The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Criterion DVD)Again I have chosen a book which has a famous movie made from it, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John le Carré. As Hollywood continues to run out of story lines, it will be most likely be harder to find a book that has not been dramatized in the cinema. The film, released in 1965, stars Richard Burton as Alec Leamas, the protagonist, and Rupert Davies as George Smiley, and directed by Martin Ritt.

The Spy in le Carré’s story is Alec Leamas, a British spy in the height of the Cold War newly returned to London after his espionage network in East Germany has crumbled. Leamas blames one man, Hans-Dieter Mundt, an accomplished operative for East Germany. Control, Leamas’ superior, and his fellow agent, George Smiley work with Leamas to concoct a story of Leamas’ dissatisfaction with how MI-6 has treated him in his retirement and seeks to defect to East Germany where he will sow seeds of misinformation in an effort to discredit Mundt, at the least, or deliver him to the hangman’s noose, at the best.

As it turns out, le Carré was a former member of the Her Majesty’s Secret Service and based some of this story on his experience. This by no means should lead the reader to believe this is a sophomoric effort. His writing is a parachronism, including page long paragraphs, dialogue buried within prose, and some inconsistent points of view, aka “head hopping.”

The story itself is fastidiously plotted, albeit a bit predictable. A positive side to the novel is how much plot and how fleshed out the characters are within such a short number of pages, 223. My copy of the paperback is one of 1965 copies from Dell publishing, originally sold for 75 cents. This version is easily 150 pages shorter than the standard novel today. Yet, at its time, it was a compelling story and on the NY Times Best Seller list from 1964.

John le Carré has a following.  There are several George Smiley novels including this one.  However, Smiley plays more of a role in the others.  Some of the Smiley novels have been made into movies as well including the recent  “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”  His entire filmography can be located here.

le Carré’s dialogue is at times rough, but does much to carry the tale forward. However, the head-hopping and dialogue hiding paragraphs do make it difficult to follow from time to time. I did enjoy the story, and plan on watching the movie.  I’m afraid I do have to give the book only 2 flags.


About the author

Dana Gunn Dana Gunn is currently a code monkey for a large company. His interests include genealogy, fencing, reading, and writing. A red Honda CRX has been a part of his life for so long, it is either considered a family member or an obsession based on who one talks to. He aspires to be a writer of fiction, however, based on the number of hours put in, he can be considered an expert reader of fiction.