The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – John le Carré

Publisher: Penguin Books.

Published: 1963.

Rating: 5/10.

I guess spy novels just aren’t for me? This book is noted as being one of THE best spy novels ever written. And it’s from the daddy of the spy literary genre – John le Carré – so all the signs are pointing in the right direction. But, unfortunately I just wasn’t feeling it.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963) is a cold war thriller/ spy novel about a retired British spy who must do one last mission in Communist Germany. The set up sounds amazing, and I was totally on board. It started off well. The opening scenes were gripping, and the narrative is quite brooding and mysterious. When we meet Elizabeth I was still intrigued by the story. Leamas hides his secret identity from her and is living a double life – brilliant, I’m liking where this is going. 

Then the narrative just falls flat. Leamas is taken to be interrogated by Germans in East Germany and there he has long discussions about spies, his past missions, and secrets about the British secret service. It gets really boring as the narrative becomes an extensive dialogue about politics and past spy missions. I was expecting something a bit more along the lines of James Bond, with some exciting action sequences and deadly pursuits, which makes me think this may not be the genre for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dying for action sequences when I read, in fact some great crime, western, and fantasy novels I’ve read have had their fair share of dialogue-driven scenes, but at least they’re providing something other than long-winded discussions about complex secret service material and political motivations.  

For me, as someone who’s experience of spy narratives has been restricted to film, the book didn’t have enough dramatic variety. It may be an absolute classic for fans of spy books, which is great for seasoned readers, but it just wasn’t for me. Truth be told, it wasn’t a terrible novel. It was well written, the characters were all highly fleshed out and were motivated by their own beliefs, but it’s just a case of different tastes. 

The highlights for me were the library scenes and the interactions between Leamas and Liz. The provided a bit of light-hearted humour and romance, which reflected on how isolated Leamas had become due to his field. 

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