Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy author John le Carré has died, aged 89

The literary giant's spy novels were perfect stories for film and TV adaptations.

John-le-carré

The literary giant and author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Night Manager, John Le Carré, has died at the age of 89 after failing ill with pneumonia, unrelated to COVID-19.

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Jonny Gellar, CEO of the Curtis Brown literary agency, said in a statement: “It is with great sadness that I must share the news that David Cornwell, known to the world as John le Carré, passed away after a short illness (not COVID-19 related) in Cornwall on Saturday evening, 12th December, 2020. He was 89. Our hearts go out to his four sons, their families and to his dear wife, Jane.”

Gellar said that le Carré truly entered global consciousness with the publication of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1963, when his background working for MI5 and MI6 was revealed.

“Devoting his life to writing, he went on to define the Cold War era with the help of his character, George Smiley, and through his complex plots and beautiful prose, beamed a harsh light at the injustices of our world.”

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was published in 1974 and with it an accompanying landmark TV series starring Alec Guinness. The 1980s brought the novel that is often heralded as his masterpiece: A Perfect Spy. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, le Carré’s focus extended beyond the Cold War and Soviet/UK/US relations to diverse subjects including arms dealing with The Night Manager.

John le Carre in The Little Drummer Girl

The Little Drummer Girl (2018) and The Night Manager (2016) were adapted for television by the BBC in recent years, drawing a new generation to his novels.

Into the 2000s, le Carré published The Constant Gardener, a passionate critique of Big Pharma and this current decade brought back his favourite creation, George Smiley, in A Legacy of Spies. His last novel, Agent Running in the Field, was published in October 2019.

Le Carré sold over 60 million copies of 25 novels and single volume of memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel (2016).

Gellar wrote: “His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition.”

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His family released a statement: “It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell – John le Carré – passed away from pneumonia last Saturday night after a short battle with the illness. David is survived by his beloved wife of almost 50 years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon. We all grieve deeply his passing. Our thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay. We know they share our sadness.”