FRESH AIR: If John le Carré’s espionage novels seem particularly authentic, it may be because the author has first-hand experience. Le Carré worked as a spy for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 early in his writing career, and only left the field after his third book, 1963’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, became an international best-seller.
Le Carré’s latest book, A Legacy of Spies, revisits some of the characters from his earlier novels, including his most famous protagonist, George Smiley. It follows a protégé of Smiley’s, Peter Guillam, as he re-examines some of his actions from when he was a Cold War spy, including his role in the deaths of another agent and a recruit.
The novel mines the moral tension inherent in espionage — a tension le Carré himself remembers. “I felt I had to suppress my humanity,” he says of his time as a spy. “The lies straight into the face, the befriending, the false befriending. … I suppose I’ve been a lot of people in my 85 years, not all of them very nice people.” MORE