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Thoughts on… The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John LeCarre

December 17, 2020

It’s tough to reminisce about famous authors after they die. With famous singers/musicians, you can listen to your favorite songs in a few minutes. You can watch a famous actor’s/actress’s best movies within a few hours. You can curse a famous politician’s worst policies in a few seconds.

But a famous author? It takes days to read a good book by a famous author; at least it does for me.

When I heard that famous author John LeCarre died, I thought, “He’s a pretty good author, but I’m not going to read any of his books just because he died.” Maybe that sounds crass on my part.

To be fair, last March (I think), I read John LeCarre’s most famous novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold because I was almost desperate. The lockdown had shutdown all the bookstores and libraries in my area, and I was stuck with my own personal library. An older relative had given me several LeCarre novels back when I was in high school in the 1980s, but I had never read them all the way.

Back then, the current bestselling spy novels were much faster paced and more exciting, so I had a tough time sticking with LeCarre. I kept the books, though, because gifts always remind me of the person who gave them to me. The older relative who gave me the books is a pretty good guy.

I liked The Spy Who Came in from the Cold when I read it a few months ago. I actually finished it. It was good. Since I haven’t read any outlandish spy novel in decades, I appreciated this slower paced espionage novel more than I had in high school.

I wonder, though, how much a high school kid today would understand the book. Even though I hadn’t read much of the book in high school, I’d understood what I’d read. I understood most of the Cold War references because the Cold War was still going on (though it was in a different phase).

The Cold War culture in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is different from the pandemic post-terrorism culture we have right now, but despite that, LeCarre’s books are probably more relevant than the spy novels that I was reading in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of that stuff relied on specific current events within a certain time period and feel dated today.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold didn’t feel dated, even though it was published in the early 1960s. Some of the twists might seem predictable today, but I don’t hold that against the book. It’s not a book’s fault if other books copy/follow a similar formula.

I’m glad I kept that old copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I might even read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If I read it, though, it will be because I want to read it and not because John LeCarre just died.


What do you think? Do you read books after an author dies? What is your favorite John LeCarre novel?

  1. The only author I read the day I heard they died was Terry Pratchett. By that time I’d read 8 of his books and I loved all 8. His death really hit me, so I went to my local book store, bought Guards!Guards!, sat down in the sun on the square and read and cried (from sadness and laughter). It really helped me.
    As for LeCarre, I read two of his novels – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and the Night Manager. Liked both of them, but I need to be in the mood to read his writing. Not really a perfect mathch for me.

    • I think a lot of people felt the same way as you about Terry Pratchett. At least, I remember a lot of bloggers writing about him after he died.

      I also agree with you about LeCarre’s novels; I too have to be in the right mood to read them.

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