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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Fiction authors love to pretend that their craft is never obsolete, unlike those of us who write technical books. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a spy novel, set in a world that's as obsolete and as alien as they come. The elements of that novel, the cold war, Kim Philby, and the lack of notable comparable success on the American and British side of the espionage circle form the backdrop for the book.

Yet as spy novels go, this is a book that's as likely to withstand the test of time as any. The novel is about deception, not only of self, but of country. It follows a spy, Seamus, who finding that his last field operative has been killed, takes on one last assignment. One which he is led to believe, would lead to his opposite number on the East German side to be removed.

Le Carre does a great job of in-cluing us into this world. He never tells us explicitly about trade-craft, but instead shows it as it happens. Yet in the end, all these technical deductions on the part of the reader is a red-herring. The ultimate ending depends on the protagonist being ignorant of the ultimate goals and rules of the game as it is being played by his superiors, much as many lower level engineers or managers in corporate environments end up touting the party line, ignorant of how they are being manipulated.

The ending is quite a bit of a downer, but perhaps an astute (and introspective) reader will come away with reflections on his life, and what it means to accept a goal knowing that those setting it for you might instead have other objectives.


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