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Call for the Dead (George Smiley)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  14,376 Ratings  ·  976 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 1961)
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Brendan The only ones that really ought to be read in order are the so-called Karla Trilogy -- "Tinker Tailor," "Schoolboy," and "Smiley's People." "The Spy…moreThe only ones that really ought to be read in order are the so-called Karla Trilogy -- "Tinker Tailor," "Schoolboy," and "Smiley's People." "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold," "The Looking Glass War," and "The Secret Pilgrim" only feature Smiley as a minor character and are standalone works.(less)

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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
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-completed
“Call For the Dead” is the first of 8 books in John Le Carre’s series featuring George Smiley. Published in 1961, it is smart, the writing brisk and contained, and the story engaging. Espionage and counter-espionage – who is a spy? – who is being set up? This is a classic, and written by an author who knew the ins and outs of national Intelligence and Security first-hand. This book is a very impressive and intelligent initial offering from an author whose stories have been revered for years, and ...more
Aug 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well I wanted to read 'some le Carre' so I went to the beginning, the first George Smiley book. Glad I did. I've been looking for a replacement for good old Reggie Wexford, the police inspector from Ruth Rendell's wonderful series, and here he is, sort of. Both George and Reggie are kind of old, grumpy, overweight men - and geniuses at their profession. Reggie does police investigations; George does spies. They both go after the bad guys and they always get'em.

In this book Smiley interviews a fa
Jul 01, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: 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 from an apparent suicide. But why? Fennan, a Foreign Office man, had be
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
Oct 22, 2013 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, the no-man's land, the battlefield for 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 ic
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Call for the Dead' is the first George Smiley novel and introduces Smiley, and other primary characters. Smiley is a wonderful creation: unattractive, seemingly ponderous, and introverted. A donnish figure completely out of time, and yet a brilliant thinker, empathetic and perceptive. He is also heartbroken. His unlikely and beautiful ex-wife, Lady Ann Seacomb, having left him for a Cuban motor racing driver.

I've wanted to read the George Smiley books since watching the BBC adaptation of 'Tink
Blaine DeSantis
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After having read some of Le Carre's more recent book, I decided to go back to the beginning and this is the first book that he wrote, and in which he introduced us to his leading character George Smiley. A nice, tight book that is well written and holds the attention it does a very good job of getting the reader into the initial Cold War espionage genre that Le Carre is a master of.
Love the writing style and the characters - oh so very British! - and the way he leads us through the maze of the
Brad Lyerla
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
CALL FOR THE DEAD is very good. It easily qualifies for five stars. I am now going to read le Carre's Smiley books in order. When I am done, I may review them as a group.
Jun 27, 2013 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
[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
Dec 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
This was my second John le Carre novel, having read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for a book club a few years ago. It is pretty short, at around 150 pages, and although that meant the plot moved rather quickly, it also made some of the novel appear rather superficial.

The book follows spy George Smiley, as he investigates the apparent suicide of a man who was suspected of being a Communist sympathiser. It was more of a murder mystery than a spy novel, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The char
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
Steven  Godin
First in the series for George Smiley, which doesn't live up to what would follow (has nothing on the brilliant 'The spy who came in from the cold'). It's very British, there is a suspicious death (isn't there always), and just who can you trust?. The tone of the book is very sombre, grey skies hanging over London, lots of frowning and general gloom, the cold war lingering in the background, and it's also intriguing rather than thrilling but never dull. Sits comfortably away from other crime/mys ...more
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
Jul 01, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 24, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mary Ronan Drew
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 21, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lyn Elliott
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who could imagine, reading this little book, that the dumpy, dowdy George Smiley would go on to be one of the great figures of the shadow world of espionage?
The first chapter is a briefing on Smiley - how he came to be where and who he is - so he is immediately familiar. The period, in the years just after World War II, was one of turmoil in Europe, as its division into Communist and non-Communist blocs shook into place, and here Le Carre's focus is on the newly divided Germany, with East Germa
Rob Kitchin
May 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alondra by: Bill
Shelves: books-i-own, thriller
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 thought 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? I
Mark Harrison
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Foreign Office work commits apparent suicide after an interview with the Secret Service. The interviewer was George Smiley in this excellent introduction to one of fictions legendary figures. George gets tangled in Cold War espionage with East Germany and finds his life in real danger. Good punchy narrative and nicely worked plot - welcome to my world George Smiley - we are going to be mates.
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
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Goodreads Librari...: Smiley series? 7 26 Dec 15, 2015 07:01PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect Date 2 19 Oct 02, 2015 06:51AM  
is this book as boring as the movie? 4 45 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 (9 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
  • A Legacy of Spies
“Everything he admired or loved had been the product of intense individualism. ...when had mass philosophies ever brought benefit or wisdom?” 9 likes
“But gossip must see its characters
in black and white, equip them with
sins and motives easily conveyed in
the shorthand of conversation.”
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