Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1)
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Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  6,218 ratings  ·  481 reviews
After a routine security check by George Smiley, civil servant Samuel Fennan apparently kills himself. When Smiley finds Circus head Maston is trying to blame him for the man's death, he begins his own investigation, meeting with Fennan's widow to find out what could have led him to such desperation. But on the very day that Smiley is ordered off the enquiry he receives an...more
Paperback, Penguin Modern Classics, 160 pages
Published February 2nd 2012 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1962)
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Peter
The first great George Smiley novel. I read Tinker Tailor a while back after seeing the Sir Alec Guinness Masterpiece Theater bit, and that lead me to want to read the other Smiley Novels. This is just great writing. Le Carre has a command of language and character that you don't generally see in this genre; his digs at class and society are priceless. It's no wonder he is seen almost without argument as the author of the greatest series of spy/thriller/espionage books ever written. Can't wait t...more
Paul Curd
George Smiley is arguably one of the best known fictional British spies. He made his first appearance in Call for the Dead in 1961. The book also launched John le Carré’s career as a novelist. So if you’re new to le Carré and/or George Smiley, this is definitely the place to start.

In many ways, Call for the Dead is a book of its time. It opens with a chapter setting out ‘A Brief History of George Smiley’, something a modern novelist might find difficult to get away with. But the ‘backstory’ of S...more
Sean
John Le Carre is often considered to be the master of spy fiction. Many of his novels are considered classics of the genre and appear in many best-of lists. Some have even been made into Hollywood films. The most recent was Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. I have only read one of his novels, The Spy who Came in from the Cold, which many claim is Le Carre’s finest work. However, that book appears in the middle of a series of novels dealing with the British Intelligence Agency and its main protagonist G...more
Evan
Le Carré is one of the greatest writers of thrillers of all time. At worst, he seems to produce a story that is merely entertaining and engaging.

This book—which I believe was his first—reminded me a great deal of Graham Greene's work: It was short, fast-paced, and highly entertaining. But even in so short a book his talent for weaving intricately tangled webs of espionage asserts itself. He strings the reader along throughout the narrative dropping little clues here and there, slowly revealing t...more
Zoeytron
If I had known that LeCarre's Call for the Dead was the introduction of George Smiley, I would have read this book eons ago. This one was published in 1961, and the copy I came across is an ancient paperback that sold new for 95 cents. It had been languishing in one of our bookcases for decades, passed over time after time in favor of something else. More is the pity.

One of the things that makes George Smiley stand out among the others of his ilk is his looks, oddly enough. He is a quiet, ordina...more
Mary Ronan Drew
In 1961 the first of John Le Carre's novels was published, introducing George Smiley, the British Secret Service Agent who over the next couple of decades was to become a household name. In Call for the Dead the story is only tangentially a spy novel; it's really a fairly straightforward murder mystery.

Smiley is asked to interview a man in the Foreign Office, Samuel Fennan, in a routine security check. Fennan has been under suspicion of Communist sympathies but Smiley talks to him as they walk i...more
Deanna Knippling
There has been a lot of blah-di-blah about who the literary successor for Jane Austin should be. Well, it's too late; it's John Le Carre. Just because he happens to write Cold-War thrillers doesn't mean that every word isn't infused with the same sense of humor, the same love of the ordinary, the same lovely tendency to linger with friends, whether they be seemingly-mundane characters or sentences themselves.

"When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described hi...more
Sketchbook
Why would a foreign office chap who killed himself ask Telephone Exchange for an early wake-up call ? Smiley, that rumpled bullfrog of an agent, is introduced in a forgotten (1961) cloak 'n dagger. Lean, taut, without highly-wrought subplots, this jolly good yarn bursts with vitality and scary plausibility. Along the way, le Carre explains how Smiley was recruited for the Secret Service (he was studying German Lit at Oxford in 1928) and we learn that Cold War spies, when seeking an urgent meetin...more
Nikki
Hmmm. I've heard so much about John le Carré; perhaps this wasn't a good place to start, but I have a thing about being chronological. (I read The Magician's Nephew first, in the Narnia series. Really.) It's a decent spy-thriller/mystery, but it didn't have anything else that got its hooks into me: Smiley was the only potentially interesting character, and he spent a lot of the time sick in bed... The other characters honestly blurred into each other.

The mystery itself is straight-forward: I fig...more
Rob Kitchin
Call For The Dead was Le Carre's first book and also introduced George Smiley to the reading public. It's a moderately thin read (157 pages) and the plot is relatively straightforward, with no substantive subplots. What marks Le Carre out is his voice and the careful layering and rhythm of the prose. In many ways, the storytelling style of Call for the Dead reminded me of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's Martin Beck series, which was first published a couple of years later, in that the style is soci...more
James
I remember catching bits as my parents avidly watched the, Sir Alec Guinness as George Smiley, TV adaptation. Making Smiley this mythical, yet seedy, character in my mind. A master spy who directs and predicts from behind the scenes without really getting his hands dirty. With Guinness being one of my favourite actors and le Carré being one of my favourite authors it seems bizarre that, not only have I never seen the whole TV series but, I've never read more than a couple of the Smiley novels an...more
Anthony
I really loved the new movie version of LeCarre's TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and decided to read the book. And then, in a used bookstore somewhere on the road, I found CALL FOR THE DEAD, with the cover proclaiming it "The novel that introduced George Smiley." So I figured, okay, start at the beginning, yeah?

I'm glad I did. CALL FOR THE DEAD is a pretty straight-foward murder mystery with spy trappings, but it serves as a fine introduction to Smiley and what makes him tick. Smiley, who is clearly...more
Susan
This is a reread. Probably read it back in the 60ies or 70ies when I
was really crazy about spy novels. I'm rereading LeCarre's old ones
though. He's good. This one introduces the character of George Smiley
who figures in the best of his spy fiction a decade later (Books like
Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy, The Honorable Schoolboy and Smiley's
People).

Smiley, an secret intelligence officer , interviews a Foreign Office
official about whom his bosses have received an anonymous letter
saying he's a Communi...more
Cynthia
I particularly liked this book because it provides the genesis of the George Smiley character. After reading his subsequent 'Tinker' I had lots of questions about him and this answered a few of them like his schooling, his marriage, and how he came to work in the government.
Jorge
John le Carré is undoubtedly one of my favorite authors. What attracts me about his writing is not so much the plot of espionage (or other), but the way it deals with the characters, particularly of the spies.
Indeed the density and complexity of the characters he portrayts, is very close to reality. This is not for everyone.
In the case of the main character of this first book, George Smiley, who I already knew from other works, such complexity and ambiguity are all too evident.
Still "Call for th...more
rameau
If you can't tell by now, I'm slightly obsessed with le Carré's writing style. Even in its translations it's simple, to the point, and almost wholly without the unnecessary embellishments that plague so many other works. Maybe that's why the first chapter, the short description of George Smiley, was added--what do I know, I'm only guessing but it feels like an after thought more than a part of the story--to the book. Without it, you'd have to read the last page to get a real feel of him.

As alway...more
A.J. Howard

A couple years ago when I had The Spy Who Came in from the Cold on my reading list I found an inelegantly bound collection of John le Carré novels at a used friends of the library bookstore. The edition contained le Carré's first five novels. I enjoyed The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and forgot about the rest of the novels in the edition until a couple days ago when I was looking for something of a palette cleaners after reading Freedom. Unable for some reason to proceed straight to the new DF

...more
Matthew Kresal
Almost fifty years ago, John le Carre (aka David Cornwall) began his career with this little novel. Call For The Dead is part murder mystery, part Cold War thriller that begins with the apparent suicide of a British Foreign Office official who had been accused of being a communist while at Oxford. The man who interviewed him just prior to his death is none other then George Smiley, the character who would become so prevalent in many of le Carre's novels until the 1990s. Smiley is given a fine an...more
Antonomasia
[4.5] Almost as good as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and only makes me look forward to reading more. The plot is simpler – as much a detective story (complete with Plod) as a spy thriller - occasional clunks in the writing, but still very good. This is the first in the George Smiley series and was Le Carré's first novel - more impressive than most of the recent début novels I've read this year. (Also such a relief to read something so straightforwardly enjoyable after Lolita.)

I haven't ye...more
Muzzlehatch
Oct 07, 2008 Muzzlehatch rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any lovers of spy stories, great writing and great characters
First things first: the most remarkable features of this, Le Carré's first book, have little to do with the plot, which though well-constructed isn't all that out of the ordinary for a spy story. What's really engaging here, and what will surely get me to read more, is the characterization of George Smiley, and the superb writing. It's a typical back-handed compliment in the genres of science fiction and fantasy to refer to writers with obvious "literary" qualities, like Gene Wolfe or Ray Bradbu...more
Andy Zeigert
I decided to start with John le Carre from the beginning.

CALL FOR THE DEAD introduces George Smiley, quite literally. The first chapter is a brief biography of the character leading up to the novel's events.

Le Carre's exceptional prose elevates what is otherwise a pretty simple murder mystery with espionage elements. Smiley investigates the suspicious death of a possible double agent, and uncovers a spy ring operating in London. Classic spycraft hijinks ensue.

Interestingly enough le Carre's cold...more
Dr M
I sometimes think that there are, very broadly speaking, two types of good and successful authors: those who have one really great idea that goes into a highly original début which later works, even if they are absolutely great, never quite match, and those who start out with a solid but rough and unremarkable début and hone their craft to over the course of a few or several books until they produce a carefully crafted masterpiece. John Le Carré belongs in the latter category. In this his first...more
Caro
Short and sweet as I am tired of writing reviews that feel obligatory and like book reports.

This was my first LeCarre book. I found out he used to work for British Intelligence (aka a spy) so the whole 'write what you know' works here. Smiley and his friend/cohort Mendel made a good team. LeCarre developed the characters well but probably could have done a little more there. The book started out a little stiff and dry and I almost abandoned it but got better after a few chapters.
It felt like ha...more
John Frankham
This is the first Smiley book, and what a stunner!

Le Carre writes a short, intense, gripping, complex, human, and moving story of the death of a possible traitor within the Foreign Office, its investigation by George Smiley, and the consequences and outcome.

At 156 pages, this book shows the skill of the author's craft, as there is as much content as in most current, badly-edited 400 page blockbusters. Character, motive, background are all provided with brilliant economy.

Comparisons would be with...more
Kate Sherrod
As I begin the last quarter of a year in which I have spent a lot of time slogging through a lot of big, bloated genre novels and their big, bloated sequels, there is something tonic and refreshing about a short, tightly plotted mid-20th century number like this one that very likely renders my enjoyment entirely out of proportion to the actual book's quality.

But perhaps not.

George Smiley has become an iconic character, at least in my little corner of the world, even without my ever having encoun...more
Livinginthecastle
I read this because in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold it kept referring to Smiley and the Fennen case, which is obstensibly this novel. This is obviously Le Carre's first novel as it seems a bit unpolished and not a patch on the above. I suppose in the sixties, the behaviour of the secret services must have been quite shocking and exciting, but I suppose now we are all a bit jaded by Homeland, Spooks and Bond, so this comes off as little more than a detective novel. It has twists, but a good...more
Jordan
'Call for the Dead' is an action-filled prelude for the typically frigid and melancholy continuance of Le Carre's 'Smiley series' of novels. The book was Le Carre's first published work, and it's easy to see the rough edge of how he was still refining the intricate style that would later be perfected in 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold' and the 'Karla trilogy.'

'Call for the Dead' reads more like a detective novel than Le Carre's later works. In it, the immortally old George Smiley teams with...more
Mark
Jul 12, 2014 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who like smart thrillers
Recommended to Mark by: through Ian Fleming

"take your hands off me! Do you think I'm yours because I don't belong to them? Go away! Go away and kill Freitag and Dieter, keep the game alive, Mr Smiley. But don't think I'm on your side, d'you hear? Because I'm the wandering Jewess, theno-man's land, the battlefieldfor your toy soldiers. You can kick me and trample on me, see, but never, never touch me, never tell me you're sorry, d'you hear? Now get out! Go away and kill"



The first novel by John le Carré is also the 1st novel with the icon...more
Erin (PT)
I'd never read a Le Carre book before, but you can't really be a mystery/thriller fan without hearing the name, and a viewing of the recent adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy made as good an excuse as any to finally check him out.

When you're coming from a movie--and a recent one, at that--you don't really know what to expect; novels are generally very different from their movie counterparts and, more, I was going to the beginning of the George Smiley books, which meant it was a different s...more
Ed
Oct 11, 2013 Ed rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: spy and espionage fans, esp. from the Cold War era
Call for the Dead is John le Carré's 1961 debut novel and introduces his recurring character George Smiley. It's a rather short book that moves right along. I enjoyed reading Smiley's encounter with East German spies operating inside England. Foreign Office agent Samuel Fennan's "suicide" after a security interview by Smiley kicks things off when he entertains doubts and believes it was actually a murder. Back in 1961, Germany was divided into sections. There are events from the Second World War...more
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is this book as boring as the movie? 7 14 Aug 13, 2014 07:39AM  
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John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), is an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.
More about John le Carré...
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy The Spy Who Came In from the Cold Smiley's People The Russia House The Constant Gardener

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