My Two Weeks With John le Carré

My Two Weeks With John le Carré
Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa via AP

These days, when a famous person you know dies, you hear about it the same way everybody else does. Through an alert on your phone. That is how I heard about David. Then the calls and emails came. A former high-ranking U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. A former high-ranking U.S. Customs Service agent. The former federal prosecutor who indicted Manuel Noriega. My former city desk editor at the Miami Herald. They all wanted to recall the time we spent with David, two weeks in the summer of 1991 in Miami.

What bound us together with the 89-year-old from Cornwall-with-an-A, England, named David Cornwell-with-an-E?

He may be better known to you as John le Carré. John the Square. A French pseudonym he chose when he was writing his first spy novels in the late 1950s, when he was still unknown and still a spy himself. The name stuck. He told me that story himself. Then he told me he had told so many stories about the name that he was not exactly sure which one was right anymore. But he was always just David to me. I never called him John.

I spent hours a day with him, every day, for that two weeks. He had the grandest manners. And the keenest apparatus I ever saw for studying and sizing up people. And the most penetrating insight, in general, into any given thing. I was lucky enough to see it up close, and to get to know him personally. Little things about him, like the fact that he had two whippets, Whisper and Mach.

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