The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | Study Guide

John le Carré

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | Chapter 20 : Tribunal | Summary



In a small courtroom, the Praesidium holds the trial of Mundt, to be judged by a Tribunal. A few spectators, including guards and warders, sit on benches at one end of the room. On the other end, the three members of the Tribunal sit behind a table. On either side of them sit Fiedler and Mundt's defense counsel Karden, facing each other. Near the front of the room, Mundt sits in a prisoner's uniform surrounded by police. Leamas sits at the back of the room guarded by two men. The president of the Tribunal, a woman with a short, masculine haircut, reminds everyone that the trial is secret and the Tribunal is only responsible to the Praesidium. She tells Fiedler to begin.

Fiedler asserts that Leamas is impartial for two reasons. First, Fiedler insists that East Germany sought out Leamas and induced him to defect. Second, Leamas still refuses to believe Mundt is a British agent. Fiedler then claims that Mundt used the Abteilung in order to serve England, an anticommunist, imperialist nation. Early in his career, Mundt did some admirable work for East Germany, but when he was in England he "fell foul of the British secret police." However, despite a massive search effort to find him, Mundt managed to escape from the country. Fiedler, though, insists that Mundt was taken prisoner and made a deal with the Circus, which involved being paid large amounts for providing classified information from the East German government. Leamas takes the stand and tells the same story he had told Fiedler: he admits the Circus didn't try very hard to capture Mundt. Maston, a top advisor in the secret service, didn't want Mundt to provide any incriminating information against him. Also, Leamas again insists he would have known if Mundt made a deal with the Circus because of Leamas's role supervising the Circus's agents in Berlin.

However, Fiedler claims that Mundt received money from the Circus through banks in Helsinki and Copenhagen. According to Fiedler, Mundt gave detailed information about the Abteilung to Karl Riemeck in Berlin, who then passed this information to Leamas. Mundt ordered Karl to be killed after Riemeck's mistress, Elvira, caused him to come under suspicion by the East Germans. Mundt also ordered Elvira's death. But because he was such a great source of information, the leaders of the Circus kept Mundt a secret from other members of their organization. As a result, Leamas never knew that Mundt was a defector.


Chapter 20 is the first of four of chapters depicting the trial of Mundt and, therefore, should be understood as a unit. Across these four chapters, the full extent of the manipulations of the Circus unfolds. This process takes place in four stages, one for each chapter. The first stage occurs in Chapter 20. During the trial, deception and truth fluctuate for Leamas as the Circus's plan reaches its climax. In the process, Leamas changes from a man confident in what he's doing to a frantic, confused person who has lost his bearings. It's as if the constant deception and limited knowledge Leamas has dealt with during his work for the Circus culminates in this trial.

Fiedler states what Leamas wants him to say because Leamas has tricked him into believing it, and Fiedler assumes it is the truth. For example, Fiedler comes to the conclusion that Mundt was captured by the Circus and convinced to become an informant. Later, Fiedler claims that the leaders of the Circus kept Mundt a secret from other members of their organization. Although Leamas outwardly denies these conclusions, he has been manipulating Fiedler to arrive at these conclusions himself. In Chapter 20, therefore, the Circus's plan is still unfolding in the way Leamas expects.

It is important to note that the trial of Mundt is secret. Only the Praesidium and a few other people in the East German government will know the verdict. Such a situation is pregnant with the potential for deceit. The Tribunal, the defendant, and the counselors will not be held accountable to the public or the press. As a result, the participants in the trial have more leeway to use and interpret information based on their own political agendas. If Fiedler, for example, twists information to make a point, a member of the Tribunal might allow this if it supports his or her agenda or resist it if it does not. Deceptions, therefore, are more likely to be allowed in a secret trial if they serve the political purposes of the Tribunal. Le Carré suggests that each member of the Tribunal has his or her own biases. Leamas figures that the President of the Tribunal will lean toward condemning Mundt, while one of the other members will probably want to acquit him.

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