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An Introduction to John le Carré

John le Carré is one of the greatest spy novelists of our time. Having penned 23 novels, not including short stories and his non-fiction works, his books have the authenticity that comes from a career working for MI5 and MI6.

There have been countless adaptations of his work – most recently Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was given the Hollywood treatment with an outstanding cast and le Carré as Executive Producer. But what is it that makes le Carré’s books so special?

At Dead Good we’re passionate about recommending brilliant books and what better way to provide some insight than to ask those who work closely with the authors about their unique qualities! We asked Mary Mount, Le Carré’s Editor at Penguin about what makes his books so special.

An Introduction to John le Carré

By Mary Mount:

‘I first came across John le Carré’s novels when I was at university in the early 1990s. My English tutor was an obsessive fan of his work and he would invite his students round to his house to drink a lot and watch the BBC adaptations of le Carré’s Cold War novels, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People. And so with a hangover and the image of Alec Guinness as a laconic, mesmerising Smiley still heavily resonating in my mind, I began to read le Carré’s work. I was hooked. I remember reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, riveted not only by the enthralling, urgent plot but by the way in which, in a few, clear brush strokes, the author had created the central character of Leamas – vivid, broken, utterly compelling. One of my favourite le Carré novels was then, and still is, The Perfect Spy (said to be le Carré’s most autobiographical novel) and its portrait of a young man and his relationship with his crooked, unreliable father. In 2008 came A Most Wanted Man, one of the best, most urgent novels on the nature of the War on Terror to be published.

In 2009, after reading le Carré’s novels for over twenty years and after being an editor for much of that time, I became his editor. I would publish Our Kind of Traitor, le Carré’s captivating novel which focused on the dangerous convergence of Russian cash, the British government and the City of London (which feels prescient all over again when we see the British government’s head-spinning response to Putin’s actions in the Ukraine) the following year. And then came A Delicate Truth – it is one of his best – fizzing with character and plot, acute in its observation of how secrets are kept and then exposed, and who pays the price for their exposure. It is an utterly thrilling novel and leaves you looking at the world around you with fresh eyes.

And so I’ll end with just a small warning before you embark on reading le Carré for the first time. If you begin your journey with The Spy who Came in from the Cold and you end it with A Delicate Truth, not only will you see why le Carré has been regarded for over fifty years as a novelist who so uniquely manages to convey the iniquities of the modern world, from the Cold War to The War on Terror, but your nerves will end up in shreds…’


A big thank you to Mary for sharing with us her expertise on what makes John le Carré’s novels so special,

Find out more about John le Carré on his official website.

His Latest Book:


    John le Carre\’s classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge and have earned him — and his hero, British Secret Service agent George Smiley — unprecedented worldwide acclaim.

    le carre said last year he was hanging it up for now….so out come a paperback of a former novel and you make big deal about it…..cash drawer getting low?

    Hi Lance,

    We try to cover every book and this is the first time this has come out in paperback, a year after the hardback which is standard practice. We have a series of ‘introduction to…’pieces for iconic authors and have no financial gain from posting them, we just love introducing readers to writers they might not have encountered yet, or who might have so many books they wouldn’t know where to start. Check out our Introduction to pieces on Jo Nesbo, Susan Hill, Kathy Reichs and Ruth Rendell – lots of amazing authors.

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