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Call for the Dead (George Smiley)

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,229 Ratings  ·  728 Reviews
John le Carré classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him -- and his hero, British Secret Service Agent George Smiley, who is introduced in this, his first novel -- unprecedented worldwide acclaim.

George Smiley had liked Samuel Fennan, and now Fennan was dead
...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 29th 2002 by Scribner (first published 1961)
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Donald Costello Why does Caree's first book end with some character sitting next to Smiley on a plane who is on his way to France say "that is discusting" ?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
81st out of 879 books — 1,569 voters
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
Espionage
98th out of 705 books — 839 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Bill  Kerwin

This first George Smiley novel—also the first for John le Carre—is not a spy novel really, but more like a murder mystery with spies in it.

You see, Smiley is ordered to conduct a routine security check on Samuel Fennan, and, since he sees no serious concerns in Fennan's past—just a little harmless wartime flirtation with communism—he reassures Fennan and they part in friendly fashion. But soon Fennan is pronounced a suicide, and Fennan's wife Elsa claims that, after his interview with Smiley, he
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Susan
Aug 04, 2016 Susan rated it really liked it
This is the first George Smiley novel and introduces us to the characters which, as a reader, you will come to love. It is fair to say that Le Carre's spy novels are more Harry Palmer than 007; he aims for realism and not fantasy, which I find much more intriguing. Smiley is not attractive, or dashing. His ex wife, the beautiful Lady Ann Seacomb, caused surprise and gossip when they married - she nicknamed him 'Toad' and, unlike a Bond character, who always gets the girl, she leaves him for a Cu ...more
Paul Curd
Aug 11, 2011 Paul Curd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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DeAnna Knippling
Mar 07, 2012 DeAnna Knippling rated it it was amazing
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
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Zoeytron
Jun 29, 2013 Zoeytron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Evan
Dec 28, 2010 Evan rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Peter
Apr 20, 2008 Peter rated it really liked it
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
Laura
Jul 08, 2016 Laura rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
Dramatisation by Robert Forrest of John le Carre's first novel.

London, the late 1950s, and a disenchanted George Smiley is engaged in the routine job of security vetting. When a Foreign Office civil servant commits suicide not long after being cleared of Communist sympathies, Smiley investigates and uncovers a deadly conspiracy with its roots in his own wartime past.

George Smiley ...... Simon Russell Beale
Inspector Mendel ...... Kenneth Cranham
Elsa Fennan ...... Eleanor B
...more
Sean
Nov 08, 2012 Sean rated it liked it
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
Sketchbook
Aug 29, 2013 Sketchbook rated it really liked it
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
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
Mary Ronan Drew
Jun 11, 2016 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Randy
Jun 20, 2016 Randy rated it liked it
Le Carre's debut novel marks the first appearance of George Smiley, who will have a larger role in Le Carre's later works. Call for the Dead is an almost routine murder-mystery set apart by Le Carre's sensible style and the story's Cold War espionage trimmings. Pacing is a problem, with almost random action scenes separated by long dull stretches that felt odd for such a short book. Also, the last two or three chapters are devoted to a mind-numbing summary of all that came before, to the point t ...more
Nikki
Oct 24, 2013 Nikki rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics, mystery
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
May 07, 2012 Rob Kitchin rated it really liked it
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
Cphe
I suspect I made a mistake reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold first. It lead me to have very high expectations for this earlier work. I've been recommended this series so many times over the years and George Smiley is such a well known character that I felt I had better get a move on and experience this series for myself. It didn't quite reach the heights that I expected but it was still an entertaining read. I did enjoy finding out Smiley's background and his marriage, to get some insigh ...more
Susan
Dec 06, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it
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
Aaron
Aug 05, 2016 Aaron rated it really liked it
My third le Carré novel and my third involving George Smiley, master spy, which is actually the first appearance of him. In each of the previous two I'd read (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and then Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), I gradually learned of Smiley's role and ability to understand where valuable secret information and human behavior intersect, but this time he comes into sharp focus.

Smiley interviews an agent who had been anonymously denounced, and Smiley gets a good feeling about
...more
Jorge
Mar 15, 2011 Jorge rated it really liked it
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
Matthew Kresal
Jul 25, 2011 Matthew Kresal rated it really liked it
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
Mark
Jul 12, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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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
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 really liked it  ·  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
Ed
Oct 11, 2013 Ed rated it really liked it
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
Alondra
Feb 17, 2015 Alondra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alondra by: Bill
Shelves: books-i-own
3 out of 5 sleuths.

Nice introduction of George Smiley. Nothing too difficult to read. Slow and steady wins the race with this lot. I definitely had Gary Oldman pictured (remember Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy??). Of course, the description of George and chubby and plain, kind of threw me off. Of course, it had no bearing on his though process and figuring out of this mystery.

Did Fennan kill himself, or was he "liquidated?" If murdered, then why? What role does the past play in current events? Is
...more
Mary
Mar 22, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
Taut and satisfying. Moody and lotsa grey. Just the way I like it. Looking forward to "A Murder of Quality."
Cynthia
Oct 18, 2013 Cynthia rated it it was amazing
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.
Bonnie
Jul 15, 2016 Bonnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first John Le Carre book and I'm wondering why. I truly enjoyed this book. George Smiley, the world's most famous secret agent, is ready for retirement and his recent divorce and all his years in the service have taken their toll. Suddenly, after he tendered his request for retirement, there is a suicide of a Foreign office clerk and many questions. Someone had written a letter denouncing him as a security risk, but Smiley had assured him of his clearance. He had ordered a wake-up call on the ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Smiley series? 7 21 Dec 15, 2015 07:01PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect Date 2 17 Oct 02, 2015 06:51AM  
is this book as boring as the movie? 4 39 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 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

See also: John le Carré - Wikipedia
More about John le Carré...

Other Books in the Series

George Smiley (8 books)
  • A Murder of Quality
  • The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
  • The Looking Glass War
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • The Honourable Schoolboy
  • Smiley's People
  • The Secret Pilgrim

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“Everything he admired or loved had been the product of intense individualism. ...when had mass philosophies ever brought benefit or wisdom?” 8 likes
“However closely we live together, at whatever time of day or night we sound the deepest thoughts in one another, we know nothing.” 6 likes
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