ENGLAND. Cornwall: The legendary British author John le Carré has passed away at the age of 89. The cause of his death has been reported as pneumonia. His longtime agent Jonny Geller, CEO, The Curtis Brown Group, wrote in an emotional statement, “We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humour and intelligence. I have lost a friend, a mentor and an inspiration.” Geller also touched upon how the British author’s writings “went on to define the Cold War era with the help of his character, George Smiley, and through his complex plots and beautiful prose, beamed a harsh light at the injustices of our world.”
Born David John Moore Cornwell, le Carré wrote a total of twenty-five novels and one volume of memoir titled ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’, published in 2016. He sold more than sixty million copies of his work worldwide. During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked for both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). When his third novel titled ‘The Spy Who Came In from the Cold’, published in 1963, became an international best-seller, he decided to leave MI6 and became a full-time author. It remains one of his best known works till date.
I can say this without an iota of a doubt that John le Carré was a phenomenal storyteller and a penman par excellence, an undisputed master of spy fiction that formed a great parallel to Ian Fleming’s brand of espionage. In fact, the very reason I have come to truly admire the works of espionage is not because of Fleming’s James Bond but because of le Carré’s George Smiley. The latter created Smiley as an intentional foil to James Bond. He saw Bond as an inaccurate and misleading version of a spy. Smiley first comes across as innocuously polite, unassuming, and someone you don’t easily feel threatened by. He is clever enough to hide his razor-sharp memory, inner cunning, mastery of espionage, and his ability to quickly detach himself from his human subjects if need be. In other words, he is the quintessential spymaster who knows how to get the job done regardless of what it takes to achieve it.
John le Carré’s novels over the years have given us films such as A Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Russia House (1990), Tailor of Panama (2001), The Constant Gardener (2005), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), and A Most Wanted Man (2014), among others. Also, let’s not forget the television series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley’s People (1982), starring Alec Guinness as Smiley, or the more recent The Night Manager (2016).
I still remember picking up his 2017 novel titled ‘A Legacy of Spies’ at the airport last year. His name alone was a guarantee to me as a reader. With his death in this most dreadful year I think the world of spy fiction has suffered an irreparable damage. It will take years before we can possibly overcome this loss. And if I say that this is the biggest loss that we have suffered this dreaded year then I don’t think it would be a hyperbole. Just as the legendary American author Stephen King summed up in his tweet, “John le Carre has passed at the age of 89. This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit.”