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Legendary Spy Novelist John Le Carré Is Dead At 89

The British intelligence officer-turned author of masterful spy novels like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Night Manager died of pneumonia, his family said.

Last updated on December 13, 2020, at 7:04 p.m. ET

Posted on December 13, 2020, at 6:13 p.m. ET

Picture Alliance / Getty Images

John le Carré in Hamburg, Germany, Oct. 16, 2017.

Legendary thriller writer John le Carré has died at the age of 89, his family and his longtime literary agent confirmed in a statement Sunday.

The author, who was born David Cornwell, died of pneumonia — not related to COVID-19 — at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro on Saturday night, his family said.

Le Carré, a British intelligence officer turned spy novelist whose most popular works include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Night Manager, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, "dominated the bestseller lists and review pages with his monumental body of work... for six decades," his agent Jonny Geller said.

"His like will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition. We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humor, and intelligence," Geller said.

Le Carré was born on Oct. 19, 1931, in Poole, southwest England. His association with spycraft began at the age of 18 in 1950, when he fulfilled his compulsory military service in the army's intelligence unit, interrogating Eastern Bloc escapees. While completing his degree at Oxford, he secretly worked undercover for MI5, attempting to identify Soviet spies among the student body.

After graduation, he taught at the prestigious Eton College for two years before officially joining the domestic intelligence agency MI5 in 1958. In 1960, he transferred to the international intelligence agency MI6 and was stationed on the front lines of the Cold War.

He wrote and published his first three books while working as a secret agent, but his identity was revealed when his third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, became an international bestseller in 1963. He worked as a full-time author for the rest of his life.

Authors and admirers of Le Carré's work paid tribute to him on Twitter.

John le Carre has passed at the age of 89. This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit.

When I emerged mentally, physically and emotionally spent from 8 years on natsec in the White House, the first thing I did is read 3 of his books in a row. It was one of the most intense, illuminating and strangely reassuring reading experiences of my life.

No writer captured the cloak and dagger subterfuge of the Cold War better than John Le Carré. I interviewed him for 60 Minutes over 30 years ago, and I remember a sharp mind and penetrating eyes. His work will be read for generations. May he rest in peace.

John le Carré … if there is a contemporary writer who's given me richer pleasure I can't for the moment name them. I suppose the best one can do to honour his great life & talent is go back to "Call For The Dead" and reread all his books. The very opposite of a chore -

RIP John Le Carré, a master plotter and superb writer who reinvented the spy novel--again and again and again. I loved his books, and though he could miss sometimes, he never succumbed to nostalgia, ignored the changing world, or shied from speaking truth to power.

RIP John le Carre. So many great books and for my money Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the gold standard for espionage fiction.

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

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