No one wears a tuxedo in le Carre’s spy novels. His agents are middle-aged, disappointed, disillusioned men in stained overcoats. In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold a worn-out English spy named Alec Leamas undertakes a terrifying mission in the hope that it will be his last: He pretends to defect to East Germany, the better to infiltrate the enemy’s espionage network. Written from personal experience (le Carre — real name David Cornwell — did a hitch in MI6) with pitiless, elegant clarity, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is a first-rate thriller and more: a sad, sympathetic portrait of a man who has lived by lies and subterfuge for so long, he’s forgotten how to tell the truth.
Next The Sun Also Rises