John le Carré is considered by many to be the best spy-novelist of our time and perhaps much of that praise is due to 83 year old le Carré, whose real name is David John Moore Cornwell, being a spy himself throughout the 50s and 60s. He was an M16 officer who managed agents, conducted interrogations and surveillance activities throughout Europe. Before that, in his 20s while still a student, le Carré worked covertly for MI5 where he spied on groups with far left leanings after joining the Intelligence Corps of the British Army. If you are familiar with the world of English espionage, you will know that MI5 is the domestic arm of the United Kingdom’s counter-intelligence and security services while MI6 (yes, where James Bond works) or the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) is the intelligence arm that focuses on foreign intelligence.
So needless to say, le Carré/Cornwell has quite the impressive resume which is then topped by a hugely successful career as a novelist under the pen name “John le Carré.” The story goes that le Carre was inspired to begin publishing his writings with the encouragement of a fellow MI5 agent, who wrote under a penname and would go on to be the inspiration for le Carre’s iconic character, George Smiley.
As an intelligence officer, he began writing what would become known as the “Karla Trilogy” and other novels that followed spymaster George Smiley, an older more battle weary James Bond in his own ways. This includes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was turned into a widely successful movie with an all-star cast.
From le Carré’s recent works, attention should be given to his first novel in response to the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, Absolute Friends. Published in 2003, Absolute Friends quickly became a national bestseller and follows two protagonist from their meetings as student radicals in the 1960s to the events of 9/11. In a way, Absolute Friends can be seen as controversial by many as it gives an insight into what le Carré likely believes about the role of the American government in the terror attacks of 9/11.
In all, the book is fascinating in that brings together two very important periods in our history - the Cold War, fall of the Berlin Wall and our post-9/11 world. Whether or not you agree with le Carré's apparent thoughts, you have to admit that the man can put together captivating stories and characters.