Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Shill: Le Carre reveals MI6 Cold War assassinations
John Le Carre, not only the most important espionage writer ever, but also a former spy himself (MI5! MI6!), reveals that British intelligence carried out assassinations during the Cold War. Alas, something about these revelations carries that distinctive odor of cynical opportunism.
Let’s consult the eyes-only supersecret literary journalist list of pending publications: Could it be the esteemed Mr. Le Carre has a new book coming out and might feel the need to remind the world who he is and why he matters? Dagnabit, where’s that decoder ring when I need it? Ah, here it is…
Aha! Indeed he does: Our Kind of Traitor hits the book stores October 12, but it’s already been given a starred review by Publishers Weekly: “Those readers who have found post–cold war le Carré too cerebral will have much to cheer about with this Russian mafia spy thriller.”
Is it just me, or is there the ring of faint praise in that line? Maybe that’s why Le Carre spilled the beans about British spy killers in the London Sunday Telegraph this past weekend. I mean, first off: Why now?
Le Carre, who worked for MI5 and MI6 in the ’50s and ’60s, until his novelizing career took off with The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, surely knew all along that Britain was in the assassination business. I doubt he smacked his forehead in the shower on Saturday morning, and said, “Oh, yeah, now I remember!”
I mean, we all knew! James Bond has a license to kill, for Pete’s sake! (Although after age 65 he has to get it renewed every year.)
Oops, sorry. Forgot it’s bad manners to mention Bond in the presence of Le Carre, who is so much deeper, with moral ambiguity and a ponderous, confusing narrative style to prove he’s a literary sort, and not a hack entertainer like that Ian Fleming fellow.
”Certainly we did some very bad things,” Le Carre tells the Telegraph in one of the most under reported stories I’ve seen lately. “We did a lot of direct action. Assassinations. Although I was never involved.”
Oh, of course not, John: Perish the thought. Or maybe…assassinate the thought?
Actually, though, the story isn’t so much under reported as caught in the whipsaw of evolving media. The items containing Le Carre’s assassination revelations that can be found on the Internet are derived from a longer profile in Seven, the Sunday Telegraph‘s Sunday magazine.
That profile, however, hides snuggly behind a pay wall. For 99 cents you can buy a read here. But my sense of duty demanded I read so you don’t have to:
And…it’s a humanizing profile of what appears to be a decent man. Even if he did used to be a spy. Even if he does have a book to sell.
Even if his literary reputation is a bit overrated.