A Perfect Spy is John le Carré's eleventh novel. Published in 1986, it is the life story of British spy Magnus Pym, who attends his father's funeral and then promptly disappears. We see both sides — the search for Pym as well as his whereabouts and reflections on his life as he writes a letter to his son, Tom.
As the novel progresses, we learn that Pym's life has been greatly shaped by his father, Rick, a con artist, and by a mysterious man named Axel. We learn about Pym's relationship with his family, his two marriages and his son. To get into it any more would risk spoiling things, but it's a fascinating read. As is the case with many of le Carré's novels, it's worth re-reading to pick up on clues that escaped notice the first time through.
A Perfect Spy is one of le Carré's longer works, and while none of it seems like filler, it can be somewhat difficult if you're not reading large chunks at a time. I read it while commuting over the course of a few weeks, and usually had to re-read the previous chapter to get my bearings again. That said, it was worth it.
Reviews for A Perfect Spy were almost uniformly positive; the Globe and Mail said it was le Carré's best. It is certainly his most autobiographical; while he drew from his own intelligence background when crafting all of his espionage novels, Rick Pym was loosely based on his own father, who was also a con artist. Remarkably, despite the high praise for the novel, including noted English professor Matthew Bruccoli's claim that it was his "masterpiece," le Carré didn't include it on a list of what he thought were his four best novels (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener).
The BBC adapated the novel as a made-for-TV movie in 1987. Peter Egan started as Magnus.