Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)” as Want to Read:
Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Call for the Dead

(George Smiley #1)

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  27,217 ratings  ·  1,829 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
Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 29th 2002 by Scribner (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 W…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)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréOperation Hail Storm by Brett ArquetteThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
1,139 books — 2,432 voters
Operation Hail Storm by Brett ArquetteThe 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 Ludlum
901 books — 1,369 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  27,217 ratings  ·  1,829 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)
Ahmad Sharabiani
Call for the Dead = The Deadly Affair, John le Carré

Call for the Dead is John le Carrés' first novel, published in 1961. It introduces George Smiley, the most famous of le Carrés' 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 Carrés' spy novels. Call for the Dead was filmed
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
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
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it
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 in ...more
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Woman Reading
3.5 ☆

After reading Agent Running in the Field, which was my first book by John le Carré, I decided to try his George Smiley series from the beginning. Call for the Dead was published in 1961, and I was transported back in time to London, circa late 1950s, complete with shillings, typewriters, and telephone exchanges. It was still a time of political and social adjustment as post-WWII Europe settled into Cold War tensions.

Call for the Dead has the feel of some of Alfred Hitchcock's early espiona
Kevin Lopez
It’s an odd illness you suffer from, Mr. Smiley,’ she continued, taking a cigarette from the box; ‘and I have seen many victims of it. The mind becomes separated from the body; it thinks without reality, rules a paper kingdom and devises without emotion the ruin of its paper victims. But sometimes the division between your world and ours is incomplete; the files grow heads and arms and legs, and that’s a terrible moment, isn’t it? The names have families as well as records, and human motives to ...more
Lewis Weinstein
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Aug 01, 2016 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
DeAnna Knippling
Mar 07, 2012 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
Jason Koivu
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spy, fiction
Some of the most elegant spy genre books I've ever read!

Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Anne (On semi-hiatus)
Apr 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021, mystery, audio
This book is not only John le Carre's first novel, it is also the novel which introduces George Smiley, the British Secret Service Agent who would become famous as le Carre continued to produce more and more books in this series. We learn about his recruitment, his failed marriage, his schooling and his early work in Germany. This first novel isn't about espionage; it's a murder mystery and a darn good one at that.

I loved meeting George Smiley at the very beginning of his career. It's a little
Jul 01, 2016 rated it liked it
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
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
Michael Finocchiaro
This is Le Carré's first Smiley book and it is a pleasure to read. We find ourselves drawn to this small but brilliant older man, George Smiley, and sympathize with his struggles with bureaucracy in his branch of the UK Secret Service. His friend from Scotland Yard, Mendel, is a great character as well. The intrigue around East German spies is dated, but still grabs the reader's attention. As this is the first one, I know that the writing will improve as the author hits his groove in the famous ...more
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, ordin
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
'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
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Labyrinthine are the complexities of the dealings of governments and the machinations of secret agents, and so are the minds of these agents. Here you will find no whizbang super surveillance tech, just the careful layered precision of the thoughts of one George Smiley.

I suspect that the world of real life spies involves years of careful Smiley-style maneuvering interspersed with moments of frenetic Bondesque action. This novel consist mostly of simmering tension with occasional life-threatenin
W.D. Clarke
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
A perfectly fine first novel in the Graham Greene mode, if a somewhat unthrilling thriller. We get introduced to the world of George Smiley, are treated to a tiny bit of his obsession with highbrow German lit, get plenty of useful backstory, and watch him deploy some tradecraft as he solves the murder of a foreign office subordinate—all very competently executed. I'm no aficionado of the genre (in fact have not read a thriller since bingeing-out on Alistair MacLean wayback in high school!), and ...more
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 assu ...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
Aug 25, 2013 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
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
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful fun.
Nov 20, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: Call For The Dead- 2 1/2 stars(POLLS) 2 11 Jan 07, 2020 09:02AM  
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 12 Mar 22, 2019 09:57AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Smiley series? 7 34 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 56 Aug 13, 2014 07:39AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • John le Carré Reading Order and Checklist: The guide to the George Smiley books and all standalone novels by John le Carré
  • The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré: Summary  Study Guide
  • John le Carré: The Biography
  • Our Man in Havana
  • The Day of the Jackal
  • A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
  • The Ipcress File (Secret File, #1)
  • Admiral Chester W. Nimitz: The Life and Legacy of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Commander in Chief during World War II
  • The War Doctor: Infernal Devices
  • Slough House (Slough House, #7)
  • Berlin Game (Bernard Samson, #1)
  • Medical Mysteries Across History, Pt.2
  • Ivanhoe (Classics Illustrated #2)
  • Xstabeth
  • The Thursday Murder Club (Thursday Murder Club, #1)
  • Casino Royale (James Bond, #1)
  • The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War
  • A Song for the Dark Times (Inspector Rebus #23)
See similar books…
See top shelves…
John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), was an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré had resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owned a mile of cliff close to Land's End. ...more

Other books in the series

George Smiley (5 books)
  • A Murder of Quality (George Smiley #2)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (George Smiley, #5; Karla Trilogy #1)
  • The Honourable Schoolboy (George Smiley #6; Karla Trilogy #2)
  • Smiley's People (George Smiley #7; Karla Trilogy #3)

Related Articles

If you want a great book recommendation (or three), here at Goodreads we have a tip for you: Ask an author! Not only are authors very...
97 likes · 8 comments
“Everything he admired or loved had been the product of intense individualism. ...when had mass philosophies ever brought benefit or wisdom?” 13 likes
“But gossip must see its characters
in black and white, equip them with
sins and motives easily conveyed in
the shorthand of conversation.”
More quotes…