Desert Isle Keeper
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
When this book was first assigned to me to review, I was excited. At four-thirty this morning when I finished reading it, however, I knew that the review process was not going to be as easy as I supposed. How to convey the brilliant complexity of the story, the unexpected revelations, the thought-provoking intricacies, without revealing too much of the labyrinthine plot? In the end, you may have to just trust me. It’s that good.
Called by many others before me the best spy novel ever written, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was first published in 1963, and the fact that I didn’t notice this date before reading the book left me guessing for several chapters as to exactly when the story was set. It was then a contemporary setting, Berlin in the early sixties, with the Cold War, the Wall, the Communists, the Capitalists, and the spies. Le Carre takes us on a remarkable journey into the dirty little world of the spy business, and on a far more telling venture through the hearts and minds of men, stripping bare ideologies and laying waste to politics until only the naked, ugliest truths of human nature remain. You may be frightened or fascinated on the journey, but you will not be bored.
As Alec Leamas watches his last agent murdered while trying to cross the border into the safety of West Germany, he knows what awaits him in London. He knows it’s time for him to come in out of the Cold, that his time as an operator is done. But back at Cambridge Circus, Control has one last assignment for him to complete. He must appear to retire, dishonored by the death of his agents in Berlin, used up and thrown away by British Intelligence; he will sink into a drunken, pitiful stupor, unable or unwilling to hold a job, at the very last attacking an unarmed civilian and ending up in jail. And on his release, the Abteilung, the German intelligence will approach him and try to turn him. Only by seeming to be turned will he have the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the Abteilung, at the spymaster Mundt – the very man responsible for all of Alec’s dead agents. It will be very dangerous, but then, Alec has nothing to lose. Or so he thinks.
Alec is not necessarily a likable character, but still a sympathetic one. His motivations are not always clear, which makes the reader slightly uneasy and at the same time provides a certain suspense even in slower portions of the story. He remains shuttered from the reader, just as he is from the other characters, and we see just enough to keep us wanting more.
Meanwhile, the other characters are no more likable or accessible, with the sole exception of Liz Gold, a young woman Alec meets at his new job at the psychic library. She is a determined young woman who believes in two things: Communism, and Alec Leamas. Never dreaming that these two ideals are at odds with one another, she penetrates Alec’s solitary existence with single-minded intent, ready to sacrifice all for the man she loves, even as he prays she never will.
To say more would be to give away too much of the compelling and masterfully written plot, and that would be a great disservice. I will simply say that there is a standard by which all other books in a given category are checked, and in the spy novel genre, this is unquestionably it. I cannot recommend it more highly to those in search of an intellectual adventure and a dark and twisting journey into the depths of man’s soul. This is a book you will not forget.