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George Smiley #1

Call for the Dead

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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 been under investigation for alleged Communist Party activities, but Smiley had made it clear that the investigation -- little more than a routine security check -- was over and that the file on Fennan could be closed. The very next day, Fennan was found dead with a note by his body saying his career was finished and he couldn't go on. Smiley was puzzled...

144 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

John le Carré

367 books8,088 followers
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.

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Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
December 31, 2021
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 as The Deadly Affair, released in 1966.

Foreign Office civil servant Samuel Fennan apparently commits suicide after a routine security check by Circus agent George Smiley. Smiley had interviewed and cleared Fennan only days previously after an anonymous accusation; because of this, Circus head of service Maston sets up Smiley to be blamed for Fennans' death. While interviewing Fennans' wife Elsa in her home, Smiley answers the telephone, expecting the call to be for him. It is a requested 8:30 AM call from the telephone exchange. Inspector Mendel, a police officer on the verge of retirement who is investigating the Fennan case, finds out that the call had been requested by Fennan the night before.

When Elsa later tells Smiley that she requested the call from the exchange, Smiley becomes suspicious of her. However, Maston unequivocally orders Smiley to refrain from any further investigation into Fennans' death. Back in his office, Smiley receives a letter posted by Fennan the night before, requesting an urgent meeting that day. Believing that Fennan was murdered to prevent the meeting, Smiley resigns from the Circus and attaches his resignation to Fennans' letter, which he forwards to Maston. ....

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال1994میلادی

عنوان: آوای مرگ؛ نویسنده: جان لوکاره؛ مترجم: خسرو سمیعی؛ تهران، طرح نو، سال1373؛ در191ص؛ فروست مجموعه کتابهای سیاه؛ چاپ دوم سال1389؛ شابک9789644890741؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 20م

آنگاه که «لیدی آن سرکومب»، پس از پایان جنگ دوم جهانگیر، با «جرج اسمایلی»، ازدواج کردند، به دوستانش در «میفر»، که از ازدواج او، بسیار شگفت زده شده بودند، درباره ی شوهر خویش، گفت که او آدمی به طور غریبی معمولی است؛ زمانیکه دو سال بعد، شوهرش را رها کرد، و با مردی، از اهالی «کوبا»، که راننده ی اتومبیلهای کورسی بود، ازدواج کرد، خیلی مبهم به آنان گفت، که اگر در آن لحظه، او را ترک نمیکرد، دیگر هرگز قادر به چنان کاری نمیشد؛ و «ویکنت ساولی»، مخصوصا به باشگاهش رفت، تا این خبر را، به گوش همه برساند؛ فقط کسانی که «اسمایلی» را میشناختند، این گفته را، که مدتی نقل مجالس بود، درک میکردند؛ «اسمایلی» کوتاه بود، و چاق، و آدمی که، پس از دیدنش، خیال میکردید، که برای خرید لباسهایی که، در انتخابشان کوچکترین سلیقه ای، به کار نرفته، پول بسیاری میدهد، لباسهایی که، مثل پوست چروکیده قورباغه، از اطراف بدنش آویزان بودند...؛

نقل از مصاحبه «جان لو کاره» با «مجله اکسپرس» سال1969میلادی: (دنیای جاسوسان در نظر من، ادامه ی دنیایی است، که در آن زندگی میکنم، به همین جهت هم آنرا، با پرسوناژهای خود، میآرایم؛ چون به هر حال، من رمان نویس هستم؛ با تخیل عمل میکنم؛ قصه تعریف میکنم)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 09/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 09/10/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
February 19, 2019

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, her husband was unusually despondent. The higher ups want to stick Smiley with the blame for a botched interview and move on, but Smiley, who is not convinced this is a sucide, becomes even less convinced when he answers the phone in Fennan's flat and receives a “reminder call” Fennan arranged with his service. It just doesn't make sense. Why would a person who intends to commit suicide one a specific night arrange for a reminder call for the morning after?

Since this is a first novel, it has its flaws. For example, Smiley and Police Inspector Mendel are both used as third-person viewpoint characters, but Mendel's first appearance as viewpoint is disorienting, since it is far enough into the novel that we have identified ourselves with Smiley completely, and le Carre has not used any of the novelistic tricks that would make such a transition less confusing and more effective. Also, although le Carre's acerbic descriptions of many of the streets of London are precise and entertaining, they are sometimes too long, and thus retard the action and dissipate the suspense.

Still, Smiley is an intriguing narrator, the characters of Elsa Fennan, Inspector Mendel, and the shady car dealer Adam Scarr are lifelike and convincing, and the final confrontation and chase, in a small London theatre and in the surrounding streets, is suspenseful and exciting.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,635 followers
February 10, 2019
"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 novels and offers a very satisfying introduction to the surprisingly ordinary yet quite honorable little man. When I say ‘little’ I mean in stature. He’s no looker, that’s a fact. A James Bond type he is not. "Short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad." I have a great image in my head of Smiley now, and regardless of his looks, I loved this man! He’s not perfect (who is?), but he’s intelligent, he has a conscience, and he’s quite perceptive. In a nutshell, he is a British spy caught up in a case of intrigue involving the suicide of Samuel Fennan, an employee of the Foreign Office in London who also happens to have affiliations with the Communist party. But some things don’t appear to add up correctly according to Smiley’s calculations, and he takes it upon himself to corroborate whether this was in fact a suicide. Could there be something even more sinister going on here? He teams up with Inspector Mendel to uncover the truth.

Those looking for a fast-paced espionage thriller will likely be a bit disappointed by this one. However, if you, like me, prefer a more literary-type spy novel with well-written and convincing characterizations, then this should appeal. That’s not to say there is no action here, because there are certainly some wonderful moments of tension as well as some more dramatic run-ins with the villains of the story. I found this to be smart and exciting enough to keep me completely immersed in the story throughout. I’m quite certain I could never pull off a double life, a life of secrets and treachery, even if for a ‘good cause’. George Smiley is definitely the kind of intelligence officer I could buy into. As I alluded to, he is not without flaws and often reflects on his position and resultant lifestyle. He mourns what life once was and perhaps could be if he had made another choice. "Always withdrawn, he now found himself shrinking from the temptations of friendship and human loyalty; he guarded himself warily from spontaneous reaction. By the strength of his intellect, he forced himself to observe humanity with clinical objectivity, and because he was neither immortal nor infallible he hated and feared the falseness of his life."

Since reading this first in the series, I jumped to the more renowned of the Smiley novels – The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (although Smiley himself is not prominent throughout - more on that later). It was excellent! I will definitely circle back and try to read the one in between which I missed. As a matter of fact, I plan to read them all. They’re that good! Recommended to those that don’t mind a more ‘old-fashioned’ and literary type spy novel.
Profile Image for Brina.
902 reviews4 followers
January 17, 2019
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 initial foray into Smiley’s world.

George Smiley is a member of England’s Foreign Office during the Cold War period. The nation has no relations with East Germany and their working relationship with the Soviet Union is tenuous at best. Smiley had been stationed as a literature professor in German universities before the war and saw firsthand the rise of fascism. At the time because it was en Vogue, Smiley dabbled in communism and reached out to students who he thought had potential as party members. One of these students was a German Jew by the name of Dieter Frey, who could have used the party as a means of escaping persecution. Yet, as Smiley fled Germany on the onset of war, Frey had all but disappeared.

Fast forwarding fifteen years, George Smiley is on the verge of retirement. His wife left him for a Spanish race car driver, and Smiley does not want to spend the rest of his life pushing papers for the British foreign service. It is in this context that he receives a call that Samuel Fennan has committed suicide, a Party member who had contact with Smiley in their Oxford days. It is up to Smiley to crack the case, which, of course, turns out to be murder rather than suicide. We meet his colleagues Inspector Mendel (same name as my so , made me chuckle) and Peter Guillam along with his boss Maston. All three characters appear as though they will be along for the entire series. Their dialogue is lighthearted as they attempt to crack whodunit, in a case laced with international espionage and the return of old acquaintances. It is up to Smiley to crack a potential international ring before more murders happen.

On the surface Call for the Dead appears as the type of thriller that I would enjoy, yet I wanted the action of James Bond and ended up with Hercule Poirot, especially toward the novel’s ending moments. As my buddy readers pointed out, Smiley is cerebral and more in the mold of an actual spy whereas Bond is all about action and many of his escapades might not occur in real life. When I am reading about espionage I prefer the fast paced action scenes of Bond, and that is what I was looking for in Smiley as well. In the end, Smiley gets his man and is offered a promotion. It appears that the stage is set for the cast of characters to return, and, as they enjoyed a productive working relationship, I am willing to give George Smiley a second try. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold gained Le Carre international fame so I will give this first installment the benefit of the doubt. At the end of the day, I am always up for a good spy thriller.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,606 followers
August 10, 2017
“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 some of which made it onto the big screen as motion pictures. I’m not a big fan of spy books or movies . . . or, I wasn’t until I read John Le Carre. I think I will continue with the series to see what Mr. George Smiley gets mixed up in next!
Profile Image for Kushagri.
34 reviews
May 2, 2023
Oh how I enjoyed this book!
This book introduces us to this tenacious, yet gentle spy with a heart, George Smiley. He is brilliant and clever, and his character is developed in a way that the readers immediately become attached to him. He starts of as a scholarly youth straight out of Oxford, interested in German literature who gets spotted and recruited by the Secret Service.

That part of Smiley which survived was as incongruous to his appearance as love, or a taste for unrecognized poets: it was his profession, which was that of intelligence officer. It was a profession he enjoyed, and which mercifully provided him with colleagues equally obscure in character and origin.
It also provided him with what he had once loved best in life: academic excursions into the mystery of human behaviour, disciplined by the practical application of his own deductions.

As for the plot, since it was a murder mystery talking about it will give the excitement away! It’s a murder mystery set in Cold War backdrop with espionage thrill sprinkled in. The book, particularly the first half was very fast paced and riveting. We also get lot of insight into what goes into leading a life of an intelligence officer, particularly a spy! We have other interesting characters like Mendel and Guillam who assist Smiley with the investigation.

'It's an old 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 with out 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 explain the sad little dossiers and their make-believe sins. When that happens I am sorry for you.’

After reading these books we can also note that a lot of modern espionage TV series, books and movies take their inspiration from Le Carré.
Profile Image for Anne .
443 reviews361 followers
April 7, 2021
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 like looking for the first time at the pictures of your 60 year husband's or wife's high school or college graduation pictures. S/he is recognizable with all the same features but much younger and not the seasoned adult you know so well.

Highly recommended for Smiley fans.
Profile Image for Kevin Lopez (on sabbatical).
85 reviews21 followers
October 8, 2021
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 explain the sad little dossiers and their make-believe sins. When that happens I am sorry for you.’

Call for the Dead was, astonishingly, John Le Carré’s first published novel, as well as the first to feature the man who would become his most famous creation: the short, pudgy, unspectacular, rather forgettable (and hence utterly un-Bond-like) George Smiley—fusty old scholar of obscure 18th century German poetry . . . but also a wily, jaded, Janus-faced spymaster nonpareil.

It’s a phenomenal book: darkly atmospheric, stark and poetic, imbued with a noirish existentialism as gray and inescapable as the ubiquitous London fog (and just as opaque). Gray also happens to be the only color in Le Carré’s moral universe, which utterly lacks anything as simple as black or white, as easy as moral absolutism, or as comforting as righteousness. This is a world of casual betrayal, no-hard-feelings murder, and relentless deception; where everyone either believes, or convinces themselves, that they are the ones acting for the higher good; where every manner and degree of moral atrocity is permitted, and then laid at the altar of patriotism or political belief—with a means-versus-ends calculus that never seems to quite add up.

I loved this book. Loved it just as much as I loved its far more famous successor, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (the third in the Smiley series, in which Smiley himself plays only a peripheral role). I honestly don’t know which is more extraordinary—that a work of such moral and philosophical subtlety could be the very first novel of a young, unknown writer like Le Carré was in 1961, when Call for the Dead was first published—or that such an author could be capable of writing at such a high level, with such consistent quality, for fifty years thereafter.

Call for the Dead is a must-read—not only for fans of Le Carré, but for fans of authors like Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, James M. Caine, and other less-obvious relations ranging from Kafka and Camus to Cormac McCarthy, as well as the very few others who occupy that rarefied stratum of novelists who are able to lift moral ambiguity and an almost nihilistic cynicism into the realm of high art.
Profile Image for Woman Reading .
431 reviews270 followers
February 27, 2021
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 espionage films with little injections of Golden Age detective fictions. Le Carré's debut novel introduced George Smiley, whose appearance didn't seem to destine him for a leading man's role.
Short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad. Sawley, in fact, declared at [Smiley's] wedding that "[Ann] Sercomb was mated to a bullfrog in a sou’wester." And Smiley, unaware of this description, had waddled down the aisle in search of the kiss that would turn him into a Prince.

It dawned on [Smiley] gradually that he had entered middle-age without ever being young, and that he was, in the nicest possible way, "on the shelf".

Employed in the Secret Service, Smiley was assigned to interrogate Samuel Fennan, who worked in the Foreign Office, as to whether he retained his Communist sympathies from his university days. A day later, Fennan was found in his home shot dead at the temple and with a typed suicide note on the floor. Eager to keep Fennan's death a suicide and thus out of the news, Maston sent his subordinate Smiley to speak with the newly widowed Mrs. Fennan. She reported that Fennan had been quite agitated since his interview with Smiley, contrary to Smiley's assessment of their meeting. And Smiley was struck further by oddities at the scene.
"We seem to be at cross-purposes," [Maston] said. "I send you down to discover why Fennan shot himself. You come back and say he didn’t. We’re not policemen, Smiley."
No. I sometimes wonder what we are.

Smiley was officially an intelligence officer. He pieced together facts with conjectures. After Fennan's death, Smiley met Scotland Yard Inspector Mendel. Like Smiley, Mendel was also on the shelf, which was why he'd been given the perfunctory investigation for a likely suicide.
He knew how intelligent men could be broken by the stupidity of their superiors, how weeks of patient work night and day could be cast aside by such a man.

But Mendel listened to Smiley's disquiet over the Fennan interviews, especially as danger began to stalk Smiley. Mendel provided the solid detective work to test the evidence. Overall, Call of the Dead was an entertaining, but far from stellar, murder mystery police procedural and a solid debut novel.
Profile Image for DeAnna Knippling.
Author 162 books259 followers
March 8, 2012
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 him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary. When she left him two years later in favour of a Cuban motor racing driver, she announced enigmatically that if she hadn't left him then, she never could have done; and Viscount Sawley madde a special journey to his club to observe the cat was out of the bag."

Tell me that this couldn't have been the start to a lost Jane Austen novel. Just try.

An absolute gem.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books495 followers
July 5, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,640 reviews598 followers
August 5, 2016
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 Cuban motor racing driving.

Despite Smiley's squat and unprepossing looks though, he has something far more attractive - intelligence in abundance, as well as great humanity and sensitivity to others. When asked to interview Samuel Fennan, at the Foreign Office, who has been anonymously accused of being a communist sympathiser, Smiley conducts the meeting with tact. He even goes so far as to tell Fennan not to worry, which is why he is so suprised when Fennan supposedly returns home devastated and later commits suicide. Something does not add up and Smiley sets out to find out what really happened. This is a world of real danger, where Smiley is almost killed and others murdered, where people are really hurt and suffer the consequences of their actions. A really intelligent novel and a great introduction to the Smiley books.
Profile Image for Kon R..
236 reviews102 followers
July 17, 2021
This thing read like a Agatha Christie novel minus the twists and turns. It was a pretty straightforward and short "who done it?" murder mystery. Nothing outstanding, but it made for a decent introduction to the George Smiley character.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,866 followers
June 10, 2021
While it doesn’t reach the astounding depths of le Carré’s masterpiece The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, this novel, his first, nonetheless displays his gifts for giving us a subtle, mesmerizing, disturbing glimpse into the murky, cold-blooded world of espionage. And it introduces to the world the peculiar, brilliant, bespectacled spy George Smiley. I look forward to continuing to read his exploits, and I’m grateful that there are many more of them that le Carré wrote.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,325 reviews66 followers
October 22, 2016

"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 iconic character George Smiley.
le Carré described George Smiley in “Call for the Dead” (1961) this way:

“Short, fat and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad.”

So a few years before the Ian Fleming creation graced the big screen for the first time his totally opposite started his life in this not so thick novel in a murder mystery & spy mystery. The by then already old employee George Smiley is send out to check out a civil servant after receiving an anonymus letter in which Samuel Arthur Fennan's communist history is told. However Smiley sees nothing but a youthful mistake and even lets the man know he should not be concerned.
Of course Smiley is rather unpleasantly surprised when he is told that the man has killed himself and somewhat implicates Smiley in the reason why.
When Smiley is send by his service to check out their possible involvement things do not seem to add up. And things get worse quickly including resignation and more murders.

I have read Le Carré before, never this particular book, and found him interesting but far too intellectual for my taste. His books lacked the physical action that I found enjoyable in the Fleming novels. Now that I am older I find that I enjoy the human and intelligent style of writing by this particular writer a lot more. Le Carré gives a lot more real insight into the every day spy business than most writers will ever do probably because the man worked in the business himself. When he released this book he still worked for MI6 and they permitted him to release this novel as long as he did change his name to his well known pen-name, and the man responsible in MI6 for vetting the book loved it as well.
A great little story that is well constructed and leaves the reader guessing until the end.

The nice part about this particular edition of the book is the 10 pages in which John le Carré himself introduces the book himself, a nice bonus if I may add.
Profile Image for Jaksen.
1,332 reviews57 followers
January 6, 2017
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 fairly low-level clerk working in intelligence because an anonymous letter accuses the man of (possibly) being a double agent, of selling secrets, of trading information and what-have-you. Smiley clears the fellow; the fellow ends up committing suicide. Or does he? Now some reviewers have claimed this story is nothing more than a mystery with a few spies in it, but no, I so disagree! We have an East German operative who has a history with Smiley; there's also the dead man's wife, who's an odd duck if nothing else; there's a business in a warehouse which is KNOWN to harbor spies and which the authorities are keeping a close watch on. It's a short novel, but complex in its own right.

I enjoyed Smiley's trucking about - I can see him plodding up the fogbound streets being ignored by everyone who passes by, with none realizing what a brain is under that old, hoary head - and figuring out what's going on and why. Most of his information is gathered the old-fashioned way: talk, talk, talk to someone until that someone lets drop a hint, or forgets a previous lie, or tells Smiley 'what happened' in a subtly different way. He notices things; he's a man of detail, which I rather enjoy. So overall, a very interesting and satisfying read.

(One thing, I didn't get the idea of a 'phone exchange' even though I come from the era of dial phones, party lines, crossed lines and dialing 'O' for operator. My family's first phone number had FOUR digits. But I figured out what the 'exchange' was doing eventually.)

Anyhow, I'm going to dive into the whole Smiley series and am already reading the second one.

Profile Image for Alex.
776 reviews30 followers
April 11, 2020
Θετική έκπληξη ο Λε Καρέ. Την "τελευταία κλήση" την είχα πάρει από κάποια προσφορά θυμάμαι, χωρίς πρακτικά να θέλω να την αγοράσω. Η ψυχροπολεμική αντικατασκοπία μου φαινόταν πάντα πολύ γκράντε όσον αφορά βιβλία μυστηρίου, πολύ αδικαιολόγητα ή ίσως δικαιολογημένα πολύπλοκ�� σαν θέμα για βιβλίο, προτιμούσα το "γειτονιακό" αστυνομικό με τον hard-boiled περιθωριακό ντετέκτιβ ή το αγαπημένο νουάρ. Κατάσκοποι, απόρρητα έγγραφα, διεθνείς συνομωσίες, παρασκήνιο στο παρασκήνιο, δεν. Συν ότι ήμουν σχεδόν σίγουρος ότι θα διαβάσω έναν λιγο πιο ραφιναρισμένο Φλέμινγκ και δεν ψηνόμουν για ιπτάμενα αυτοκίνητα που προσγειώνονται σε σκάφη, για κακούς με χρυσά δόντια και για έναν Μποντ, έναν Τζέιμς Μποντ.

Ε, όλα αυτά, ο Λε Καρέ δεν τα γράφει. Διάβασα ένα δεμένο βιβλιαράκι 170 σελίδων με σφιχτή πλοκή, απροσδόκητα καλή και πλούσια γραφή με εξίσου προσεγμένη μετάφραση από την Ιλάειρα Διονυσοπούλου, προσγειωμένους χαρακτήρες που, αν και εμπλέκονται σε κάτι που λέγεται κατασκοπία και εμείς το βαφτίζουμε σχεδόν ρομαντικό και ενθουσιαστικό μέσα στο πέπλο μυστηρίου του, αυτοί το αντιμετωπίζουν ως έχει: ένα παιχνίδι με τίμημα αξιοπρέπειες και ζωές. Οι κατάσκοποι του Λε Καρέ, με πρώτο και καλύτερο τον ίδιο τον Τζορτζ Σμάιλι, είναι κατάκοποι, είναι απηυδισμένοι με αυτόν τον τρόπο ζωής, ζώντας έναν thrill για κάθε δεκαετία που σπρώχνουν χαρτιά, ισιώνουν γραβάτες και κατασκευάζουν γυαλιστερά χαμόγελα πίσω από γραφεία και αίθουσες συνεδρίασης σε μουχλιασμένα κτήρια. Ο Λε Καρέ με την προσωπική του εμπειρία ως κατάσκοπος της MI6 μας δίνει μια πολυ ρεαλιστική οπτική της (αντι)κατασκοπίας τα χρόνια του ψυχρού πολέμου και όσο περίεργο και αν ακούγεται, αυτή η γήινη προσέγγιση χωρίς εξτραβαγκάντζες είναι πολύ γοητευτικότερη.

Προτείνεται και ήδη μπήκε στην λίστα η "Η τριλογία του Κάρλα", και σύντομα μάλιστα.
Profile Image for Márta Péterffy.
173 reviews8 followers
November 22, 2019
Most jött el az idő, hogy ismerkedjek Le Carré regényeivel, ez jó kezdet volt, az első történet George Smiley ügynökkel. Valójában 4.5 csillagos, kicsit krimi és kémregény is egyben.
Két könyvéből készült filmet/mini-sorozatot/ is láttam, a The Night Manager nagyon tetszett, hogyne tetszett volna, mikor Hugh Laurie és Tom Hiddlestone remekel benne!:))
További műveit várólistáztam, mindenképpen érdekel!
Profile Image for Paul Curd.
Author 1 book8 followers
August 11, 2011
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 Smiley is interesting and, in part, important to what follows. Smiley is described variously as ‘breathtakingly ordinary’, ‘short, fat and of a quiet disposition’, ‘a shrunken toad’ and so on (and that’s just on page one!). So, if it’s Bond or Bourne you’re after, you'd best look elsewhere.

The story begins at chapter two. Set in a London I remember from my youth at the start of the Cold War, the novel still has half an eye on the Second World War, when Smiley was a field operative. Now confined to routine security clearance work, he is summoned to ‘the Circus’ to explain why a senior civil servant he recently interviewed should have committed suicide. Smiley felt the man posed no risk despite an anonymous tip-off to the contrary, so he is as puzzled as his superiors. With the help of a retired policeman, Smiley sets out to solve the mystery. In that respect, this is more a detective novel than a spy story.

As with all Le Carré novels, there are twists and turns in the plot and, although I managed to guess the answer to the mystery a little sooner than I would have liked, I remained involved and interested enough to read to the very end to see if I was right. And I rewarded with an exciting set-piece climax on Battersea Bridge to round everything off.
Set in a London of yellow fog and of a River Thames that smells of tar and coke, this is a novel that paints a brilliant picture of post-war Britain. I read this immediately after Sarah Waters’ latest, The Little Stranger, and Call for the Dead similarly has as much to say (albeit unconsciously, to a certain extent) about the nature of the class system as it was in this country, barely fifty years ago, as well as the murky world of post-war espionage. But it is also about the human condition, as all truly good books are.

Overall, a very satisfying read.

Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,539 followers
February 22, 2021
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 trilogy two books away in The Honorable Schoolboy, but I enjoyed reading this origin story which paints a great picture of one of the great spies in English literature.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews14 followers
March 19, 2019


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 been under investigation for alleged Communist Party activities, but Smiley had made it clear that the investigation -- little more than a routine security check -- was over and that the file on Fennan could be closed. The very next day, Fennan was found dead with a note by his body saying his career was finished and he couldn't go on. Smiley was puzzled...

3* Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy(1974)
3* The Honourable Schoolboy(1977)
CR Smiley's People (The Karla Trilogy #3) (1979)

3* Call for the Dead(1961)
CR A Murder of Quality
3* The Spy Who Came In from the Cold(1963)
The Looking Glass War
3* Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy(1974)
3* The Honourable Schoolboy(1977)
CR Smiley's People (The Karla Trilogy #3) (1979)
TR The Secret Pilgrim

3* The Constant Gardener
3* A Delicate Truth
5* The Night Manager
Profile Image for Blaine DeSantis.
901 reviews111 followers
August 15, 2017
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 Spy vs. Spy world that had really just begun to occur in actuality when this book was written back in 1961. I want to read more by this author because I love the style of writing, the plotting and the mind games that Smiley is put through and takes us on. The next book featuring Smiley is quite different in that it has nothing to do with espionage and is the only one of Le Carre's books in which he has Smiley interacting outside of that genre. Why, oh why, did I take so long to join Le Carre's group of avid followers? No idea, but that seems to be a sad refrain that I keep coming to in that the older I get the more books and authors I realize that I have never read. Trying desperately to remedy this situation and Le Carre' is a thinking persons author - no wild chases, no multiple and unnecessary deaths, just George Smiley trying his best to outthink and outwit all of his Cold War enemies. Understated and underwhelming, George Smiley is a great character and I look forward to following more of his missions!
Profile Image for Chris.
226 reviews56 followers
November 21, 2020
Call for the Death by John LeCarré is the first novel in the George Smiley series. Though Smiley is a British operative, this one reads more like a mystery novel and not espionage.

Smiley is charged with interviewing Samuel Fennan after an anonymous letter accuses Fennan of being a Communist in his college days in the 30's. Smiley investigates and closes the case. Or so he thinks, until Fennan is found dead and police rule his death a suicide. Smiley sets out for answers, knowing that the reason his wife gives for the man's suicide is wholly inaccurate.

The pacing in this one is a bit slow and at times it drags. I found myself occasionally spacing off or just not excited to continue. Granted, that's my own fault for thinking this would be a faster paced book with more action. The character of Smiley is very well drawn out. In fact, Chapter one is entitled "A Brief History of George Smiley." I didn't really find many red herrings as to the answer to the mystery, but was rather surprised as to the final wrap up, which was very thorough and left no loose strings in the case. The writing is excellent, but points of view would change without warning and it was rather jarring for me. I wouldn't know whose point of view we were seeing the story through sometimes for a couple sentences.

If you are looking for a James Bond hero type in a novel full of action, gadgets, and beautiful women that our hero beds, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for a more accurate portrayal of espionage from a hero is more your "every man" (as far as a spy can be) who is very cerebral and thorough in his investigation, then check this one out.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
June 29, 2013
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, ordinary pudgy man with a world-weary face, pouches under his eyes, and thick glasses through which he peers in an owlish manner. It is a sad face, and a little bitter - his wife has left him for another man and Smiley has been robbed of his peace. He also happens to have a brilliant mind and is a key player for British Intelligence. He is able to recall a conversation word for word. Anyone who has read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People know the capabilities of this unprepossessing little man.

We start off here with a supposed suicide that makes no sense to Smiley, even though there a suicide note conveniently left by the body. Simple enough, no? The police are satisfied, the British Intelligence Agency, as well, until Smiley rocks the boat. The dead man's widow, 'a slight fierce woman in her fifties with hair cut very short and dyed to the color of nicotine', muddies the waters and we are off to the races.

Wonderful British-isms abound - 'this will put the cat among the pigeons', 'tuck into the grapes', and 'on the shelf'. LeCarre's writing is brilliant, even in this early effort. It was a pleasure to read. The final paragraph is superb. Dig out your copy and give it another go.
Profile Image for Jemppu.
500 reviews91 followers
September 6, 2022
Le Carré's writing is based on respectably nuanced human tones. Here, even more than on the previous Smiley books I've read, the subtle brilliance in telling captivated. The introductory focus on the character and motivations of George Smiley got one notably more invested, than before.

Most rewarding of the Smiley books I've read yet.

4 to 5 stars.

Reading updates.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,210 reviews266 followers
March 3, 2017
'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 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' back in the 1970s. I subsequently loved the 2011 film adaptation directed by Tomas Alfredson, which I saw in the cinema, and rewatched a few weeks ago. Everything I have heard about the source material suggests joy and wonder would await and, I’m pleased to report, that’s exactly what I found.

Part of what is so marvellous about this book is how John le Carré allows the reader to enter Smiley’s mind and the slow, deliberate machinations as he grapples with complex problems. Frankly it’s wonderful. What a book.

‘If people tell me that I am a genre writer, I can only reply that spying was the genre of the cold war’ John le Carré

Like many brilliant writers, John le Carré is often pigeonholed as a spy or espionage genre writer, and therefore somehow less worthy (this critical sniffiness is often levelled at other wonderful writers who focus their books on crime or science fiction).

'Call for the Dead' is a really intelligent, beautifully written novel, and a great introduction to the Smiley books which I know will only get better and better.

I don’t why it has taken me so long to start reading John le Carré’s work but better late than never eh?

Profile Image for Bren.
814 reviews134 followers
January 25, 2020
No se puede evitar darse cuenta que se trata de un primer libro de una serie, de esos que están hechos para conocer al protagonista de la misma.

Un libro muy corto, si bien tiene una historia de persecución y donde podemos visualizar lo que será la serie, lo cierto es que se basa mucho en que los lectores conozcamos a Smily, como siempre John le Carré tiene un estilo que, está de más decir, muy suyo, muy prolijo y por supuesto a estas alturas después de medio siglo de que se publicó este libro, es por demás sabido de su éxito, sin embargo para quienes no hayan leído a este autor, me parece que este libro podría ser una buena manera de comenzar.

Por supuesto esta serie no la he leído y si bien este primer libro no es para nada para echar cohetes me ha gustado lo suficiente como para animarme con la serie.

Por supuesto le Carré y sus espías son casi tradición, así que si quieren viajar en el tiempo a la época de la guerra fría, pues este es su libro, nadie como este autor para esto, la verdad es que me ha gustado este libro, lo he leído literalmente en una sentada, no solamente es corto es que además es muy ágil.

Smily además no es el típico espía, es un hombre de avanzada edad, gordo y feo quién está a punto de jubilarse, sin contar que en esta ocasión al menos, ya veremos qué nos deparan las demás entregas, por lo pronto y tal vez por lo alejado del espía clásico, me ha gustado Smily.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,435 reviews828 followers
August 10, 2018
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.
296 reviews22 followers
November 6, 2020
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-threatening action thrown in. While not as compelling as I had hoped, this is still interesting enough that I will read more in the series.
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