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 9 : The Second Day | Summary



The next morning, Leamas sits continues his interview with Peters. Leamas talks about his work in the banking section of the Circus, which he took up after Karl's death in Berlin. He seems resentful about the Circus's having given him this boring job and recalls drinking heavily as a result. He describes his job. He was mostly involved with standard payments to agents; however, even this routine work was convoluted. Leamas would sign each check, but never knew the name of the payee. The check would then go back to Special Dispatch, where the payee's name would be added.

Leamas describes a special operation called Rolling Stone. For this assignment, Leamas traveled once to Copenhagen, Denmark, and another time to Helsinki, Finland. In each city, he opened a joint account using aliases, with himself as a signee and the co-holder, whose real identity he did not know, as the other signee. Leamas would deposit money in the account. Later, the agent would use a false passport to identify himself at the bank and then draw the money. The payments were each $10,000. Leamas knows Rolling Stone was operational before he came on board. A previous payment was made in a bank in Oslo, Sweden. However, with this payment, a resident of Norway who worked for the Circus would make the deposit. Control had Leamas do so instead because he feared the resident might be recognized.

Peters is interested in Control's direct involvement with Rolling Stone. He asks Leamas for more details about the operation, such as the identity of the agent receiving payments. But Leamas claims to know nothing more. Leamas figures the source must have been important to Control, since the payments were so large. Also, Leamas suspects that the money might still be in the banks on hold for the agent. Peters wonders if the agent was German, but Leamas insists he couldn't have been. Because of Leamas's work in Berlin as a Deputy-Controller, he would have known if the agent was German. Leamas remembers Control's advice to make East German interrogators like Peters feel as if "they know better" and thereby extend the subterfuge of what he was doing.


In Chapter 9, Leamas weaves deception and truth in order to manipulate Peters. On the one hand, he provides legitimate, concrete details that make his narrative sound credible. For example, Leamas gives Peters the correct aliases he used for Rolling Stone. On the other hand, Leamas also includes details he knows are incorrect to make himself sound believably flawed.

Leamas must make Peters believe that he needs to use his superior deductive skills to get at the truth, so Peters will feel as if he, not Leamas, is in control of the interrogation. If Leamas seems too competent, then Peters will get suspicious. So Leamas sets up Peters. He insists that he knows the agent being paid is not German, because as Deputy-Controller in Berlin, Leamas would have known otherwise. His statement is a lie because Leamas has no such knowledge. However, Leamas's statement allows Peters to see him as a person who has made mistaken assumptions, such as the agent's not being German. This allows Peters to think he knows the more than Leamas, and therefore has the upper hand.

The reader is aware of Leamas's deception of Peters. At other times during the interview, however, Leamas blurs the line between truth and deception so effectively it's difficult to figure out what is actually happening and what is made up. The reader knows that Leamas worked for the banking section of the service. He appears to be annoyed about working with women. Is this true or a lie? The layers of deception keep adding up and any certainty of "truth" becomes more and more illusory. Also, Leamas claims that when he signed checks he never knew the names of the payee. In addition, he says the Circus got the whole security operation from the Russians. Are these two statements true? Apparently, Leamas must have gone to Helsinki and Copenhagen and made the bank deposits to give the appearance of reality, or did he? But because truth and deception are so mixed up in the world of espionage, the reader is not exactly sure of what is real and what is not. At one point, Leamas reflects to himself about this situation: "[Leamas] heard himself talking and it all sounded so ludicrously improbable."

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