Alec Leamas (Richard Burton), a British spy, is sent to East Germany, supposedly to defect, but in fact to sow disinformation. As more plot turns appear, Leamas becomes more convinced that his own people see him as just a cog. His struggle back from dehumanisation becomes the final focus of the story.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a 1963 Cold War spy novel by the British author John le Carré. It depicts Alec Leamas, a British agent, being sent to East Germany as a faux defector to sow disinformation about a powerful East German intelligence officer. It serves as a sequel to le Carré’s previous novels Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality, which also featured the fictitious British intelligence organisation, “The Circus”, and its agents George Smiley and Peter Guillam.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold occurs during the heightened tensions that characterised the late 1950s and early 1960s Cold War, when a Warsaw Pact–NATO war sparked in Germany seemed likely. The story begins and concludes in Berlin, about a year after the completion of the Berlin Wall and around the time when double-agent Heinz Felfe was exposed and tried.
At its publication during the Cold War, the moral presentation of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold rendered it a revolutionary espionage novel by showing the intelligence services of both the Eastern and Western nations as engaging in the same expedient amorality in the name of national security. Le Carré also presented his western spy as a morally burnt-out case.