John le Carré (the pseudonym for David Cornwell) was believed by many to be the master of the spy novel. Best known for his novels, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, le Carré is remembered for his great character and as “a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit,” among the literary community.
With a childhood filled with upheaval and disappointments (his father a notorious con man, and his mother having walked out on them), le Carré learned the intricacies of double-dealing and manipulations at a young age. Though, what separated him from the example of his parents was how he used these efficiencies for a life in intelligence and to build a repertoire of writings incorporating the art of deception.
In 1961, when he published his first novel, Call For The Dead, Le Carré developed his pen name in effort to abide by the band on Foreign Office employees publishing under their birth name. While working for the British Embassy in Bon, the characters that he write about, particularly his most famous- agent George Smiley- were informed by his first-hand knowledge from the field. His own career as a spy, however, ended abruptly when his name was among the list of British Agents given to the Russians by the traitor, Kim Philby. Philby later makes a debut in le Carrés novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as the “mole.”
Le Carré stripped away the glamour and romance that were a feature of the James Bond novels and instead examined the real dark and seedy life of the professional spy. In the twilight world of le Carré’s characters the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong was never that clear cut.
And though many would consider him an expert in his craft, both inside and outside of the pages of a story, le Carré continually disagreed, even rejecting honors and knighthood. “A good writer is an expert on nothing except himself,” he said. “And on that subject, if he is wise, he holds his tongue.”
As a literary great, a master of the spy novel, and a genuinely wonderful person, John le Carré will be greatly missed.