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John le Carré, author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, dies aged 89

John le Carré, a spy turned novelist who became the preeminent writer of espionage fiction in English, dies aged 89.

John le Carré, a spy turned novelist who became the preeminent writer of espionage fiction in English, has died at the age of 89.

Key points:
  • Le Carré worked for MI5 and MI6 before embarking on a literary career
  • He wrote 25 novels and one volume of a memoir
  • His work brought acclaim to a genre critics typically ignored

Le Carré's literary agency, Curtis Brown, said Sunday that he died in Cornwall, south-west England on Saturday after a short illness.

The statement said his death was not related to COVID-19.

Born David Cornwell, le Carré worked for Britain's intelligence service before turning his experience into fiction.

In such classics as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy, le Carré combined terse, but lyrical prose with the kind of complexity expected in literary fiction.

His books grappled with betrayal, moral compromise and the psychological toll of a secret life.

His elegant and intricate narratives defined the Cold War espionage thriller and brought acclaim to a genre critics had once ignored.

For le Carré, the world of espionage was a "metaphor for the human condition".

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Some of Le Carré's most famous works centred around his George Smiley creation — regarded by some as one of 20th-century fiction's iconic characters — a quiet, watchful spymaster who was a decent man at the heart of a web of deceit.

Smiley featured in nine le Carré novels between 1961's Call For the Dead and 2017's A Legacy Of Spies.

In all, he wrote 25 novels and one volume of a memoir during his career.

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Many novels were adapted for film and television, notably the 1965 productions of Smiley's People and Tinker Tailor featuring Alec Guinness as Smiley.

The latter was remade in 2011 for a film starring Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Novelist Stephen King praised le Carré on Twitter, describing him as a "literary giant and a humanitarian spirit".

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While Margaret Atwood said: "Very sorry to hear this. His Smiley novels are key to understanding the mid-20th century".

AP/ABC

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