John Le Curry, AL Spy-turned-novelist His elegant and sophisticated novels that defined the Cold War espionage thriller are dead and bring acclaim to a genre that critics once ignored. He was 89 years old.
Le Carrie’s literary agency, Curtis Brown, said on Sunday that he died in Cornwall, southwest England, on Saturday after a short illness. The agency said his death had nothing to do with COVID-19. His family said he died of pneumonia
In classics such as “The Spy Who Came From the Cold,” “The Tailor Soldier Spy,” and “The Revered Student,” Le Curry combined terse but lyrical prose with the kind of complexity expected in literary fiction. His books grapple with betrayal, moral compromise, and the psychological toll of clandestine life. In the quiet and attentive spy man George Smiley creates one of the iconic characters of the 20th century – a gentleman at the center of a web of deception.
Novelist Stephen King wrote on Twitter: “John Le Curry has passed at the age of 89. This terrible year has bid farewell to a literary giant and a human soul.” Margaret Atwood said: “Very sorry to hear this. His smiling narratives are the key to understanding the mid-twentieth century.”
For Le Carr, the spy world was a “metaphor for the human condition.”
“I’m not part of the literary bureaucracy,” Le Curry told The Associated Press in 2008, “If you like it, that categorizes everyone: romantic, sexy, serious.” “I just go with what I want to write about and the characters. I don’t advertise this to myself as thriller or entertainment.”
“I think all this is very silly. It’s easier for booksellers and critics, but I don’t buy that category. I mean, what is A Tale of Two Cities?” – thriller?
His other works include “Smiling People” and “The Russian House” and in 2017, A Smiling Goodbye, “Legacy of Spies.” Numerous novels have been adapted for film and television, notably the 1965 production of “Smiley’s People” and “Tinker Tailor” which features Alec Guinness as Smiley.
Le Carr was drawn to espionage through his upbringing that was outwardly traditional but secretly boisterous.
David John Moore Cornwell was born in Ball, southwest England on October 19, 1931, and appeared to have received a standard education from the upper middle class: the Sherborne Private School, a year studying German literature at the University of Bern, and compulsory military service in Austria – where he interrogated defectors from the block Eastern – and a degree in modern languages from the University of Oxford. But growing up was just an illusion. His father, Ronnie Cornwell, was a fraudulent man who was an associate of gangsters and spent time in prison on charges of insurance fraud. His mother left the family when David was five years old; He did not meet her again until he was 21.
It was a childhood of uncertainty and extremism: one minute of limousines and champagne, the next eviction from the last family’s residence. It generated insecurity, an acute awareness of the gap between surface and reality – and a knowledge of secrecy that would serve him well in his future career.
Le Curry said in 1996: “These were very early experiments, in fact, to remain a secret. The whole world was enemy territory.”
After university, interrupted by the bankruptcy of his father, he studied at the prestigious Eton boarding school before joining the diplomatic service.
Officially diplomatic, he was actually a “humble” agent at MI5 – he started out as a student at Oxford University – and then his overseas counterpart MI6, who served in Germany, on the front line of the Cold War, under the cover of a second secretary at the British embassy.
His first three novels were written while he was a spy, and his employers demanded that he publish under a pseudonym. He remained “le Carre” throughout his career. He said he chose the name – square in French – just because he liked the mysterious European sound to it.
“Call For the Dead” appeared in 1961 and “Murder of Quality” in 1962. Then in 1963 came “The Spy Who Came From the Cold,” the story of an agent who was forced to carry out one last risky operation in Berlin. He raised one of the author’s recurring themes: the blurring of moral lines that are integral to espionage, and the difficulty of distinguishing between good and bad guys. Le Carr said he wrote on one of the coldest points of the Cold War, right after the construction of the Berlin Wall, at a time when he and his colleagues feared that a nuclear war was imminent.
Le Curry told the BBC in 2000, “That’s why I wrote a book in very hot weather that says ‘Plague on your homes’.”
He was immediately hailed as a classic and allowed to pull out of the intelligence service to become a full-time writer.
His portrayals of life in the dirty, turbulent, and morally blemished world of “circus” – the books’ code name for MI6 – were the antithesis of the gentle action hero of Ian Fleming James Bond, and Le Carr won a critical respect that eluded Fleming.
Smiley has appeared in Lou Carrey’s first two novels and in the trilogy “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, “The Honable Schoolboy” and “Smiley’s People”.
Le Carr said the character was based on John Bingham – an MI5 agent who wrote espionage thrillers and promoted Le Carrey’s literary career – and ecclesiastical historian Vivienne Green, the chaplain of his school and later his Oxford college, “who became a practical cognitive and godfather.” More than 20 novels delve into the sordid truths of espionage, but Le Carr has always emphasized that there is some kind of nobility in the profession. In his day he said that spies saw themselves “as people with a priestly vocation to speak the truth.”
“We did not shape it or shape it. We were there, as we thought, to tell the truth to the authority.”
Perfect Spy, his most autobiographical account, looks at the formation of a spy in the character of Magnus Beam, the boy who resembles his criminal father and his troubled upbringing closely resembles Lou Carrie.
His writing continued unabated after the end of the Cold War and the front lines of espionage wars changed. Le Carr said in 1990 that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a relief. “To me, it was so cool. I’m tired of writing about the Cold War. The cheap joke was to say, ‘Poor Le Carr, I’m out of stuff; They took his wall away. “The espionage story just has to pack her bags and go to the scene.”
It turns out that this is everywhere. The Tailor of Panama is located in Central America. The Constant Gardener, which was turned into a movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, was about the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry in Africa.
“Wanted Man”, published in 2008, research into extraordinary renditions and the war on terror. Our Kind of Traitor, released in 2010, took over Russian crime gangs and the mysterious machinations of the financial sector.
There was more to come, including diaries, “Bath Tunnel,” the accounts of “a sensitive fact” and “an agent working in the field.” The latter, published in 2019, brings his stories of duplicity and deceit into the era of Brexit and Donald Trump.
There have been numerous film and television adaptations of his work over the decades, with great quality in recent years. Recent examples include the big screen version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” starring Gary Oldman as Smiley and the short TV series “The Night Manager” and “The Little Drummer Girl”.
He reportedly refused Le Carr in honor of Queen Elizabeth II – despite accepting the German Goethe Medal in 2011 – and said he did not want his books to be considered for literary awards.
In later years, he was an outspoken critic of Tony Blair’s government and its decision, based in part on extensive intelligence, to wage war in Iraq. He criticized what he saw as a betrayal of the post-WWII generation by successive British governments.
“The changes I’ve promised since I was 14 – I remember being told when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister and (Winston) Churchill after the war that that would be the end of the (private) school system and the monarchy,” he said in 2008.
How can we achieve the poverty gap that we have in this country? It is simply unbelievable. “
In 1954, Le Carr married Alison Sharp, with whom he had three children before their divorce in 1971. In 1972, he married Jane Eustace, with whom he had a son, novelist Nick Harcway.
Although he had a home in London, Lou Curry spent most of his time near the Land’s End, the far southwest tip of England, in a cliffside house overlooking the sea. He said he was humanitarian but not optimistic.
“Humanity – that’s what we depend on. If we could only see that expressed in our corporate forms, we would have hope after that,” he told The Associated Press. “I think humanity will always be there. I think it will always be defeated.”
Le Carr survived his wife and children Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon.