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John le Carre sits at a desk, writing in longhand.

> The Scroll

John le Carré, 89, Dies of Pneumonia

/ BY Kim Honey / December 14th, 2020


British author John le Carré, master of the spy novel, died in Cornwall, England on Saturday of pneumonia. He was 89.

His third book, 1963’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, catapulted him to international acclaim with the story of a British agent, Alec Leamus, who infiltrates East Germany by posing as a defector. The novel, which was made into a 1965 film starring Richard Burton, won both the Gold Dagger award from the British Crime Writer’s Association and the Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Born David Cornwell, le Carré was required to use a pseudonym by his employer, the British spy agency M16, when he published his first books. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold allowed him to quit a life of espionage and become a full-time writer; he went on to publish more than two dozen books in a career that spanned six decades. His book agent, Jonny Geller, tweeted a passage from le Carré’s 2016 memoir The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories of My Life, explaining that his friend “was not a spy who wrote, but a writer who had spied.”

“John le Carré was an undisputed giant of English literature. He defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power in the decades that followed,” Geller wrote in a statement. “I represented David for almost 15 years. I have lost a mentor, an inspiration, and most importantly, a friend. We will not see his like again.”

All le Carré’s books, beginning with 1961’s Call for the Dead – which introduced the world to spy George Smiley and his fictional British agency, the Circus – were published here by Penguin Canada.

“We have taken an extraordinary journey through the cultural political landscape with him, riveted by the stories he’s told,” Penguin Canada publisher Nicole Winstanley said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed.”

Le Carré is survived by his wife, Jane, and sons Timothy, Stephen, Simon and Nicholas, who writes under the pen name Nick Harkaway.

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