Don't Expect a James Bond Novel

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold - John le Carré

Well here I am, sitting in my hotel room on a wet Singapore morning wanting to write a review on something, though I am only halfway through the book that I am currently reading (not that it's a bad book – some guy just surfed a tidal wave into Los Angeles – it's just that it is really long). Okay, I probably should be doing other things than simply sitting in my hotel room (particularly since I can write reviews anytime I want, while I am rarely in Singapore) but since it is still early, and it is wet, I thought that it might be a good time to write a review on a book that I read quite some time ago but never got around to commenting on it (probably because I had read it prior to setting up an account on Booklikes).

The main reason that I ended up reading this book was that it came highly recommended by my mother. A friend's brother was giving away his book collection and he had this thing for spy novels. As it turned out that this was among his collection. My Mum, as she is prone to do, immediately grabbed it, told me that it was really, really good, and then proceeded to read it. Going on her recommendation I decided that I would give it a shot. The problem is that my Mum and I have a completely different taste in literature – I just don't seem to be able to get into these spy novels (or that historical fiction she also likes).


Okay, there are some spy novels that I have read, and enjoyed, but they tend to be more along the lines of those action novels written for teenage boys (such as Biggles), rather than these spy thrillers that are written for adults (such as this one, and his other offering Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). I won't say that I was necessarily disappointed, but rather that I was probably expecting more of the James Bond experience as opposed to a more real life thriller with spies doing what spies actually do.


The thing with James Bond is that as a spy he is actually really, really bad. The reason for this is that not only does he drive around in flash cars and stay in flash hotels, but everybody basically knows who he is. In fact I am quite surprised that he still gets away with pretending to be some businessman when the ultimate bad guy just happens to have a copy of his file sitting on his desk. As for his womanising, I'm not really sure if spies would do that as well – sleeping with beautiful Russian scientists/spies to entice them to give up state secrets. Why are all these Russians beautiful, and female?


No, Le Carre is not writing a James Bond spy adventure, he is writing an actual spy thriller, drawing on his experience when he actually involved in the industry. Keeping one eye out over your shoulder, making sure your papers were in order, and spending an awful lot of time pretending to be somebody else, and not only that but making sure that you dot every I and cross every T just to much sure that that one little slip up doesn't blow your cover and put you in front of the firing squad. In a way the life of a spy is not sitting on some exotic beach watching Ursula Andress coming out of the water in a bikini, but lurking around in the cold, cut off from your own people, and hoping that your cover doesn't get blown.