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John Le Carré, British Spy Novelist, Dies at 89

John Le Carré, the best-selling British espionage novelist and author of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, died from pneumonia at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro on Saturday. He was 89. 


On Sunday, the CEO of Curtis Brown, Carré’s literary agency, announced that the author had died after “a short illness (not COVID-19 related).” His family said it was pneumonia. 

Born David John Moore Cornwell in a coastal town in Dorset, England in 1931, John Le Carré left the UK’s foreign intelligence agency MI6 to become a novelist. His best known work, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, in set during the Cold War and was adapted into a film in 1965 by director Martin Ritt.

Tributes for Le Carré poured in from fellow authors, including Stephen King, who called him a “literary giant and a humanitarian spirit”.

Throughout his life though, Le Carré, steered clear of awards. In 2011, he withdrew from the Man Booker shortlist saying he was “enormously flattered” but did not “compete for literary awards”. He did however accept the Olof Palmes Prize in 2020, an award that few authors have received. Le Carré donated the $100,000 prize money to the international humanitarian NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). 


Le Carré is the author of 25 novels, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), The Secret Pilgrim (1990), Smiley’s People (1979), and A Legacy of Spies (2017). His final book, the spy novel Agent Running In The Field, was published in October 2019. The book narrated a story of “love and compromises” revolving around a 49-year-old spy named “Nat”.

His memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel (2016), has sold more than sixty million copies worldwide.

Many of his works were also adapted into films, including The Deadly Affair (1967), The Looking Glass War (1970), The Little Drummer Girl (1984), The Russia House (1990), The Tailor of Panama (2001), The Constant Gardener (2005), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), A Most Wanted Man (2014), and Our Kind of Traitor (2016).

Le Carré is survived by his wife, Valérie Jane Eustace, and four sons ,Simon, Stephen, Timothy, and Nicholas.