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Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel by…

Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel (original 1961; edition 2012)

by John le Carre

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1,804613,882 (3.64)95
Title:Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel
Authors:John le Carre
Info:Penguin Books (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Read in 2014

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Call for the Dead by John le Carré (1961)



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I had the good fortune to hear John Le Carre speak at an awards ceremony I attended earlier this week at the German Embassy. He spoke well about the importance of learning foreign languages, international co-operation and friendship and the catastrophic foolishness of Brexit. In consequence, I decided to try another of his novels, this is his first one, featuring George Smiley, but clearly not as well known as some of his later ones that have been made into film or other adaptations. While Call for the Dead contained the usual moral dilemmas of the spy, in this case a German Jew who had lived in Britain before the war, was persecuted by the Nazis, then spied for East Germany, I found it difficult to care for any of the characters. Oddly perhaps, I think I find novels written in (in this case) 1961 sometimes more dated and harder to get into than novels written much earlier. I recognise he is a great author, though. 3/5 ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 15, 2017 |
John Le Carre's first and short novel introduces some key characters (Smiley, Guillam, Mendel, and indirectly the vivacious or is that voracious 'Anne'?) that would feature in much more engrossing future narratives, but this is the example of a developing thriller-story writing talent that would see the author become the late 20th Century master of British spy-intelligence stories. ( )
  tommi180744 | Aug 11, 2016 |
As I begin the last quarter of a year in which I have spent a lot of time slogging through a lot of big, bloated genre novels and their big, bloated sequels, there is something tonic and refreshing about a short, tightly plotted mid-20th century number like this one that very likely renders my enjoyment entirely out of proportion to the actual book's quality.

But perhaps not.

George Smiley has become an iconic character, at least in my little corner of the world, even without my ever having encountered him directly and consciously before now.* Tom Ripley was much the same for me, until my fangirl passion for Wim Wenders and Bruno Ganz led me to discover The American Friend, which featured Dennis Hopper as Ripley, a Ripley to which no other performance shall ever measure up, and I proceeded to gobble up all of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels in quick succession, to rush to acquire them in collectible hardcover, the better to gloat over them in my barrister bookcase...

I suspect I'll be doing the same with John le Carre, too.

Call for the Dead spends a lot of its time sort of slyly masquerading as a cozy mystery, with Smiley, ordinarily an operative for the British Secret Service in a very low key sort of way, filling the amateur detective role. A Foreign Office employee whom Smiley interviewed pro forma after an anonymous letter had identified the man as a former Communist has overreacted to said interview and killed himself in a fit of despair -- or has he? As the mystery unravels and a trail of bodies is found, a dashing and charismatic frenemy from Smiley's past surfaces. Watching Smiley sort all of this out in his methodical, thoughtful, occultly brilliant way is a genuine pleasure; so is watching his friends, one in the police and one fellow spy.

But it is the grieving widow who steals the show, as such. Elsa Feenan, Holocaust survivor, pragmatist, broken yet still strong, is a riveting figure from her first scene with Smiley, in which she effortlessly teases out his own anxieties about what he does and how he does it:

"It's like the State and the People. The state is a dream too, a symbol of nothing at all, an emptiness, a mind without a body, a game played with clouds in the sky. But States make war, don't they, and imprison people. To dream in doctrines -- how tidy! My husband and I have both been tidied now, haven't we?"

This coming just pages after a summary of Smiley's career -- which started out in the days when the spy trade barely was one, was just a loose affiliation of smart and careful people who had the wisdom to see that action on the front of a war cannot be the only action, and continued, perhaps a bit uncomfortably, into the age of professionalization and bureaucracy -- is devastating. And that scene is hardly her only bravura performance. I find myself wishing le Carre had written a series of Elsa Feenan novels in addition to, if not instead of, the Smiley ones.

But that's how good chronicles should go, isn't it? We'd tire quickly of a series in which Our Hero/point of view character is relentlessly and only what our attention is drawn to; he or she must have foes and foils, must encounter other equally interesting (if not more interesting) characters in his adventures. And by this reckoning, these Smiley novels are quickly going to become compulsive reading favorites right up there with Ripley novels, and Sharpe novels, and Aubrey/Maturin novels, and Miriam Black novels.


*I saw snatches of some film adaptations of Smiley novels when I was still a kid at home with my parents, but only sort of paid attention to them. Oh look, Obi-Wan is playing some sort of spy chap. Yawn. Small smile for Mom, who is enjoying the film, back to the pages of whatever Michael Moorcock or Jack Chalker or Piers Anthony mega-series had my real attention at the time. Ah, teenagers. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
I have just finished "Call for the Dead". It is an excellent story. It is the first book written by David Cornwell under the name of John Le Carré. He would have been an intelligence officer himself at the time of writing this novel.

The book introduces Mr. Smiley whom some of you will know is the main character in some of Le Carré's later novels, such as "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Smiley's People". Smiley is portrayed superbly by Alec Guinness in the BBC's dramatizations of "Tinker, Tailor..." and "Smiley's People".

"Call for the Dead" brought me back to my boyhood, a time when fog was fog and the word smog hadn't been invented. It was the days of coal fires in every house, Bakelite telephones that rang with the sound of bells, men wore hats all the time, flying with an airline meant you had a physical ticket that you bought in a travel agents, etc... Yes, nostalgic.

Le Carré's books are always full of spy-craft and clever observations of human beings, their deceptions and their weaknesses. "Call for the Dead" is no exception. ( )
1 vote pgmcc | Apr 19, 2016 |
The first le Carré I have read. An excellent and thoroughly British spy mystery. ( )
  kale.dyer | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
His Zimmer frame in overdrive, Smiley sprinted after Dieter and cornered him by the Thames. "So?" Smiley said. "So?" Dieter replied, before allowing the much older, much weaker man push him into the river.

Smiley sat down, exhausted and overwhelmed by a need to recap in case some readers still hadn't quite gathered what was going on. And this time he would make it even easier for them by writing them in bullet points. 1. It was Elsa who was the spy. 2. Sam had become suspicious and was going to denounce her. 3. Dieter...

"Well I'm glad that's all cleared up without the Press being involved," cried Maston cheerily. "I take it we can tear up your resignation letter?"
On balance Smiley thought he could. It was true there had been a number of rough edges. Some of the plotting had rather stretched credulity and the characterisation had been thinner than he hoped. But it was a more than decent start and his career as Alec Guinness was under way.
added by John_Vaughan | editGuardian UK, John Crace (Aug 9, 2012)
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When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary.
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Disambiguation notice
Call for the Dead was reissued in 1966 under the title The Deadly Affair to coincide with the release of the Sidney Lumet film with this title. The film starred James Mason as George Smiley, Harry Andrews as Mendel, Maximilian Schell as Frey and Simone Signoret as Elsa Fennan.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743431677, Paperback)

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...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:45 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"George Smiley is no one's idea of a spy--which is why he's such a natural. But Smiley apparently made a mistake when he concluded that the affable Mr. Fennan had nothing to hide. Why, then, did the man from the Foreign Office shoot himself in the head only hours later? Or did he?"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141198281, 0241962218

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An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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