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 8 : Le Mirage | Summary



Kiever and Leamas fly to Holland. At the airport, Kiever makes sure people remember Leamas, making it harder for him to leave the country again without being identified. They get in a car and are driven to a villa called "Le Mirage" on the outskirts of The Hague. In the villa, Leamas meets a man named Peters. Kiever leaves. Peters asks Leamas to make himself available at a later date for follow-up questions. Leamas refuses, saying if he waits around to be contacted he's likely to be caught by the Circus. Peters wonders if Leamas would be willing to live in a communist country for safekeeping, but Leamas declines.

Peters tells Leamas to just talk, beginning with his war service. Leamas describes working for the British Secret Service in Holland and Norway during World War II. After the war, Leamas left the service and tried working for a travel agency. In 1949, he rejoined the secret service, now called the Circus. Because of his break in employment, Leamas has reduced pension benefits. He describes his work in the Circus's banking section, which was a simple, boring job. He dealt with agents' salaries and overseas payments for secret purposes. Peters wants Leamas to feel comfortable but also wants to make sure he doesn't lie, even by omission. He knows that defectors often have a deep, unspoken guilt about betraying their country, and he makes sure to ask Leamas for the specifics of his work, such as procedures he followed.

Leamas talks in detail about Berlin where he was made Deputy-Controller of Area (DRA) in 1951. At first, Leamas had to deal with a lot of amateurs. Eventually, he and his colleagues developed a strong workforce. Leamas explains how he got involved with Karl Riemeck. An agent named de Jong drove with his family to a remote area and left his car to go on a picnic. When he returned, his car had been broken into, but nothing was taken. Instead, he found a tin containing microfilms with classified information from the East German government. Leamas took over the case. He drove to the same area, left some money in a car, and went for a long walk. When he came back, the money was gone and in its place were more roles of microfilm with valuable information: "Leamas knew he had hit a gold mine." Through a process of deduction, Leamas figured out that the defector leaving the information was Karl, who worked in the Secretariat.

Leamas arranged a face-to-face meeting with Karl and from then on dealt with him personally. Peters claims Karl must have had help from someone higher up because the information he provided was so comprehensive. Leamas insists that Karl worked alone. Eventually, the Circus took more direct control over Karl, which Leamas believes was a mistake. The Circus asked Karl to recruit other sources to provide information, thereby weakening Karl's position. Soon the East Germans became suspicious of Karl. Peters tells Leamas that Karl's mistress, Elvira, has been killed and asks Leamas if he knows who did it. Leamas says he has no idea.

During the night, Leamas thinks about Peters's insistence that Karl had help. Leamas remembers Control mentioning the same thing. Perhaps there is someone else, and Control wants to protect this person from Mundt. Leamas also wonders who killed Elvira and why. He's perplexed about why Control never mentioned that Elvira had been killed. He thinks of Liz.


In Chapter 8, le Carré examines the theme of political manipulation in three ways: the structure of the secret service organizations, the role of the individual versus bureaucracy, and the significance of limited knowledge.

As Leamas talks about his work for the Circus, he realizes that he has been passed along the hierarchy of the East German Secret Service. First, Ashe contacted him; then Kiever took over; and after him, Peters took charge. This progression reflects a movement up a hierarchy, or chain of command. However, this type of hierarchy does not only apply to the East Germans, but also to the Circus and the secret service organizations of other countries.

Leamas mentions that the employees of the Circus are each given an identification code, consisting of two numbers and a letter. So secret service organizations are also bureaucracies, in which an individual is depersonalized by being identified by a code rather than by name. During his interview, Leamas expresses his struggle as an individual against the bureaucracy of the Circus. For example, after Leamas made contact with his defector, Karl Riemeck, he wanted to protect this information from getting into the hands of bureaucracy. The narrator says, "if [Leamas] gave London ... an opening they would control the case direct." Leamas wanted to avoid this because he felt that the Circus would foul up the operation, which is what appears to have happened. The Circus, like most bureaucracies, has a set way of operating, which might not be the most effective way to handle each case. As an individual, Leamas could fine-tune his relationship with Karl as needed, which would be more secure and effective. Leamas, though, could not fend off the Circus. Instead of being in control, he wound up being controlled by the Circus's bureaucracy.

Also, as has been shown previously, Leamas has limited knowledge about his current assignment, which makes him vulnerable because he is a pawn in a larger game he cannot fully understand. Because of this, Leamas wonders if Karl really did work with someone higher up in the East German bureaucracy and why Elvira was killed. He has no way to answer these questions. All he can do is continue to be used by the bureaucracy that enmeshes him.

In addition, le Carré explores how spies use normalcy as a form of deception. For example, Kiever gives Leamas luggage so he'll look like a normal traveler to Holland. Leamas cautions Kiever not to show his anger toward a waiter because doing so would create a scene and appear abnormal. The sense of normalcy even applies to Le Mirage, where a woman who has never met him before acts like a friendly aunt toward Leamas. In fact, Leamas gets fed up with these attempts to make things appear normal, and he tells Peters, "from now on I can do without the goodwill."

This creates the impression that Leamas wants to avoid pretense: he's a professional agent who is defecting and wants to be treated honestly as such. But this is an instance of dramatic irony in which the reader has more knowledge than the characters, or at least some of the characters. In reality, the reader knows that Leamas doesn't favor honesty at all. His whole interview is a ploy to enable the Circus to get rid of Mundt. In fact, by insisting on dropping all pretenses in favor of an honest exchange, Leamas makes his ploy more effective. Peters, though, is completely unaware of this.

The name of the villa, Le Mirage, is entirely appropriate for what takes place in the villa and also in the entire world of espionage. A mirage is an illusion, something that appears to exist but doesn't really. For example, a person in a desert might see water on the horizon, but it's really a mirage, or an illusion. The villa appears to be a normal, nice home on the outskirts of The Hague, but in reality it is a meeting place for spies. Also, spies constantly deal in illusions. For instance, Leamas gives the appearance of being a defector, but really isn't. In all, the "mirage" name is a perfect summary of all the illusory aspects of the espionage and counterespionage world. Until the very end, no one can ever really be sure what he sees is or isn't a mirage.

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