John le Carre, a spy turned novelist who became the pre-eminent writer of espionage fiction in English, has died at age 89.
Le Carre's literary agency Curtis Brown said on Sunday he died in Cornwall, southwest England on Saturday after a short illness.
The death was not related to COVID-19.
In such classics as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Le Carre combined terse, but lyrical prose with the kind of complexity expected in literary fiction.
His books grappled with betrayal, moral compromise and the psychological toll of a secret life. In the quiet, watchful spymaster George Smiley, he created one of 20th-century fiction's iconic characters - a decent man at the heart of a web of deceit.
For le Carre, the world of espionage was a "metaphor for the human condition".
Born David Cornwell, le Carre worked for Britain's intelligence service before turning his experience into fiction.
"I'm not part of the literary bureaucracy if you like that categorises everybody: Romantic, Thriller, Serious," le Carre told The Associated Press in 2008.
"I just go with what I want to write about and the characters. I don't announce this to myself as a thriller or an entertainment."
His other works included Smiley's People,The Russia House, and, in 2017, the likely Smiley farewell, A Legacy Of Spies.
Many novels were adapted for film and television, notably the 1965 productions of Smiley's People and Tinker, Tailor featuring Alec Guinness as Smiley.
After university - which was interrupted by his father's bankruptcy - he taught at the prestigious boarding school Eton before joining the foreign service.
Officially a diplomat, he was in fact a "lowly" operative with the domestic intelligence service MI5 - he'd started as a student at Oxford - and then its overseas counterpart MI6, serving in Germany, then on the Cold War front line, under the cover of second secretary at the British Embassy.
His first three novels were written while he was a spy, and his employers required him to publish under a pseudonym.
He remained "le Carre" for his entire career. He said he chose the name - square in French - simply because he liked the vaguely mysterious, European sound of it.
His depictions of life in the clubby, grubby, ethically tarnished world of "The Circus" - the books' code-name for MI6 - were the antithesis of Ian Fleming's suave action-hero James Bond, and won le Carre a critical respect that eluded Fleming.
Le Carre reportedly turned down an honour from Queen Elizabeth - though he accepted Germany's Goethe Medal in 2011 - and said he did not want his books considered for literary prizes.
In 1954, le Carre married Alison Sharp, with whom he had three sons before they divorced in 1971. In 1972 he married Valerie Eustace, with whom he had a son, the novelist Nick Harkaway.
Australian Associated Press