This book is why people read suspense novels. I have never been a huge fan of the genre, beyond beach or travel reads, but this book absolutely transcends the genre. It is a smart, taut tale that gives you little clues, but leaves you guessing and second-guessing constantly.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is an espionage thriller that begins in Cold War Germany, with the main character, Leamas, waiting for one of his double agents to make it across the Berlin Wall before he is discovered. Le Carre writes it so that you don’t quite understand the meaning of this chapter, but the events gain significance as the book goes on. Leamas is an agent for British intelligence, and he goes back to England after this opening to find out his new assignment. His boss, Control, is the head of intelligence (note: this reminded me of the recurring sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie featuring Tony and Control, and made me chuckle). They have a complicated scheme to take out an East German operative.
At this point, le Carre really starts hiding his hand. I knew that there was a plot at work, but never knew exactly how much of Leamas’ actions were part of the plot, and how much were his own personal actions. Le Carre throws the reader a bone once in awhile, revealing that certain things were exactly according to plan, but when he does, there are always other complications underway. (Please note that this review is being written in my head with a British accent.) Le Carre even includes some ethical explorations, as opposing agents question not only Leamas’ loyalty, but why he thinks that British intelligence has more moral methods or ideology. There is a bit of a love story added into the mix, but it didn’t offend my dear-god-why-do-they-throw-a-love-story-into-everything sensibilities, as it is - after the initial exposition of that plotline - put into the story in a relatively subtle way. The story has crosses and double-crosses to keep you guessing, but is always sure and steady. There is little temptation to turn to the end and see what happens, as knowing the ending is not nearly as fulfilling as knowing how the story got there. It ends on a poingnant note, never wasting a page along the way.