The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John le Carré

Rating: 4 stars

This was a rather interesting book, and one that I enjoyed quite a lot. le Carré creates a different sort of spy, very different to the glamour of Bond. His hero, Leamas, is burned out and tired of the whole spying game, wanting to “come in from the cold”, as it were, but he has one last job to do before he can do that. Leamas is an intriguing character, tired, burned out and desperately wanting out of the whole game, but dutiful to the last and holding all that tiredness within himself. He’s very much the antithesis to Fleming’s Bond.

As much as anything else, this was a glimpse back into the world of the Cold War, something I only remember from my childhood and a time when the world was very clearly Us vs Them and even if you didn’t necessarily approve of what your own side was doing, anything that countered Them was (grudgingly) accepted.

I’ve heard of George Smiley from other media and this book was also interesting in that it effectively introduced Smiley off-screen, always lurking in the background but only making one fleeting appearance on to the page. As intriguing as Leamas is, I’d like to know more about Smiley (and, I suspect, so did many other of le Carré’s readers, since he goes off to star in several of his own novels).

While I’m not normally a fan of the spy/thriller genre, I definitely enjoyed this story and will be on the lookout for more of le Carré’s work.

Book details

ISBN: 9780340739648
Publisher: Sceptre
Year of publication: 1963

The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan

Rating: 3 stars

I had read this short novelette many years ago in school but picked it up recently for the first time since. I actually really enjoyed it. It’s an early spy thriller in which Richard Hannay returns to the Old Country from the colonies and finds himself caught up in a plot to bring the whole of Europe to war.

I found myself smiling at some of the period setting in the book, so unexpected for the genre, and Hannay not only had a lot of skill, but a lot of luck to help him throughout. I enjoyed some of the descriptions of Scotland, where much of the book is set, while Hannay is trying to avoid both the gang and the police, although it’s a very different Scotland to that which I’m familiar with, of course.

A short book that can be read in in just a few hours, it’s still great fun. I only discovered that Hannay went on to star in several other books as well and will have to look out for some of those.

Book details

Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Year of publication: 1915

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