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Hedy Reviews “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”

By Library Staff

This book is considered a classic spy thriller of the Cold War.  Having lived in West Berlin from 1978-1982, I was very familiar with the Berlin Wall (which came down in 1989).  The Wall plays a significant role in this story.  I found myself incredibly suspicious of everyone and of everything that happened.  Was it an accident or was it planned?  Is this person a spy?  If so, for which side?  Or is this person a double agent, working for both sides?  It was indeed a grim situation.  Several people in the Mystery Book Discussion group commented that their spouses were in the military at that time and probably did some spying, but never talked about it, of course.  My spouse worked for a German bi-cultural bilingual school, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t doing any spying.

The spy thriller genre is unique in that its lack of reliable narrators is a necessity.  Le Carre, who had worked for British Secret Services himself for a while, writes in a superb introduction to the 50th anniversary edition that “the Berlin in which Leamas [the protagonist] had his being was a paradigm of human folly and historical paradox.”  There is a certain amount of philosophy bandied about in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” which makes it stand out from a mere action novel.  Is it okay to sacrifice a few people if many can be saved?  What justifies a bomb in a crowded restaurant?  Does one believe things merely because one needs to–”A dog scratches where it itches. Different dogs itch in different places.”

And there is the pathos of a beleaguered spy discovering a new love: “He knew what it was then that Liz had given him; the thing that he would have to go back and find if ever he got home to England: it was the caring about little things–the faith in ordinary life; the simplicity that made you break up a bit of bread into a paper bag, walk down to the beach, and throw it to the gulls.  It was this respect for triviality which he had never been allowed to possess…”

The Cold War ended with the fall of the Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe, but the spying goes on.  The issues this novel brings forth continue today.

FIC LECA (also DVD DRAMA SPY) “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le Carre, 1963, 225 pages