John le Carré RIP

David Cornwell, better known by the pen name underwhich he published his novels, John le Carré, has died at the age of 89.

According to the BBC obituary, Cornwell's father was a fraudster, described by one biographer as "an epic con man of little education, immense charm, extravagant tastes, but no social values".

Those exploits gave the young Cornwell an early introduction to the arts of deception and double-dealing which would form the core of his writing. He invented the fiction that his father was in the secret service to explain his many absences from home.

After attending Sherborne School he went on to the University of Berne to study foreign languages. He did his military service in the Army Intelligence Corps, running low grade agents into the eastern bloc before going to Lincoln College, Oxford.

After teaching at Eton for two years he joined the Foreign Office, initially as Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Bonn. In his time at that posting he worked in the intelligence records department and began scribbling down ideas for spy stories on his trips between work and home. He was then recruited to become part of the intelligence service for real, and his first novel, Call For The Dead, appeared in 1961 while he was working for the intelligence service.

He adopted the pen name, John le Carré, to get around a ban on Foreign Office employees publishing books under their own name.

The story introduced characters who would reappear in subsequent novels including his most famous creation, George Smiley.

Le Carré's career as a spy ended when he became one of many British agents whose names were given to the Russians by the traitor Kim Philby.

Philby, who defected to Moscow, later became the inspiration for the mole "Gerald" in Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

It was his third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which cemented his reputation and allowed him to take up writing full time.

Published at the height of the Cold War, that story challenged the perception held by many of his readers, that western spies were above the dirty tricks practiced by their counterparts in the east.

The novel won the Golden Dagger award for crime fiction. From that point onwards he dominated the genre.

In direct contrast to the much more romantic portrayals of British spies in the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming (who had also been an intelligence officer,) le Carré depicted his spies as fallible human beings, aware of their own shortcomings and those of the systems they served.

His novels were very memorable and he will be missed.

Rest in Peace


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