‘His like will never be seen again’: Novelist and former MI6 agent John le Carre dies at 89 from pneumonia

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By 1960, he’d transferred to MI6, but his career as an intelligence operative was brought to a close by the revelation that Cornwell was the author of the 1963 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and the exposure of MI6 agents by Kim Philby, a British spy and Soviet double agent.

In 1964, he devoted himself to writing. Over the course of his career, he wrote 25 novels — the latest of which, Agent Running in the Field, was published in October 2019 — and one memoir.

'His like will never be seen again': Novelist and former MI6 agent John le Carre dies at 89 from pneumonia
Author David Cornwell (John le Carre), 89, has died of pneumonia at the Royal Cornwall Hospital? on December 12, 2020 in Truro, Cornwall, England. Photo by Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images

In his later years, he was deeply critical of the United States and worried about fascism regaining its foothold in Europe. In January 2003, he wrote of the Iraq War, which was to begin just weeks later, as the beginning of an age of “historical madness.”

“The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dream,” he wrote in the essay for The Times, a U.K. newspaper.

And, in 2017, he mused at a charity event about Donald Trump’s presidency, the rise of a populist right in Europe and its parallels to 1930s Europe: “To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about.”

He also found himself in a nasty public feud over the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, which was first published in 1988. In response, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa, and Rushdie lived in hiding for years following. The spat between le Carre and Rushdie really began in 1997, in the letters pages — before the days of Twitter feuds — of The Guardian newspaper, where le Carre said “there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity.”

Rushdie and le Carre made up, again in the pages of a newspaper, in 2012.

The author is survived by his wife, Jane, to whom he was married nearly 50 years, and four sons, Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon.

“We all grieve deeply his passing,” says a statement from the family.

'His like will never be seen again': Novelist and former MI6 agent John le Carre dies at 89 from pneumonia