“John le Carré is Mr. Angry now that Smiley’s day has gone”.

Spy Fiction and the Age of Anger

  • Brian E. Crim University of Lynchburg
Keywords: Pankaj Mishra, John le Carré, 9/11, War on Terror, Absolute Friends, A Most Wanted Man


This article examines the radical shift evident in John le Carré’s post-9/11 novels and argues that the author emerged as both a fierce critic of the war on terror and an insightful guide into the expansive post-9/11 security state. John le Carré understood the power of ressentiment and its changing dynamics before and after the Berlin Wall came down, but his writing entered a new phase in the wake of 9/11. Le Carré’s normally detached cynicism turned to anger and increased nihilism after the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq, embraced torture and ‘extraordinary rendition’, and upended the precarious balance between liberty and security at home and abroad. After relating a brief history of spy fiction and its relationship to the post-9/11 national security state, I turn to le Carré’s response to the 9/11 attacks by focusing on the novels Absolute Friends (2003) and A Most Wanted Man(2008). John le Carré’s post-9/11 novels, like his previous work, stage tragic collisions between ordinary people seeking meaningful human connection in a dangerous world and the impersonal organizations responsible for making it that way. The institutions have changed since the Cold War, as have the perceived external threats justifying their existence, but le Carré demonstrated a unique ability to interpret and critique the post-9/11 security environment.    

Author Biography

Brian E. Crim, University of Lynchburg

Brian Crim is the John Franklin East Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia. He is the author of numerous books and articles about modern European history, the Holocaust, and film and history. Recent publications include Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State (2018) and Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television (2018). His current book project is entitled In the Shadows: Spy Fiction After 9/11.