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John Le Carré’s The Looking Glass War is a tale of Cold War espionage undertaken by a World War II military spy agency.

Le Carré focuses on what makes the characters tick rather than in what they blow up.

Dust jacket of Looking Glass War shows mirror image of word War


The Looking Glass War by John Le Carré

[David John Moore Cornwell] Coward-McCann, 1965. 320 pages. 1965 bestseller #4. My grade: B-


Fighting to keep his agency viable, Leclerk sends agents to check reports of a suspected Russian missile site.

When the agent is killed, Leclerk sends his assistant, John Avery, to pose as Taylor’s half-brother, claim the body, and get the film he was carrying.

Despite inadequate preparation, Avery gets back to gets back to England alive, but without the film.

Next Leclerk recruits a man who served with the resistance during the war. Leister gets a month of training, which enables him to stay alive a couple of days when he’s slipped into occupied territory.

Each of these rather boring men is enticed, like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s children’s book, into an exciting world in which their expectations are turned against them.

Missiles turn out to be less deadly than inter-departmental feuds and civil service egos.

Looking Glass has too much blather for a spy story and too much spying for a good psychological novel.

It will keep your attention, but leave little to mull over later.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Section of Berlin Wall still standing 20 years after wall broken down

Section of Berlin Wall still standing 20 years after the fall.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a tense, gritty thriller in which even the good guys can’t tell the other good guys from the bad guys.

John le Carré sets the opening scene at the Berlin Wall. British operative Alex Leamas watches helplessly as his best agent is killed attempting to escape from East Berlin.>

Recalled to London, Leamas becomes the central figure in an elaborate plot to discredit Mundt, the East German spymaster responsible for Reimeck’s death.

Leamas is a complex character: driven, humorless, sartorially and psychologically rumpled. Compared to Leamas, James Bond is a toy spy.

Control promises that after this last assignment, Leamas can “come in from the cold” to a life where he need not be callous. Leamas has met a girl who makes that picture look good.

Le Carré paces the novel well, throwing in enough red herrings to keep readers interested while making sure there are no breaks in the story line. Some of the plot complications are too convenient for plausibility, but you’ll be too absorbed in the story to see its flaws until you’ve finished the last chapter.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
John le Carré
New York: Coward-McCann
1963
256 pages
1964 bestseller #1
My grade: B+

Photo Credit: Berlin Wall. Photo by Belobos of section of remaining wall near Checkpoint Charlie was taken 20 years after the wall fell.

 © 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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