John le Carré, the novelist of espionage, spy craft and intrigue whose cloak-and-dagger tales of the Cold War ensnared a generation of readers, died Saturday. He was 89.
His family and literary agent confirmed the news.
“John le Carré was an undisputed giant of English literature,” Jonny Geller, head of the talent agency The Curtis Brown Group, wrote on Twitter. “He defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power in the decades that followed.”
He added: “I have lost a mentor, an inspiration and most importantly, a friend. We will not see his like again.”
Le Carré was born David Cornwell in 1931 and began his career working for the British intelligence service before he started to write complex tales of his own. They included “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.”
His books often featured characters stuck in a moral gray area between right and wrong at the height of international tensions, far from the swashbuckling tales of men of mystery and martinis in the James Bond era.
“I realized that now and forever more I was to be branded as the spy turned writer, rather than as a writer who, like scores of his kind, had done a stint in the secret world and written about it,” the author wrote in 2013. “I was the British spy who had come out of the woodwork and told it how it really was, and anything I said to the contrary only enforced the myth. And since I was writing for a public hooked on Bond and desperate for the antidote, the myth stuck.”
His first major bestseller was 1963’s “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold,” called by some the “best spy story” they had ever read. The book featured a main character disillusioned with the intelligence service, with no clear lines between the good and the bad. Le Carré wrote the book at a time when he and his colleagues feared impending nuclear war, with the idea, “a plague on both your houses,” he told the BBC in 2000.
“I was never a mastermind, or a mini-mind, and long before I even entered the secret world, I had an instinct towards fiction that made me a dubious fact-gatherer,” le Carré wrote in 2013. “I was never at personal risk in my secret work; I was frequently bored stiff by it.”
Le Carré’s works continued to be published until last year and were turned into award-winning films, although le Carré refused to have them entered for literary prizes.
Le Carré is survived by his wife, Jane, and four sons.