David Cornwell, known by his pen name John le Carré, British spy novelist behind dozens of works including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, has died at 89 in Cornwall, England on Sunday night.
David Cornwell died of pneumonia on the evening of Dec. 12, according to a statement from his publisher.
Cornwell was born in 1931 in Dorset, England.
His mother was an actress who left the family when he was five years old.
His father was a con artist who spent time behind bars between money-making schemes, and later on, sometimes pretended to be his famous writer son in order to impress women.
The writer became widely popular for his thriller novels, which touched on his real-life experiences as a spy during the Cold War and his third novel “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” made him a bestseller across the globe.
“John le Carré was an undisputed giant of English literature. He defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power in the decades that followed,” said Jonny Geller, CEO of The Curtis Brown Group and le Carré’s agent. “I have lost a mentor, an inspiration and most important, a friend. We will not see his like again.”
Le Carré worked as a British intelligence officer himself before penning the espionage novels that dominated global bestseller lists for decades and led to multiple movie and TV adaptations.
He wrote his first three books while working for Britain’s MI5 and MI6, and became a full-time author after catapulting onto the global scene with the publication of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, in 1963.
“From the day my novel was published, I realised 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,” le Carré wrote in a postscript to the 50th anniversary edition of the book. “The novel’s merit, then or its offence, depending on where you stood was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible.”
“This was not, however, the view taken by the world’s press,” he wrote, “which with one voice decided that the book was not merely authentic but some kind of revelatory Message From The Other Side, leaving me with nothing to do but sit tight and watch, in a kind of frozen awe, as it climbed the bestseller list and stuck there, while pundit after pundit heralded it as the real thing.” One of those was another novelist, Graham Greene, who called it “the best spy story I have ever read.”
Geller said he had lost “a mentor, an inspiration and most importantly, a friend.
“We will not see his like again.’’
In a statement His family thanked NHS staff who cared for him at a Cornwall hospital and said they “all deeply grieve his passing’’.
“David is survived by his beloved wife of almost 50 years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon,’’ the statement read.
His peers were among those who paid tribute in social media posts.
British historian and author, Simon Sebag Montefiore, praised him as a “titan of English literature up there the greats, creator of his own world of masterpieces, studies of betrayal honour character idealism and power that were also spy thrillers’’ in a tweet.