the spy who came in from the cold book cover

NOTE: Does not contain barbed wire.

Author John Le Carré

Things You Might Like

  • Not nearly as confusing as 10 Billion Nights & 100 Billion Days
  • A great example of what espionage can do for the novel
  • Description that’s not flowery; gets the job done
  • Never quite knowing whether or not Leamas has truly snapped

Things You Might Not Like

  • No explosions
  • Not very Bond-like
  • Never quite knowing whether or not Leamas has truly snapped


John Le Carré’s breakout novel is a must-read for anyone who has even kinda liked a James Bond movie. Well-written and thinky, it’s a blast.

5 out of 5 New Age Bookstores

Aaron Simon


After my experience with the supremely perplexing 10 Billion Nights & 100 Billion Days, I was looking for something a bit more digestible.

And so, in an airport bookstore in Nashville, I found a copy of John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold on the shelves.

John Le Carré, as you may or may not know, is the penname of a former English spy. He’s the dude who wrote Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the fantastic movie that our own Luke ‘Headshot’ McGrath reviewed a while ago.

So, naturally, I picked it up and went to the counter, where I think I saw the principal conductor for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I know it was him, since all the while I was staring at him and going, ‘Hmmm,’ he was really freaked out. And only famous people are freaked out by that.


So, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold follows Alec Leamas, a British spy and head of the Berlin Office in charge of, er, spying on the East Germans. Leamas, at the end of his rope after a series of operations foiled by an eerily effective German agent known as Mundt, leaves Berlin in mild disgrace and returns to London for a debriefing by Control.

There, he is told of an operation to discredit and eliminate Mundt as a foil to the Brits. The catch is that Leamas will have to thoroughly destroy his life in England in order to create a convincing cover. Leamas, being the sort of man who could be described as the ‘sod it all’ variety of nihilist, has no problem with this.

From there, Leamas meets a librarian and Communist named Liz Gold, and the plot is set in motion. Of course, this being a spy novel, all is not as it seems.

Before I get to why I loved this book, I’ll give you a bit of background as cobbled together from the author’s introduction. Le Carré states that he unconsciously created Leamas as a stand-in for himself at the time the novel was written. The author was growing tired of his lifestyle and used fiction as a way to come to grips with it, as many great authors do.

Of course, the difference is that le Carré led a very interesting life that gave him plenty of material, whereas many authors who are dissatisfied with their lives come from white-bread suburban backgrounds.

oh snap!

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, being what it is, happens to be the novel that threw le Carré from obscurity into the authorial limelight and provided a mainstream, intelligent, subdued counterpoint to the more bombastic James Bond and Mission: Impossible brand of spy fiction.

Now, we here at Bullet Reviews have a proven track record of being pro-James Bond. We’ve taken part in marches, protests, counter-protests, counter-counter protests that really should have just been protests, and strongly-written letters to the editors of various well-known papers (that have since gone out of business).

There’s just something about Bond that hits all the write buttons. Even when the movies are sub-par – like Never Say Never Again, which normally isn’t to be talked about in civilized discourse – the formula just works. It’s a lot like Indiana Jones. You’ve just got this masculine, witty dude who knows how to use a gun, and, damn it, that’s all you need.

(Every Mission: Impossible movie, by the way, has somehow botched this formula… aside from the first one, which is damn good and if you say otherwise, I will fight you.)

However, that doesn’t mean it’s verbohten to want a change of place. For every time I want to nerd out to Star Wars, I get a yearning for something as insanely complex and political as Dune.

Thus it is that le Carré’s subdued and cerebral version of the spy novel—which, in this case, should just be referred to as espionage—is a shockingly perfect change of pace.

Description is sparse, what you’d expect from a man whose view of the world is tempered by a long life filled with death and loss.

The fight scenes are few and far between, but when the violence does come, it has an extremely visceral quality you wouldn’t expect from such a subdued book.

Probably because of all those reasons, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a supremely memorable novel, one that easily transcends the threat of pulp fiction that the spy genre carries with it.

Buy, Rent, or Pirate? Buy this book from Amazon now! (NOTE: Bullet Reviews does not condone piracy. If you pirate, you’ll wind up in an East German interrogation room.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.