85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
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.
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2011
I bought this on impulse a few years ago to give le Carre's spy stories another try, having only previously read The Honourable Schoolboy (HS) when it was first published. I could tell that HS was a well-written novel but can see now that it was not the place to start as there are so many resonances from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that I didn't understand and which I felt I need to know to understand what was going on. Call for the Dead made me realise what I was missing in not having read his novels and I have since gone on to read everything he has written (in order of publication) and incidentally come to appreciate The Honourable Schoolboy much more.
Call for the Dead is a short novel, more a detective story than a spy story, with a (relatively) less complex plot than le Carre's later novels. It brings us something of George Smiley's history, his love of things German, his notoriously wayward wife Ann whose presence or absence from his life is a theme running through the later novels, Peter Guillam and Inspector Mendel who will be so important in later stories. The characters are developing here but we do get the intelligent, thoughtful, decidedly unglamorous, somewhat detached Smiley who is often at odds with his superiors. A very good read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Read the book, many times. Love Le Carre and therefore biased. The audiobook read, I think, by the Author is also great. However this production, although abridged, is a delight. Listen to the play on a long car journey or just relax at home and listen as if a radio play (which it is) and the magic of the BBC production and Le Carres writing shine through.
Well worth it, even if I am an unashamed fan!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 16 November 2011
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.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2009
I last read Call for the Dead in the early 1970s when I was fourteen or fifteen. I have changed a great deal since then along with everything else, but my enjoyment of this compact spying whodunnit does not seem to have changed much in the intervening 35 years. The plot is intricate without being overcomplicated. The three murders, one attempted murder and, at the end, the death of a killer while resisting arrest are the main focus, not the characters.
The great George Smiley and his colleagues, Guillam and Mendel, are rather colourless. Elsa Fennan, a murder victim whose presence is felt throughout the book, is certainly not colourless, but bizarre. But the emphasis on action rather than characterisation is as it should be given the genre. The novel is of course well-written, though occasionally the descriptions of people and situations seemed overlong.
Part of the appeal for me is connected with the atmosphere of the familiar but dreary world of London and the home counties in the 1950s and 1960s: the trilby hats, membership of local repertory clubs and telephone numbers like Primrose 0098, alongside the more lasting landmarks of London and Whitehall. Le Carre makes this world at once mundane and sinister with the horrors of the Second World continuing to cast its shadows and the lurking threat of the then Communist block even making itself felt in respectable suburbia. This is the classic background to a Cold War spy novel which Le Carre excels at creating.
Call for the Dead was Le Carre's first published work. I read and greatly enjoyed his novels till the late 1970s, but I have found most of what he wrote afterwards heavy-going and sometimes a little portentous. The usual explanation I am given is the end of the Cold War, but the development of Le Carre's writing is also partly a reason.
The early Le Carre novels beginning with Call for the Dead should continue to be read, whether or not one shares my nostalgia for their subject-matter.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
NB: As is their wont, Amazon have unhelpfully bundled the reviews of various editions and formats of this title together. This review refers to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation.
The first in BBC Radio's ambitious dramatisations of all of John le Carre's George Smiley novels is, surprisingly, a genuine triumph. More faithful than the film adaptation The Deadly Affair (which had to change the character names because Paramount owned them as part of their deal for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), it benefits enormously from the device of Smiley's imaginary conversations with the wife who abandoned him, and the occasional interjections of those he works with allowing a counterpoint of factual information and self-critical imagination that gives the drama a real cut-and-thrust and sense of momentum.
A few scenes don't lend themselves to radio - an encounter with a killer literally on Smiley's doorstep, a vicious near-fatal beating and the quayside finale do suffer without visuals, the latter in particular falling into grunting sound effects - and one suporting performance as a small-time crook is overstated, to put it mildly. But they're minor caveats to a remarkably gripping and enthralling adaptation. Simon Russell Beale may lack Smiley's ruthlessness in later stories, but here he's at his best as a man beaten down by the disappointments of the world he's chosen to live in, while Eleanor Bron is superb as the disturbed wife of the dead politician.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2002
This is a fairly easy read, but a good one. It is an ideal introduction to both John le Carre and George Smiley. Although set in the cold war it is more of a detective novel than an espionage novel. Smiley sets out to discover why a routine and harmless security interview leads to suicide.