“Half a million liquidated is a statistic, and one man killed in a traffic accident is a national tragedy.”
I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the final twist. I mean, living in this age by the time when there have been so many good spy novels by masters such as Tom Clancy & Frederick Forsyth & Ludlum (to name a few of them) which have adorned the genre over the last few decades. Perhaps, it is the hallmark of this timeless classic that it still managed to deceive me.
Alec Leamas, the head of Berlin Station for the British Secret Service (nicknamed “the Circus“) watches helplessly as the last one of his agents is shot by East German soldiers just yards from crossing the Berlin Wall into the safety of West Germany. Disgruntled & tired of his work as a spymaster, Control (head of the Circus) offers Leamas a unique opportunity to avenge the deaths of his agents – by discrediting East Germany’s intelligence agency head Mundt. Control has laid out an elaborate plan to entrap Mundt, the bait is Leamas himself & to execute it to perfection, George Smiley hovers in the background to pull the strings just the way Control wants him to. But in the muddy world of espionage, bad men thrive & often a few good men don’t exactly get what they deserve.
‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ robbed John le Carre of his comforts in anonymity – to paraphrase how he puts it in the foreword. If one does not understand the time when it was written, it is hard to appreciate its true brilliance. For when spy novels usually meant either the glitzy daredevilry of Ian Fleming‘s James Bond or whatever pulp fiction had to offer, this book was unlike anything people had come across before in the genre.
Le Carre explores the moral ambiguities of the world of espionage through his characters. As the plot progresses, the protagonist discovers & comes to realise that though his opposite number might be more ideologically motivated than he probably is, he is not necessarily an evil person & even might treat him with honour & respect. On the other hand, one’s supposed allies are tolerated just because they are useful, nothing more. And one can only be horrified to see there is no line that separates the good from the bad – duplicity & manipulation is everyday business for those in the higher echelons of power & no cost – be it even human lives at stake – is high enough if it is mission accomplished at the end of the affair.
‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ is undoubtedly one of the finest books John le Carre has ever written & fans of espionage thrillers should definitely not miss out on this classic which incidentally changed the way spy novels would be written for years to come. Highly recommended.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
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