Day 178-- the Spy Who Came in from the Cold

There is a reoccurring image in the Spy Who Came in from the Cold--at some point in protagonist Alec Leamus's career as a spy, he nearly ran a car full of children off of the Autobahn; the children's faces, smiles, laughs manifest whenever Leamus realizes he no longer belongs in the intelligence community or the Cold War. He can easily crash and burn, die with a smile plastered on his face.

Le Carré's third novel served as his breakthrough in the early 1960s, and for a good reason: it's a fantastic book. The plot is engrossing, juicy without the unnecessary fat--Leamus wants in from the cold, British slang for wanting out of the Cold War and a painless reintroduction back into civilian life. He is sick of the death--watching friends killed, used by their handlers, or both. Leamus is sick of the game.

But after watching his last agent gunned down during a botched crossing attempt into West Germany, Leamus agrees to take up one last mission: to catch Mundt, the communist intelligence director responsible for the deaths of countless British operatives.

The plan to catch Mundt is deliciously elaborate, and spelling it out will ruin some great surprises. I will say that I never, ever would've expected the story to play out as it did. I was breathless by the end, fervently flipping through the last 3o pages. The last chapter in particular cemented the book's worth in my mind, simultaneously moving, sad and--given the time the book was released--fairly gutsy.

Le Carré is a master at both dialogue and description. Characters don't talk as characters in a plot; they speak as real people. And Le Carré moves words around like a chessmaster would bishops or rooks--he always feints on the page, using elliptical language to give a perfect impression of a character without saying more than two words about their appearance. I don't think I've seen anyone do this as effectively as Le Carré.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a quick read. But the book is also serious and thoughtful. It's the kind of novel that, though belonging to a genre that some consider disposable, lingers in your mind for weeks, months, years.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 3/02/2007 06:39:00 PM,


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