Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Call for the Dead” as Want to Read:
Call for the Dead
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Call for the Dead

(George Smiley #1)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  20,869 ratings  ·  1,393 reviews

The first of his peerless novels of Cold War espionage and international intrigue, Call for the Dead is also the debut of John le Carr's masterful creation George Smiley, published in Penguin Modern Classics.



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

...more
Kindle Edition, 160 pages
Published November 3rd 2011 by Penguin (first published 1961)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Call for the Dead, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Sequoyah He’s introduced when Smiley goes to his house and an assassin, Mundt, is there waiting for him. Smiley finds out his name when he confronts the widow…moreHe’s introduced when Smiley goes to his house and an assassin, Mundt, is there waiting for him. Smiley finds out his name when he confronts the widow about Fennan being a spy.(less)
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)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  20,869 ratings  ·  1,393 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of Call for the Dead
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,
...more
Candi
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"He learnt what it was never to sleep, never to relax, to feel at any time of day or night the restless beating of his own heart, to know the extremes of solitude and self-pity, the sudden unreasoning desire for a woman, for drink, for exercise, for any drug to take away the tension of his life."

While this isn’t my first John le Carré novel (The Russia House holds that distinction), it is in fact my first George Smiley book. Call for the Dead is also the first in the series of the George Smiley
...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Call for the Dead = The Deadly Affair, John le Carré
Call for the Dead is John le Carré's first novel, published in 1961. It introduces George Smiley, the most famous of le Carré's recurring characters, in a story about East German spies inside Great Britain. It also introduces a fictional version of British Intelligence, called "the Circus" because of its location in Cambridge Circus, that is apparently based on MI6 and that recurs throughout le Carré's spy novels. Call for the Dead was filmed
...more
Brina
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-espionage
I am a huge fan of James Bond, movies and books, but had never entered the world of George Smiley written by John Le Carre. When a few friends in the group reading for pleasure here on goodreads decided to read the Smiley books in order, I decided to join them. I enjoy reading mysteries or thrillers in between denser reads as a palette cleanser, and, having just read two Pulitzer winners back to back, a short spy novel seemed like just what I needed to clear my head. What ensued is Le Carre’s ...more
Jaline
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: xx2017-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
Lewis Weinstein
Introducing Smiley to the world, this is more of a detective story than a spy story, except that the characters are spies. There are two diversions from what I remember about le Carre's other novels, at the beginning and the end, amounting in each case to explanations of things (telling) that could have been much more effective if included in the narrative (showing). But who am I to criticize le Carre? In between, the story was excellent.
Susan
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 ...more
Jason Koivu
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, spy
Some of the most elegant spy genre books I've ever read!

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
...more
Jaksen
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
...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
...more
Mark
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
...more
Bettie
Jul 01, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners


https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011...

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
...more
Zoeytron
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,
...more
Nigeyb
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 '
...more
Emma
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent. Cold War politics in London. An apparent suicide uncovers a ring of East German spies. I only discovered Smiley recently and he is becoming a firm favourite.
Lorna
Call for the Dead is the first novel featuring British spy George Smiley by author John Le Carre, written while he was working for the legendary British secret service M15. George Smiley is the antithesis of what one may expect in a spy in the cold war era, but that is much of his appeal as we come to know the inner workings of espionage for the fictional Circus, through the perspective of Smiley. Subsequent to Smiley's interrogation of a Foreign Office operative, Samuel Fenman, after being ...more
Sketchbook
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 ...more
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
...more
Katy
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful fun.
Sara
May 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John le Carré’s first Smiley novel, Call for the Dead, is an old-fashioned, but well-written, cold war novel, with a spy with a heart at its core. George Smiley is not dashing or cosmopolitan, he is solid and intelligent and feeling; he sees both sides of the picture, but he never wonders which side he is on. He is the man you would wish to have in control of your government, but of course, he is not in control, he is just a factor, one man who tries to do things right and often has to fight the ...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
...more
Emma
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
...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 ...more
Peter
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 ...more
Jill Mackin
Le Carre's first novel. An interesting murder mystery.
K.J. Charles
I thought I should read le Carre because everyone raves about best British novelist of our time (which I'd be happy to believe, far more plausible that person is working in genre than litfic), so I started at the beginning of the Smiley books, not realising it was his first novel. It's still pretty damn good: writes confidently about tradecraft, heavy on character and sordid intrigue, but a few tonal uncertainties and a slightly flat modernist ending. I think I need to read a couple of the more ...more
Evan
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
...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 ...more
Susan
Feb 18, 2018 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 ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Please update number of pages 5 17 Oct 08, 2019 07:21PM  
Around the Year i...: Call for the Dead, by John Le Carre 2 11 Mar 22, 2019 09:57AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Smiley series? 7 30 Dec 15, 2015 07:01PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect Date 2 21 Oct 02, 2015 06:51AM  
is this book as boring as the movie? 4 54 Aug 13, 2014 07:39AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre Summary  Study Guide
  • John le Carré Reading Order and Checklist: The guide to the George Smiley books and all standalone novels by John le Carré
  • The Ipcress File (Secret File, #1)
  • The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré: Summary  Study Guide
  • Our Man in Havana
  • Berlin Game (Bernard Samson, #1)
  • The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus
  • The Day of the Jackal
  • London Match (Bernard Samson, #3)
  • Billion Dollar Brain (Secret File #4)
  • Casino Royale (James Bond, #1)
  • A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
  • Mexico Set (Bernard Samson, #2)
  • The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War
  • Slow Horses (Slough House, #1)
  • The Quiller Memorandum
  • Funeral in Berlin
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios (Charles Latimer, #1)
See similar books…
5,733 followers
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

Other books in the series

George Smiley (5 books)
  • A Murder of Quality (George Smiley #2)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • The Honourable Schoolboy
  • Smiley's People
“Everything he admired or loved had been the product of intense individualism. ...when had mass philosophies ever brought benefit or wisdom?” 11 likes
“But gossip must see its characters
in black and white, equip them with
sins and motives easily conveyed in
the shorthand of conversation.”
9 likes
More quotes…