The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré
For a book in which only the first and last chapters are action scenes, this award-winning spy novel has a big impact. Alec Leamas, 50, has just lost his last operative from East Berlin, and is called home by MI6 to London. He is given the option of retirement or one last revenge mission, to take down Mundt, who had his operatives killed. Deep under cover, Leamas takes to drink, works in a psychic library, has an affair with coworker Liz, punches a grocer, and ends up in jail. Afterward, he pretends to defect and spill his secrets for $15,000. Handed on from contact to contact, he tells all in Holland, then is sent with Fiedler to East Berlin. He is arrested, beaten up, then asked to testify against Mundt, who’d ordered his arrest. But MI6 has slipped up, contacting Liz, who just happens to be a communist, and paying Leamas’ outstanding bills. Twist after plot twist, with lots of suspense and deceit, neither the reader nor Leamas are sure in the end which is the right side. First published in the U.S. in 1964, awarded the Edgar and the Gold Dagger, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was made into a 1965 movie with Richard Burton as Leamas that also won an Edgar. This year, a TV mini-series based on the book will be released. Le Carré, writing under a pseudonym, taught at Eton before spending five years with the British Foreign Service, and has just published a memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. This very bleak look at the Cold War is still a terrific read.