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Call for the Dead [Paperback]

John le Carré
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Nov 2011

The first of his peerless novels of Cold War espionage and international intrigue, Call for the Dead is also the debut of John le Carré'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 for the man's death, he begins his own investigation, meeting with Fennan's widow to find out what could have led him to such desperation. But on the very day that Smiley is ordered off the enquiry he receives an urgent letter from the dead man. Do the East Germans - and their agents - know more about this man's death than the Circus previously imagined? Le Carré's first book, Call for the Dead, introduced the tenacious and retiring George Smiley in a gripping tale of espionage and deceit.

John le Carré was born in 1931 and attended the universities of Bern and Oxford. He taught at Eton and served briefly in British Intelligence during the Cold War. For the last 50 years he has lived by his pen. He divides his time between London and Cornwall.

If you enjoyed Call for the Dead, you might like le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'Intelligent, thrilling, surprising ... makes most cloak-and-dagger stuff taste of cardboard'

Sunday Telegraph

'Brilliant. Realistic. Constant suspense'


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Call for the Dead + A Murder of Quality (Penguin Modern Classics) + The Looking Glass War (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (3 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141198281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141198286
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John le Carré was born in 1931. His third novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, secured him a wide reputation which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE. His other novels include THE CONSTANT GARDENER, A MOST WANTED MAN and OUR KIND OF TRAITOR.

Product Description


Brilliant. Realistic. Constant suspense (Observer)

Intelligent, thrilling, surprising ... makes most cloak-and-dagger stuff taste of cardboard (Sunday Telegraph)

Book Description

A wonderful new hardback package for le Carré's first novel --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His name's Smiley. George Smiley... 10 Aug 2009
This is the book which started it all; the gripping series of intrigue, betrayal and an examination of human nature which has become the ultimate espionage collection.
This is the first of Le Carre's books and it contains the secret origin of George Smiley AND a rippingly good little espionage mystery. It introduces Mundt, too, who becomes rather more important in later novels. Le Carre set out to provide an antidote to Ian Fleming's James Bond, and Smiley truly is the thinking person's hero; a man who considers everything, fluffs sudden decisions, can be nakedly human when it comes to the woman he loves -- and chillingly calculating in achieving his other goals.
It's also a really taut thriller, not like modern gargantuan monsters of 900-odd pages. Back in 1960-something, Le Carre could cram an encyclopedia of insight into a single sentence. It's also fascinating to find that although written nearly half a century ago, 'Call For The Dead' is just as compelling as modern fiction can be. As a fan of 'period spy stories', the books of Alan Furst being high on that list, I'm delighted to discover that the originals are every bit as good.
Two hours of reading bliss.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read if you like his work. 23 Oct 2007
As always, meticulous plotted with some strong observations in terms of character. I wrote this review in disgust at one of the reviewers on here who thought that it was too far fetched that a spy would join an amateur dramatic society to meet with a contact. They should stick to James Bond, which is far removed from the real world of esponiage. Le Carre's spy writing generally does not embellish on the technical wizardry of the CIA, instead relying on character and human nature to sell itself to the reader. It is far more realistic than other novels, showing that spying is more mundane than the stereotypical Hollywood or James Bond image. This is what makes Le Carre's work more humane, and that is true of Call for the Dead, which delves deeply into the pysche of the dead man and his wife. One of the most memorable bits of the book for me is the way that Smiley deals with someone in his house who has been sent to murder him; almost the anti-Bond you might say! Well worth the purchase price.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Le Carre's first novel sees the introduction of George Smiley who would later become the pivotal hero of so many of the author's works. Here the introduction embellishes the reader with swathes of detail of Smiley's background, as he investigates the mysterious death of a Foreign Office worker, Samuel Fennan, whose passing is shrouded in mystery.

Arguably closer to a murder mystery than a spy story, Le Carre's initial foray into novel writing is a clear marker for his punchy style to come.

In the context of other works this acts as a bit of background, especially as his 3rd book, the superior The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Modern Classics), often references "the Fennan Case". It also provides the first glimpse at Smiley and actually offers much more information on Smiley's heritage than is later provided in other works.

As a stand alone work though, the story is a little short and the plot is not overly developed but the signs of Le Carre are certainly there and the brevity is therefore unsurprising.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is the first of a series of BBC adaptations of all John Le Carre's Smiley books, starring Simon Russell Beale as Smiley. Unlike the other reviewers I've never read the book, so cannot comment on textual accuracy.

The story introduces us to George Smiley, the devious, cunning and ruthless spy who presents an image of bumbling donnish eccentricity to the world. The story centres around the fall out from the suicide of a man who was suspected of being a spy, but cleared by Smiley only hours before his death. An incendiary suicide note raises questions about Smiley's own conduct, he must investigate not only to get to the real truth, but also to clear his own name. Things soon get deep and dark, as layers of obfuscation are peeled back to reveal a conspiracy that has its roots in Smiley's own past activities in pre-war Germany.

This is really a gripping listen. As with all Le Carre novels there is a rich, complex atmosphere of paranoia, coupled with a twisting, turning plot. The actors really give of their best to bring the characters to life, especially Beale, who evokes memories of Alec Guinness, but manages to put his own stamp on the role. Plaudits must also go to Kenneth Cranham as the practical and worldly Mendel, a Special Branch officer who gets drawn into Smiley's investigations.

The sound production is similarly well done, the whole thing really evokes the feeling of clammy foggy London, with the furtive, paranoid world of the protagonists.

There are two hour long episodes, each on a separate disc, in a normal size jewel case. There are limited liner notes with a short essay about Le Carre and a cast list.

This is a quality production, I look forward to hearing the others in the series.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive debut. 26 Sep 1999
The first of Le Carre's novels, this marks the fictional debut of George Smiley. This is a downbeat and perhaps slightly parochial tale played out in an early-sixties London really still recovering from World War 2. Smiley is at the nadir of his career; moved sideways into security clearing civil servants. Why does one of the men he interviews commit suicide? The investigation leads Smiley back through his own past as an agent and through the early Cold War.
A novel which has much to say about post-war Britain, about the frailty of human relationships in the Great Game of espionage, but its main interest is in the way it establishes the character of George Smiley.
A few inconsistencies with the later novels - in particular, Peter Guillam is presented as a near-contemporary of Smiley's, whereas he is later reinvented as a younger man.
On the whole, an excellent debut, setting the tone for the later novels.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
just the job for bedtime listening
Published 3 hours ago by Helen McLellan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book great service
Published 6 days ago by Bill Norman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 16 days ago by christopher middleton
5.0 out of 5 stars A blast from the past ‒ for both of us
"Smiley was no material for promotion and it dawned on him gradually that he had entered middle age without ever being young, and that he was ‒ in the nicest possible way ‒ on the... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Joseph Haschka
5.0 out of 5 stars First but fantastic
I was not expecting his 1st novel to be this good. But it was a great read. It didn't last long as I couldn't put it down.
Published 1 month ago by richard staines
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly perfect novel of its genre
I have read Smileys story in the wrong order, starting with tinker tailor and yet I don't feel like I could have loved this more
Published 1 month ago by katherinemma
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Starter for Smiley'
After Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the first instalment of the seminal so-called 'Karla Trilogy') brought John le Carre's owlish spy George Smiley to reluctant national attention,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Scaroth, Last of the Jagaroth
4.0 out of 5 stars An insight into time past
Having read Tinker, Taylor and Smiley's People years ago, I finally got around to reading this. I am glad I did. It gave valuable background to where Smiley came from. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dougie
3.0 out of 5 stars a curiosity to introduce Smiley
The first George Smiley novel, and less skilled and complex than the later ones. Well written, of course, but with little of the subtlety we've come to expect. For fans only.
Published 4 months ago by Miss Walsh
1.0 out of 5 stars Boaring
I find that reading John le Carré is like reading a dictionary , his story line , if that is what I should call it , just goes on and on and he plays his characters to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Fred
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