' actions leaving it up to the reader to decide whether in the end it is worth the cost (end spoiler)If you only ever are to read one spy novel, you should make The Spy Who Came In From The Cold the one to readmore
A 1960s Cold War spy novel John le Carré, this book introduces us to Alec Leamas, a British spy who is sent to East Germany supposedly to defect, but in fact is there to spread disinformation about his nemesis Mundt. In the end however he learns that we are all just part of the game. This is not really my type of "mystery"--it is much more a thriller--though I found it slow going. I would give it a 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.more
This is the book that made Le Carre's career and it's clear to see why he is held as a master story teller. What often gets overlooked in al the accolades about the craft of his spy thriller story telling is that his prose is gorgeous -- crystal clear, precise yet evocative. Take note, all you aspiring writers out there: this is what your prose should aspire towards.more
I'm not sure how much I can reveal about the plot without spoiling it completely, so I'll play it safe. This is a pure spy mystery involving agent Leamas, fired by the Secret Service for failing to protect his agents properly and given only a minimal pension. He quickly falls into hard drinking and major debt, then lands himself in jail. The day he comes out of jail, he's approached by a stranger and is eventually taken to East Germany to deliver intelligence gathered in the years working for the British service. There is eventually a trial held by the communists during which it comes to light that everyone might be guilty of double and triple-crossing, and seen through the prism of totalitarianism and paranoia, all we've been told till then might be a complete fiction. I was expecting to enjoy this novel more than I did, especially considering the fact that I enjoyed the first two George Smiley novels quite a lot, but maybe I'm not such a big fan of spy novels after all? At one point it all got too confusing and convoluted for me to care much, but looking at the overall construction, it's a very good book and I can objectively say I can see why this is such a popular story and might appeal to such a large audience.more
I wondered if this would age well, and it seems to. The quality of the writing is still above par for espionage novels. The main female character is a bit of a B-movie ninnie, but it was still a fun read with plenty of cold war nostalgia.more
This was my first real attempt at reading one of Le Carré's works. As I got further and further into the book, I was more and more intrigued with the plot, and how it kept twisting. An excellent book, although I was displeased with how it ended, but that's my personal opinion, not a reflection upon the author.Would I reread? I'm not sure, but I would highly recommend this book.more
An excellent novel by one of the premier soy writers of our time, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold keeps you hooked from first to last as a complex plot unfolds at a fast pace.more
The book gets off to a gripping and suspenseful start. At the height of the Cold War around 1962, veteran British operative Alec Leamas waits for one of his agents to cross the East German border. He can only watch as the man is gunned down before his eyes within feet of making it across. With that death, the East Germans have succeeded in unraveling his entire network.Brought back to England, Leamas is convinced to do one more job. He's dangled as bait, presented as apparently broken and bitter, in the hopes their communist adversaries will entice him to defect and swallow what he has to tell them. I've been reading a recommendation list for suspense novels, including several spy thrillers, and I've read a couple of dozen, leaving Le Carre for almost last precisely because so many have told me his works are among the best. If The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is any evidence, I'd say that's right. Along with Alan Furst (Night Soldiers) and Eric Ambler (A Coffin for Dimitrios) Le Carre is both the most plausible in his depiction of espionage and among the strongest in a literary sense. It's not surprising he'd be credible. Along with Ian Fleming of the James Bond novels, he's one of the few such writers who can claim actual experience--he worked in British Intelligence for years, and in his introduction he tells of how he saw the Berlin Wall go up.Alec is no James Bond though--and I like him the more for it. This isn't some escapist male fantasy where being a secret agent allows you to indulge in gorgeous women on your arm as you gamble high stakes at casinos and consume caviar and champagne. Alec is around fifty years old, disillusioned and close to burnt out even before this mission. The woman he gets involved with, Liz Gold, is no glamorous Bond girl, but a hopelessly naive idealist whose very innocence points up the ruthlessness of the game as played by both sides. This is much more intricately plotted than any of the other espionage fiction I read. Seeming plot holes close up and become plot points and there's enough twists and turns to satisfy a fan of Christie. Don't expect a black and white morality or characters or a happy rainbow at the end though.more
I'm embarrassed about giving this only three stars when I know it's a classic of the genre, but it felt very dated to me, and I find spy books confusing, and I thought the hero was too James Bondish to be true. But it earned its stars by persuading me that it was a gripping story in the heart of the Cold War, very well written and atmospheric. But I prefer his later books.more
Of course I had heard the title of this book before... and LeCarre's name... I just have never read any of his stuff, and, normally, don't like cold-war type novels 'cause, well, they're so political and politics just ain't my thing.This book was very well written (duh) and had a very convoluted plot, but not so convoluted that I got lost as to who was working for whom. Well, perhaps it's more accurate to say that I understood as much as the main character understood which may or may not have been the "truth".I think the only part of it that I didn't like was the naivete of Liz and the little bit of "complaining/moralizing" that occurs at the very end of the novel. And this moralizing was only annoying because it came from such a naive character who, at this point in the story, should have known better.more
Extremly good. This book is a real spy story, dense with content and twists. The characters are very believable too. Far from the thrillers published today.more
Alec leamus has been recalled to London after the loss of all his East German agents but instead of being retired he is given one last job...This is a book with very little action which surprised me. Luckily Le Carre is very good at evoking the place, from a lonely, creaking hunting lodge to a dirty tiny boarding house they all become alive with just a small, judicious amount of description. The characters are sadly very hard to like, which hinders connecting with the story, but even so the plot setup is good enough to draw you in and the tense conversations cement your interest. It's a pity then, that later on I started to become irritated and towards the end downright fed up. It's sad that the only reason I sensed the alienation was down to everyone else liking this book.Ok so it is dated and I am over familiar with the cynicism and nihilism that imbues the page so that stops the shock and surprises. Also it’s hard for the ending to be anything to be formulaic*, not the books fault it happens to overused. Of course your reaction to this will depend on your reading experiences.Then (and most damningly) there were the female characters, amongst the hatred of communism and Jews, it was the misogyny that undid me. Ok out of the few women there was a judge (alongside the bitter shrew & traitorous mistress) but it was the main character that was the nail in coffin. I think it annoyed me so much because the books ultra realism was so modern (the sex out of wedlock was accepted for example) but ultra devotion to your man is just a horrid idea and if you do it in a book you better do it damn well.So I recommended it to fans of the spy genre (who lets face it probably have already read it) and to everyone else I say avoid (especially to sensitive Communists). However this book seems to be well loved on LT so check out others reviews instead, it’s possible I might be wrong :-)*SPOILER - Or maybe fated tragedies that kill suspense.more
I don't read spy novels, but I've always been curious about John le Carré and chose this as my sample of his work. He identifies it as one of his best, and it's hailed as a classic. I can see why.I've almost no experience with the genre, so my only basis of comparison is James Bond. The differences are obvious. James Bond is a no-nonsense superman who any man can idolize, the 'ideal spy' in a black-and-white world. Alex Leamas, on the other hand, is an everyman, just trying to do his job and hating it a good amount of the time. He gets fired from a senior posting, only to receive a second chance as an undercover operative. He has to go to extremes to establish this cover that would be far below Bond's dignity, and must resign himself to his role as expendable pawn in an enormous game he doesn't understand the full workings of.Alex has no special gadgets at his disposal, and he can't fight his way out of his problems. He shies away from discussion about right and wrong because it makes him uncomfortable. He recognizes his enemy is a mirror image of himself. He feels the toll his work takes on his life, he feels the sacrifices, and he knows fear. With James Bond, we wish we were in his shoes. With Alex, we're very glad we're not. That difference made this novel a hit when it was published in 1963, hailed as a landmark for its very human and realistic portrayal of unglamorous international espionage that probably opened a lot of people's eyes. Maybe someone who reads contemporary spy thrillers will find nothing unique here, since I'd imagine it must have set a template for many acts to follow, but it will always remain a quick read and well told story.more
A perfect book for anyone who has not been reading fiction/for pleasure for a while. It is written in a style which seems very efficient. It manages to create a sense of action and description with a limited amount of prose used. A fiction book, very much of its time. Written in at the turn of the 1960s, it portrays this early decade and the spy business, not as a glamerous and straight forward confrontation, a la Flemming's tradition, but as a confusing, bitter and ultimately cold existance, which is utilitarian in its nature. The style and writing of the book reflects this theme well, and the ultimate multiple bluffs that the book provides is skilled, in as much as it draws you into the conclusion you believe (or perhaps hope), but lifts several more veils that are present before the end.This is not to say that Le Carre holds back, or is guilty of assuming an arrogant withholding of information from the reader, to play his hand when he so chooses. In fact, the skill of his writing demonstrates that we are all duped by the establishment, and leaves the reader with the impression that trust cannot be something that enters into the discourse of both international diplomacy, but even more so with your own administrative establishment, where the idea of the 'Greater Good' is a true motivation with terrible and tragic consequences for any individual in the way.more
A very exciting spy story, about a plot to discredit Mundt (an East German spymaster who also featured in "Call for the Dead"). George Smiley is a shady character plotting in the background, not a major character in this book. It is very grim, showing how the constant fear and the need to keep up a facade takes its toll on spies over the years, and how the British spies are as amoral as their East German opponents. I really don't want to give anything away about the plot, but rest assured that there are many twists and turns and Le Carré keeps up the tension right to the last page.more
At a dinner discussion I got John le Carre confused with Stephen King for some bizarre reason and said that I'd been thinking about trying one of his books. It turned out that two of those present were passionate le Carre fans and one kind person insisted on lending me his copy of "The spy who came in from the cold." I didn't like to say that I'd actually confused the author with Stephen King - I think both fans would have been severely unimpressed. So I gratefully accepted the offer.And I'm glad I did. It's very Callan-esque, which automatically appeals to me. I was not surprised by where the plot ended up - the actual surprise was that the main character didn't see through it earlier. But it was cleverly wrought, and I liked the fact that le Carre didn't feel the need to build the plot too quickly or drench the book in excitement. Until close the end it remains slow-paced and thoughtful, and intriguing.I wouldn't probably make a habit of reading spy fiction, but this is definitely a good book to have read.more
This was the October choice for our book group and I must say it proved to be a popular one given that several of the group had moaned not a Le Carré when I suggested it; however this one’s relative brevity, tautness and utter plausibility won out.Since the recent BBC Radio 4 dramatisations of the all Le Carré’s George Smiley novels, I had been itching to start re-reading them. Spy, in which Smiley only makes some brief appearances, is the first and the one I’ve forgotten more than the others. The cover of the handsome new Penguin Modern Classics edition captured my imagination from the outset.Set shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected, Alec Leamas is due to come back in from the cold after spying in Berlin for years. He’s seen it all, and survived – so far, but Control has one last mission for him before he can come home for good. In a big game of bluff, Control and Leamas set up a plan to catch Mundt, the German spymaster which will involve Leamas betraying his country. He’s set up as a disgraced ex-spook, living in drab lodgings, a dead-end job, and drinking far too much. What he doesn’t bargain for though is striking up a friendship with young co-worker Liz – a member of the Communist party who falls for him, and indeed she comes to mean a lot to Leamas too…Leamas is a wonderful character – having also seen the film ages ago, he came to life off the page for me very much in Richard Burton mode (perfect casting I thought), and this quote from the novel gets him to a T for me …"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 they 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."Leamas is also a consummate professional. During his life as a spy, he’s always played a role, rarely allowed to be himself – but there are flashes here and there and underneath it all he’s a tortured soul. The whole novel was suffused with these shades of grey – nothing is ever quite what it seems – you can trust no-one completely.Le Carré’s third novel was the one that made his career take off. Legend has it that the British Secret Services gave it to all new spies to read and learn from but the self-effacing author insists that despite having been a spook for a while, it is all made up. Fantasy it may be, but it feels so real. It is also full of what we would call good old-fashioned ‘spy craft’ – there’s none of the gloss of the current TV Spooks. It is anchored in its own zeitgeist, where the post-war legacy of the 1950s has yet to give way to the new youth-led culture of the 1960s. Then there is the wall looming over this book, that symbol of the Cold War, the then new barrier between them and us.more
This is the first John le Carre novel I have read. The scene is set in London and Berlin during the Cold war era. The plot revolves around Leamas a former operator with the Circus aka the British Intelligence. He has recently lost all his spies in East Germany. The novels describes an elaborate plot where Leamas infiltrates the East German intelligence agency as a defector and incriminates on of its top agents.The novel includes a love story and a discussion oabout the morality of the espionage business. A beautifully crafted novel and very entertaining.more
Not much else needs to be said about this classic novel of Cold War espionage. Le Carre elevates the genre and set a new standard of expectation for what a spy novel could be.Our "hero", Alec Leamas, has recently been recalled from Germany after his entire network of spies in the Communist bloc has been rounded up and eliminated. Expecting to retire in disgrace, Control, instead, has other plans. Leamas and the reader eventually realize that they cannot discern the true plans Control has and the actual point of his mission. Leamas becomes a double agent, sent to infiltrate the East German intelligence service on a mission that becomes more abstract as additional information is revealed. To spill more would be a disservice.The spooks and their masters have real human emotions and backstories. They are not just characters to be manipulated in service of a plot. That is where Le Carre excels beyond the average spy story. Rather than engaging in elaborate, globe-spanning, exotic conspiracies, this novel is rooted in realistic depictions of a dirty, but necessary, craft.Needless to say, if you're a fan of spy fiction, especially the work of Alan Furst, you've probably read this already. If you haven't, you owe it to yourself to do so immediately.more
Considered to be one of the best spy thrillers of the modern age, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the the novel that put John le Carré's on the best-seller list (and essentially he's there to stay. Given this fantastic piece, it is well-deserved. Published in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was le Carré's third novel, but the first espionage thriller of its kind -- namely, the first with the painfully realistic notion that there is no "good" or "bad" side in a conflict and no one is particularly moral or just when it might come at the expense of victory.Alec Leamas is a burned-out English spy enduring his final mission so that he might "come in from the cold" and retire after a long career in the British Secret Intelligence Service. This chance comes shortly after Leamas's stint as commander of the West Berlin office where he witnessed his last decent agent get shot trying to escape East Berlin. Now, his job is to destroy his own life and give the illusion of a washed-up agent ill-used by his superiors so that he might appear to be a man who's very willing to defect to the East German Communists and sell them information. Leamas is a pro and he plays his role well -- except he does what it seems like every spy does... he gets involved with a girl. Liz Gold is a young Jewish woman who works at a library, a registered Communist who falls hard for Leamas, even though he tries to push her away (though he doesn't try very hard). Whether Leamas falls in love with Liz or simply develops an affection for her, no one should be too surprised if Liz becomes a liability in the high-stakes game that he's playing. Before diving headfirst into his dealings with the East German Communists, he makes Liz promise to not try and find him and similarly asks his British superiors to leave her alone. Yeah. Sure.To say too much about the plot would be criminal, so I'll simply note that it's all quite worth reading. It's so refreshing to find a novel where things move quickly and the author doesn't pander to a slow audience. I actually wondered at the beginning of the book if I was going to be quick enough to follow along with everything, particularly considering my Cold War knowledge is a bit rusty, but it turned out I had everything I needed to know. The thing that's fascinating now is to be familiar with the jaded concept that neither side is "right" in a conflict, but to see the origin of this idea in the novel that best brought it to light in terms of the modern age. Clearly, this is no James Bond novel where he easily bests the bad guys in the name of Queen and country while sleeping with sexy women and drinking martinis. Leamas is a grizzled case who's been in the field for much too long and he's beyond disillusioned with it all... and yet still, he might retain his own understanding of honor. He's lived a cover for so long that who knows what is "true" and it takes a woman from the outside to prove that not everything is about lies and subterfuge... but such a perspective can hardly survive the onslaught of underhanded dealings. There is, indeed, a real villain in this story, but an individual's blackened soul doesn't necessarily represent an entire country, particularly when the only other true idealist with a good dream to improve the lives of his people is on the exact same side. Leamas, despite being disillusioned with it all, still does seem to have some moral understanding and perhaps that's what draws him to naive Liz.My book club read this at the suggestion of a member who is writing her own spy novel and so has been immersing herself in fiction and non-fiction that pertains to the topic as research. Perhaps an unlikely choice, it made for some great discussion as we dissected the motives of various characters and sighed over just how annoying Liz was. (Seriously, it's painful how useless and frustrating she was in the face of everything.) There was a movie made of this novel that a few of us had seen, though I personally casted Jeremy Irons as Leamas as I read the book and pictured everything playing out. So much of this spy work is about calculation, planning, and nervous execution. Whenever physical force is used, it's rarely flashy and frequently fails in its objective. It's certainly not the spy thriller that we're all familiar with, but that only makes it more interesting.John le Carré is the pen name of David John Moore Cornwell, a former MI5 and MI6 employee who was very familiar with the intelligence game. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was so successful that it enabled Cornwell to quit MI6 and start writing full time. His first two novels featured the character George Smiley, who makes a brief appearance in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as having a role in the British side of this plan (though not an official Circus agent, supposedly), and Smiley became one of le Carré's leading protagonists. The author calls The Spy Who Came in from the Cold one of his best four novels and it's quite easy to see why. Despite having the appearance of a jaded man and a lone wolf, Leamas is an incredibly sympathetic hero. Before reading this, I had kind of passed over le Carré as a writer whose work wasn't quite my style, but such intelligent writing about the spy game is fascinating for any smart reader with the desire to be told a twisted and complicated story. I already have my eye on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as a future read for when I want to dive into le Carré once more... though I certainly hope that future female characters are a bit less irritating than poor Liz or I'll be quickly disappointed.more
It's been a long time since I first read this, in high school. It didn't make as big an impression on me as the George Smiley novels did - it's much less epic, more subtle, I think. I'm reading books that were published in my birth year so when I found that this was one of them I put it on the list. I'm glad I did, it's a very different book when read as an adult. Maybe it's just that I'm in the same part of my life as the main character, Alec Leamas - I understand his growing and vague sense of dissatisfaction, of time running out before you get to do that one really cool thing. le Carré can write - there is no doubt of that - and his novels written during and about the Cold War are mostly brilliant. I've never been a huge fan of the James Bond-type spy novels. I much prefer the notion that le Carré lays out - of a game grounded in utter pragmatism, its heroes largely unsung. The game as it is presented in these books has no clear answers, no clear victories, nothing, but ambiguity stacked on ambiguity - that's what makes these brilliant.The Berlin Wall came down when I was in grad school. Throughout my earlier life it loomed there in the distance, a place where desperate people were killed by their own governments, where families were separated by an ideology made real through stone and barbed wire. These days it's easy to forget what that might have been like, but le Carré definitely captures that in this book.Spare, cynical, dispassionate, and utterly tragic this book lays the groundwork for the George Smiley books that followed. It's a wonderful read.more
The first John LeCarre book I read (or attempted to read) was The Night Manager, but the obtuse language made it difficult to continue (I'm not a big fan of having to read pages two or three times, then doubling back about ten pages that I had previously read two or three times to figure out what was going on). Also didn't help that the plot felt like it was being artificially complicated by the opaque language. However, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was far better. The language didn't add any false opaqueness to the plot, which was plenty complex and intriguing. The book moved at a good pace and at every point I wanted to know more about what happened next.I also love the moral ambiguity of the book and how even the ostensible "good guys" could do some pretty shady things in the Cold War spy vs. spy game. All of it made the book far better than a mere genre thriller. And it was enough for me to give some of Le Carre's other books (that aren't The Night Manager) a chance.more
Mere hints of what le Carré will become.more
Alec Leamas, British spy handler, has suffered a series of setbacks at the hands of his arch-enemy, the East German, Mundt, and is ready to retire. When Alec’s boss, Control, asks if he wants to go on one last mission to shut Mundt down, Alec agrees and, “the plot thickens.” It sounds funny, but I enjoyed the size of this book. It was a relatively short book, just over 200 pages, but there was a lot packed into those pages. This is a spy story, though not an action packed spy story. Instead it is a riddle that slowly unwinds itself. Trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is on whose side is the fun of reading it. Having said that, sometimes I think my mind was too old to keep up. The clues are very subtle—like spywork should be—and I had to read a synopsis after I finished reading it to help me pull it all together. That made me mad (and made me feel inadequate) because I should have been able to figure it all out myself. Like I said, I am getting old.The book was written in 1963 so it is almost as old as I am. In a way it seemed dated. The characters, Cold War warriors each, struggle with the ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, morality and immorality in the service of a cause. Do the ends justify the means? They spend a lot of time parsing that through. Nearly 50 years later it seems like we don’t even bother wondering any more. The answer is always, sadly, yes.more
Graham Greene called it the best spy story he had ever read, and the Crime Writers' Association honoured it as the best crime novel in fifty years; who am I to argue?Very tautly written - barely an unnecessary word - and amazing characterisation. It's the last couple of paragraphs, though, that turn it from a good book into a great one.more
The best of Le Carre, though, I'm sure I'm influenced by the film with Richard Burton too.more
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