The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
|The Spy Who Came in from the Cold|
Cover for the Victor Gollancz first edition
|Author||John le Carré|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz & Pan|
|Publication date||September 1963|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pages (Hardback edition) &
240 pages (Paperback edition)
|ISBN||ISBN 0-575-00149-6 (Hardback edition) &
ISBN 0-330-20107-7 (Paperback edition)
|Preceded by||A Murder of Quality|
|Followed by||The Looking-Glass War|
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a 1963 Cold War spy novel by British author John le Carré. It has become famous for its portrayal of Western espionage methods as morally inconsistent with Western democracy and values. The novel received critical acclaim at the time of its publication and became an international best-seller; it was selected as one of the All-Time 100 Novels by Time magazine. In 2006, Publishers Weekly named it the "best spy novel of all-time”.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold occurs during the heightened-alert politico-military tensions that characterised the late 1950s and early 1960s of the Cold War, when a Warsaw Pact–NATO war in Europe (Germany) seemed likely. The story begins and concludes in East Germany, about a year after the completion of the Berlin Wall and around the time when double-agent Heinz Felfe was exposed and tried.
In Call for the Dead, le Carré's debut novel, a key character is Hans-Dieter Mundt (nicknamed "Blondie"), an assassin of the Abteilung, the East German Secret Service, who is working under diplomatic cover in London when uncovered by Circus agents George Smiley and Peter Guillam. When discovered, he escapes from England to East Germany before Smiley and Guillam can catch him. Two years later, at the time of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Mundt has risen from the field to the upper-echelon of the Abteilung, because of his successful counter-intelligence operations against the spy networks of the British Secret Service.
The West Berlin office of the British Secret Intelligence Service, under the command of Station Head Alec Leamas, has been performing poorly. At the commencement of the novel, Karl Riemeck – Leamas's last and best double agent, a high-ranking East German political officer – is shot dead whilst defecting to West Berlin.
With no agents left, the disgraced Leamas is recalled to London by Control, chief of the Circus. There, Control asks Leamas to stay "in the cold" for one last mission: to "turn" (defect) and provide false information to the East German Communists that would implicate Mundt as a British double agent — what his second-in-command, Fiedler, already suspects – to result in Mundt being executed by his own people. Control tells Leamas that Fiedler, due to his paranoia about Mundt, would be the best man to depose him. George Smiley and his former assistant, Peter Guillam, brief Leamas for his crucial mission. Control tells Leamas that Smiley had not returned to the Circus after the events of Call for the Dead because of moral qualms about unethical Circus operations.
To make the East Germans believe him ripe for defection, the Circus sacks Leamas, with a pittance of a pension; he gets and loses a miserable job in a run-down library. There, he meets co-worker Liz Gold, an unworldly young woman, who is the secretary of her local cell of the Communist Party of Britain. Despite her politics, they become lovers. Before taking the "final plunge" into Control's scheme, Leamas makes Liz promise not to look for him, no matter what she hears, and says good-bye to her. Leamas also tells Control to leave Liz alone and Control agrees. Then, as planned, Leamas lands in jail after he assaults a local grocer.
After jail, an East German recruiter in England approaches Leamas. He is taken abroad, first to the Netherlands, then to East Germany, en route meeting higher echelons of the Abteilung, the East German intelligence service. During his debriefing, he drops casual hints that point to British payments to a double agent in the Abteilung, whilst pretending not to see the implications. Meanwhile, in England, Smiley and Guillam appear at Liz's apartment claiming to be friends of Alec, question her about him, and offer her financial help.
In East Germany, Leamas meets Fiedler. They have many conversations in a hut in a forest clearing, where Fiedler seeks conclusive proof against Mundt and engages in ideological and philosophic discussions with the pragmatic Leamas. As observed by Leamas, Fiedler seems content to live in Mundt's shadow, but is relatively young and brilliant. To Leamas, Fiedler is sympathetic: a Jew who spent the Second World War in Canada, and a Communist idealist who considers the morality of his actions. In contrast, Leamas sees Mundt as a brutal, opportunist mercenary, who was a Nazi before 1945 and then joined the Communists simply because they were the new bosses, and remained an anti-Semite. Leamas believes helping Fiedler destroy Mundt is a worthy act. Meanwhile, Liz is invited to East Germany for a Communist Party information exchange.
The power struggle in the Abteilung comes into the open when Mundt orders Fiedler and Leamas arrested and tortured. However, the leaders of the East German régime intervene because Fiedler had earlier applied for an arrest warrant for Mundt on the same day that Mundt arrested Fiedler and Leamas. They are released, and Fiedler and Mundt are summoned to present their cases to a tribunal convened in camera, in the town of Görlitz.
At the trial, Leamas documents a series of secret bank account payments that Fiedler matches to the movements of Mundt. Fiedler also shows that Riemeck passed to Leamas information to which he had no formal access, but to which Mundt did. Fiedler also presents to the Tribunal other proofs implicating Mundt as a British double agent and explains that Mundt was captured in England and allowed to escape only after agreeing to work as a double agent for the British.
Mundt’s attorney calls the unsuspecting Liz as a surprise witness for the defence. Although not wanting to testify against Leamas, she admits that Smiley paid for her apartment lease after visiting her and that she had promised Leamas to not look for him when he disappeared. She also admits that he had said good-bye to her the night before he assaulted the grocer. Realising that the operation is now blown, Leamas offers to tell all in return for Liz's freedom. He admits that Control gave him the mission to frame Mundt as a double agent, but adds that Fiedler was not a participant. In cross-examination, Fiedler asks Mundt how he knew that someone had paid off Liz's lease, because, Fiedler insists, Liz never would have spoken about it. Mundt hesitates before answering ("a second too long, Leamas thought"), then the Tribunal halts the trial and arrests Fiedler. Then, and only then, does Leamas understand the true nature of Control and Smiley's operation.
Liz is sent to a cell, but Mundt places her in a car with Leamas at the wheel. During their drive to Berlin, where an exit route from East Berlin awaits, he explains the operation to her, including the parts of which he was unaware until the end of the trial. The fake bank account payments were real, and Mundt is a double agent reporting to Smiley and Guillam. The operation was against Fiedler, not Mundt, as Leamas was deceived to believe, because Fiedler was close to exposing Mundt as a double agent. Fiedler was too powerful for Mundt to eliminate alone; therefore, Control and Smiley did it for him. They placed him and her as co-workers to provide Mundt with the means of discrediting Leamas and consequently discrediting Fiedler. By falling in love, Leamas and Liz made it easy for them. Liz is horrified that the Circus planned the death of Fiedler, an intelligent, considerate and thoughtful man, to protect the despicable Mundt. Fiedler's fate is unrevealed, but Leamas, in answer to Liz's question, says that he will most likely be shot.
Despite her moral disgust, Liz accompanies Leamas to the break in the wire fronting the Berlin Wall, where they are to climb the wall and escape to West Berlin. In the concluding chapter, after Leamas climbs to the top of the Wall and reaches down to pull Liz up, East German spotlights suddenly turn on them, and she is shot. Her fingers slip from his grasp and she falls. From the Western side of the Wall, Leamas hears a Western agent calling to him, "Jump, Alec! Jump, man!" and among other voices, Smiley's. Seeing Liz dead, Leamas climbs back down the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall. The border guards then shoot him dead.
||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (June 2013)|
||This section appears to contain unverifiable speculation and unjustified claims. Information must be verifiable and based on reliable published sources. (June 2013)|
At its publication during the Cold War (1945–91), the psychological realism of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) rendered it a revolutionary espionage novel by showing that the intelligence services of both the Eastern and Western nations practised the same expedient amorality in the name of national security. Until then, the Western public imagined their secret services as promoters of democracy and democratic values; a view principally espoused in the popular James Bond thriller novels – romantic high adventures about what a Secret Service should be. John le Carré, on the other hand, shocked readers with chilling realism and detail, portraying the spy as a morally burnt-out case.
The espionage world of Alec Leamas is exactly the opposite of the James Bond world; Bond's brightly romanticised world features sexual adventure and heroic danger, all in a day's work for 007 whereas Leamas's world features love as a three-dimensional, problematic, true emotion that can have disastrous consequences to those involved. Moreover, good does not always vanquish evil in Leamas's world – an existential fact problematic to some conservative critics. In the 1960s, some reviewers criticised Alec Leamas’s resultant defeatism; The Times said, "the hero must triumph over his enemies, as surely as Jack must kill the giant in the nursery tale. If the giant kills Jack, we have missed the whole point of the story.” This observation, however, is from the Cold War perspective, wherein the West are the "good" and the East is "evil", implying that the story's ending with the British Secret Service agent killed by East German border guards is a victory for Evil.
Yet hints in the story – Leamas's personal qualms about his role in the plot, and the qualms of Smiley and Fiedler about their roles – indicate a different perspective. Leamas' description of spies and the intelligence world to Liz, during their drive to the Berlin Wall, is of a world very different from the simple romanticism of the Bond novels – one of utter disregard for human lives:
"There's only one law in this game," Leamas retorted. "Mundt is their man; he gives them what they need. That's easy enough to understand, isn't it? Leninism — the expediency of temporary alliances. What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors, too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play Cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London, balancing the rights and wrongs? I'd have killed Mundt if I could, I hate his guts; but not now. It so happens that they need him. They need him so that the great moronic mass you admire can sleep soundly in their beds at night. They need him for the safety of ordinary, crummy people like you and me." 
Leamas further notes that despite the moral indefensibility of the operation against Fiedler, it had to be effected; despite his revulsion, Leamas watched:
People who play this game take risks. Fiedler lost and Mundt won. London won — that's the point. It was a foul, foul operation. But it's paid off, and that’s the only rule.
Hans-Dieter Mundt is a true villain: a cruel man, a mercenary who enjoyed killing and who so hated Jews, he might have ignored his British controllers and ordered Liz Gold killed before her return to the West. Nevertheless, whilst driving to the Berlin Wall, Alec cynically tells Liz that Mundt's survival was more important to British Intelligence than either his own, Fiedler's or that of anyone else. That Mundt arranged the killing of Liz Gold (viz. the detailed instructions to Leamas about climbing over the Wall) is clear, but why he ordered the border guards to kill her is unclear. Perhaps as a British double-agent, his continued anonymity required her death, lest she tell her fellow British Communists back home and blow his cover.
George Smiley's last question to Leamas (about Liz's whereabouts) perhaps indicates that Mundt acted without Smiley's knowledge, but that does not absolve the British of responsibility. It would be in the ruthless and secretive character of Control to decide Liz Gold's death without implicating the British, and to conceal his hand from the scrupulous Smiley. By contrast, Leamas's death is unplanned, and was required only because he climbed back down to the East German side of the Berlin Wall. Any other border guard action would have cast suspicion upon Mundt.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold misleads the reader, by changing a key plot element of its predecessor, Call for the Dead, wherein Hans-Dieter Mundt escaped capture by Smiley and Guillam and returned to East Germany. Control reinforces that version in his opening talk with Leamas, and Leamas then tells others that story of how Mundt escaped, consistent with the version related in Call for the Dead. Like Leamas, the reader suspects neither Mundt's capture during the events of Call for the Dead, nor that he now is a British double agent, until the concluding plot twist at the trial. The change aligns the reader's sympathy with Alec Leamas, including his shock at the falsity of Control's official version of the events of the Call for the Dead.
In her essay Is Common Human Decency a Scarce Commodity in Popular Literature?, Margaret Compton contrasts the ending of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with the ending of Call for the Dead: "Le Carré's début book ends with [George] Smiley feeling deeply guilty about having killed Dieter Frey, the idealistic East German spy who had been Smiley's agent and friend (and, in effect, his adopted son) during the Second World War. Smiley bitterly reflects that Dieter had remembered their friendship, and kept faithful to it – while he, Smiley, forgot it and gave precedence to his ruthless Cold War loyalty. Leamas, in the end of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold makes the diametrically opposite moral choice, renouncing his loyalty to Britain and to the Circus, and keeping faith with Liz to the bitter end, even to letting himself be killed at her side – after she had earlier kept faith with him in the courtroom, and let herself be disgraced as a Communist, by openly proclaiming her love for him. A dispassionate and careful reader of Le Carré's oeuvre can have little doubt that – though the writer clearly liked Smiley, and brought him back, again and again, until the very end of the Cold War – for the creator of both of them, Leamas's conduct stands on a higher moral level”.
Time magazine, while including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in its top 100 novels list, stated the novel was "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."
In the season four finale episode of the AMC television series, Mad Men, titled "Tomorrowland," Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) is reading a paperback copy of the novel. In this episode, Draper chooses to be with the woman who will accept his false identity rather than the woman who wants him to tell the truth about his past.
- Alec Leamas: A British field agent in charge of East German espionage.
- Hans-Dieter Mundt: Leader of the East German Secret Service, the Abteilung.
- Fiedler: East German spy, and Mundt's deputy.
- Liz Gold: English librarian and member of the Communist Party.
- Control: Head of British Intelligence
- George Smiley: British spy, supposedly retired.
- Peter Guillam: British spy.
- Karl Riemeck: East German bureaucrat turned British spy.
Awards and nominations
Le Carré's book won a 1963 Gold Dagger award from the British Crime Writers Association for "Best Crime Novel". Two years later the US edition was awarded the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for "Best Mystery Novel". It was the first work to win the award for "Best Novel" from both mystery writing organisations. Screenwriters Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper, who adapted the book for the 1965 movie, received an Edgar the following year for "Best Motion Picture Screenplay" for an American movie.
In 2005, the fiftieth anniversary of the Dagger Awards, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was awarded the "Dagger of Daggers," a one-time award given to the Golden Dagger winner regarded as the stand-out among all fifty winners over the history of CWA. The novel was selected as one of the All-Time 100 Novels by TIME Magazine.
- Le Carré describes how he came to write the book (in an article published in The Guardian newspaper (April 2013) on the novel's 50th anniversary): "After a decade in the intelligence service, John le Carré's political disgust and personal confusion 'exploded' in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold."
- "All Time 100 Novels". Time. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
- "Publishers Weekly list". top 15 spy novels.
- "Publishers Weekly list". spy vs spy vs spy.
- Norman J. W. Goda. "CIA files relating to Heinz Felfe, SS officer and KGB spy".
- See, e.g., Barley, Tony. Taking Sides: The Fiction of John le Carré. Open University Press, 1986, p. 22.
- The Times, 13 September 1968.
- Chapter 25, Page 95
- Chapter 25, Page 94
- Ronald K. Firman, "Mirrors behind Mirrors behind Mirrors – Imagined Spies and Real Nightmares", Ch. 3, p. 97. Note that Control lies easily and readily, because he promised Leamas not to use Liz in the operation, despite knowing she is integral to it.
- Margaret Compton, "Is Common Human Decency a Scarce Commodity in Popular Literature?" in Theodore Brown (ed.) "Essays on Moral Philosophy and Literature", 1992
- Grossman, Lev. All-TIME 100 Novels, TIME Magazine, 2005. Retrieved 29 October 2007.