John le Carré, the British spy-turned-writer whose novels brought the Cold War to life for readers around the world, died Saturday, in a hospital in Cornwall, England. He was 89 years old and had pneumonia, according to a statement from his family.
His bestselling books, including “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” portrayed shadowy worlds of double agents and Cold War tradecraft, brought to life by Mr. le Carré’s sharply etched characters and his fluid, empathetic prose. A number were adapted for the screen. The British Broadcasting Corp. series based on his novels, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Smiley’s People,” starring
in the title role of the dour spymaster George Smiley, left an indelible image with viewers of the grim and risky business of espionage.
John le Carré was the pen name of
David John Moore Cornwell,
a veteran of the British intelligence services, whose spy work required that he publish under a pseudonym. Born in Poole, Dorset, Mr. le Carré attributed some of his gifts in spycraft to his unsettled family life as a boy. His mother left when he was 5 years old and Mr. le Carré, in his 2016 memoir, described his father as a con man and “occasional jailbird.” In an effort to find his equilibrium through school, he later wrote in a memoir, he adopted the mannerisms and habits of friends from more stable homes.
“From an early age, I was pretending to be who I wasn’t,” Mr. le Carré told The Wall Street Journal last year. “I was pretending to be a normal kid like all the other kids in the boarding school, pretending to go back to a settled household and pretending to have a mother.”
Mr. le Carré’s observant eye and facility with languages destined him for intelligence work. After studying languages at the University of Bern in Switzerland, he joined the Intelligence Corps of the British Army, according to a statem