John Le Carré, perhaps the greatest living spy novelist, died Saturday in England. The 89-year-old lost his life to pneumonia, his family said. Le Carré was "an undisputed giant of English literature," his longtime agent told the Guardian. "He defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power in the decades that followed … I have lost a mentor, an inspiration and most importantly, a friend. We will not see his like again." Revered for his nuanced, literary thrillers, Le Carré found wide acclaim with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in 1963 and three 1970s novels featuring George Smiley, a surprisingly short, plump, and understated agent in the era of James Bond. The first, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was among several Le Carré works adapted by the BBC and Hollywood.
Le Carré's other books—including The Night Manager, The Constant Gardener, and A Legacy of Spies—portrayed an ambiguous world of espionage in which protagonists delved into shadows of right and wrong. "Thematically, Le Carré's true subject is not spying," wrote one author, per the New York Times. "It is the endlessly deceptive maze of human relations." Born David Cornwell in 1931, Le Carré found work in the secret services in the 1940s and later ran spy operations for the British Foreign Service. He married twice and had a son, Nicholas, who also became a novelist. Le Carré's main love, he said, "was scribbling away like a man in hiding at a poky desk. Out of the secret world I once knew I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit." (More novelist stories.)