As an espionage story, this work reveals all the labyrinthine intricacies of the profession of the spy. In developing the plot, le Carre is able to withhold information from his readers and keep them in suspense. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold has a remarkably simple plot, is not overburdened with characters, and develops in a linear fashion. Le Carre is sparing of description, although his own familiarity with Germany is evident. The Wall, which begins and ends the novel, is presented with starkness and strength, and becomes almost a person.
Le Carre is a master of language. He is particularly gifted in the use of dialogue, often presented like an overheard conversation. It is by dialogue more than by description that the characters reveal themselves. Le Carre is able to capture the naive questioning and unquestionable dedication of Liz, the cynical disgust of Leamus, and the cunning of Mundt through the words they speak. His sentences are crisp and terse; his vocabulary exact and creative.
The greatest asset of this novel is the change it brought to the typical espionage story. In contrast to the nineteenth-century figures, dedicated to the service of their country, le Carre has created a shadowy type, a profoundly unhappy person with doubts about his profession. He shows espionage as a cruel, cold, and bitter business. He evokes the political climate in the 1960s and the great postwar malaise with surprising clarity and intuition.
Adams, R. M. Review in The New York Review of Books. II (March 5, 1964), p. 13.
Boucher, Anthony. Review in The New York Times Book Review. L (January 12, 1964), p .5.
(The entire section is 420 words.)