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The Spy Who Came In from the Cold Paperback – November 27, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 485 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It would be an international crime to reveal too much of the jeweled clockwork plot of Le Carré's first masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But we are at liberty to disclose that Graham Greene called it the "finest spy story ever written," and that the taut tale concerns Alec Leamas, a British agent in early Cold War Berlin. Leamas is responsible for keeping the double agents under his care undercover and alive, but East Germans start killing them, so he gets called back to London by Control, his spy master. Yet instead of giving Leamas the boot, Control gives him a scary assignment: play the part of a disgraced agent, a sodden failure everybody whispers about. Control sends him back out into the cold--deep into Communist territory to checkmate the bad-guy spies on the other side. The political chessboard is black and white, but in human terms the vicinity of the Berlin Wall is a moral no-man's land, a gray abyss patrolled by pawns.

Le Carré beats most spy writers for two reasons. First, he knows what he's talking about, since he raced around working for British Intelligence while the Wall went up. He's familiar with spycraft's fascinations, but also with the fact that it leaves ideals shaken and emotions stirred. Second, his literary tone has deep autobiographical roots. Spying is about betrayal, and Le Carré was abandoned by his mother and betrayed by his father, a notorious con man. (They figure heavily in his novels Single & Single and A Perfect Spy.) In a world of lies, Le Carré writes the bitter truth: it's every man for himself. And may the best mask win. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Graham Greene The best spy story I have ever read.

Newsweek Le Carré is simply the world's greatest fictional spymaster.

Vanity Fair Le Carré is one of the best novelists -- of any kind -- we have.

Daphne du Maurier First-rate and tremendously exciting.

J. B. Priestley Superbly constructed, with an atmosphere of chilly hell.

The Sunday Times (U.K.) A topical and terrible story...he can communicate emotion, from sweating fear to despairing love, with terse and compassionate conviction. Above all, he can tell a tale. Formidable equipment for a rare and disturbing writer.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (November 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743442539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743442534
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (485 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on March 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
What is to be said about John Le Carré's THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD? It's shockingly entertaining, it's genuinely unpredictable, and it doesn't offer up a cheap get-out-of-jail-free ending. The characters are cursory without being shallow, the plot moves with amazing speed, and the action keeps bouncing along. In short, this is pretty much the perfect spy novel. As engrossing as it is realistic, and as absorbing as it is intriguing.
SPY is a book based almost entirely around its plot, and while I usually give a storyline summary in my reviews, I don't think I'll be doing that this time. You see, the novel relies so much upon its double-crosses and back-stabbings that even the parts in the beginning (which are usually fair game for reviewers to spoil) can be puzzling and fun to follow. Every part of the story is interesting. Where other novels would still be setting up the premise, SPY has already started playing the game.
Apart from the deviously clever plot, there is one additional thing I want to single out for praise -- the relationship that takes place between two of the main characters. On paper, it's a fairly standard idea: an older male spy paired with a younger, idealistic, innocent woman. But in execution it's a very nicely unstated bit of romance. It felt real, in part because Le Carré didn't beat us over the head with the details, merely sketched in the broader strokes and let the reader's imagination do the rest.
SPY isn't a story where the characters trade artificially witty banter in between their death-defying action sequences. The protagonist spends most of the book tired, battered and confused. It can be a mystery at times guessing whether he really knows what's going on, whether he is the chess-player or the pawn.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Le Carre's disillusioned, cynical and spellbinding spy novels are so unique because they are based on a wide knowledge of international espionage. Le Carre, (pen name for David John Moore Cornwell), acquired this knowledge firsthand during his years as an operations agent for the British M15. Kim Philby, the infamous defector, actually gave Le Carre's name to the Russians. The author's professional experience and his tremendous talent as a master storyteller and superb writer make "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" one of the most brilliant novels I have read about spying and the Cold War. Graham Greene certainly agreed with me, or I with him, when he remarked that it is the best spy story he had ever read. The novel won Le Carré the Somerset Maugham Award.
The novel's anti-hero, Alec Leamas, is the antithesis of the glamorous action-hero spy, James Bond. A successful espionage agent for the British during WWII, Leamus continued on with counter-intelligence operations after the war, finding it difficult to adjust to life in peacetime. He eventually became the head of Britain's Berlin Bureau at the height of the Cold War. Leamus, slowly going to seed, drinking too much, world weary, had been losing his German double agents, one by one, to East German Abteilung assassins. Finally, with the loss of his best spy, Karl Riemeck, Leamus has no agents left. His anguish at Riemeck's death is palpable. He has begun to tire of the whole spy game, as his boss at Cambridge Circus, (British Intelligence), seems to understand.
Leamus is called back to London, but instead of being eased out of operations, called "coming in from the Cold," or retiring completely, he is asked to accept one last, dangerous assignment.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book defined a genre. From the elegance of the language, to the betrayal and harsh brutality of the plot's finale, this novel set the standard against which all other espionage fiction of the Cold War would be judged. Whatever the truth of the matter, Le Carre's fiction created a world which is so real that subsequent spy novels departed from its parameters at their peril.
The story at the heart of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold implicates all sides in the struggle in a hypocritical conspiriacy of betrayal and disloyalty. The message seems to be that no good deed goes unpunished and that things certainly are not what they seem.
A truely great book, with characters one cares for and a deftly plotted story that both surprises and distresses the reader. The message of the book is not a pleasant one, but then the reality of Cold War espionage was not pleasant either.
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Format: Paperback
A word of warning: "The Spy who Came in From the Cold" is not just an espionage thriller, it's a horror story.
British MI-5 agent Alec Leamas, the eponymous hero of John Le Carre's brutal little espionage masterpiece "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", discovers that being a secret agent at the height of the Cold War is a little like being a man outside in the cold, looking in on the friendly warmth of home and hearth but unable to come in---so close, yet so far. His life depends on keeping up a charade, on cloaking his intentions and lying about his work. He can trust no one but himself, and he keeps an eagle eye on himself.
To make matters worse, a botched defection at the Berlin Wall sends Leamas's career into free fall, prompting his recall to London, a subsequent reassignment to a desk job in Personnel, and, simultaneously, the hatching of one of British intelligence chief Control's more byzantine little schemes: use Leamas's fall from grace as a means of ferreting out and destroying Hans Dieter Mundt, a high-ranking East German master spy and Leamas's shadowy nemesis.
To say more would be unfair to the reader. Le Carre, himself a former British intelligence officer, is perfectly suited to composing the elaborate, excruciating fencing match between London and Moscow that lies at the heart of so many of his best tales. The typical Le Carre protagonist and his handlers are not James Bondian pulp heroes with Union Jacks painted on the pommel of their 9MM Walther PPKs; instead, they tend to be bland, non-descript ciphers, poker-faced and cynical creatures who hide their machinations under bland exteriors.
"The Spy" is Le Carre at his deftest, and the Cold War at its coldest.
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