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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 August 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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on 31 December 2012
The quality of the booklet was poor, it appears to be part of an English lit exam, very disapointed in general with the product
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VINE VOICEon 15 June 2017
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
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on 19 June 2017
A really great read
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on 16 June 2016
John le Carre is fast becoming my favourite author. George Smiley IS Alec Guinness who will forever be linked to the BBC's TV adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Every time I read George Smiley I picture
Alec Guinness. I love the murkey world he lives in and as a retired police officer myself who worked alongside those within the secret service world find that John le Carre portrays the blurred values of such parallel entities in a way that only someone with his background could understand. If you like the novels read the recent biography. Having an understanding of the author himself only enhances the reading of his novels.
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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.
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First published back in 1961 this still makes for a riveting read. It starts with George Smiley being asked to interview a Samuel Fennan, who works for the Foreign Office. There has been an anonymous letter about Fennan and for security reasons a few questions need to be asked. For Smiley it is just routine and he feels that the meeting went okay with no problems – but then Fennan is found dead, apparently after killing himself.

With the police satisfied that it is suicide when Smiley visits the widow he finds that things don’t seem to quite add up. Thus starts a dangerous game in London with other people’s lives in danger, including Smiley himself. If you don’t as you read this get all the things that Smiley comes up with then don’t worry as there is his submitted report near the back.

A story of espionage and the dangers that those who play the game have to face this has a shot of realism. As George has to start thinking back to his past you will see how something that is pretty mundane can cause catastrophic results just because of paranoia. After all we are playing the game of spies here, one that is still as old and dangerous as ever, especially here with the Cold War raging.

As there is a mystery of whether Samuel Fennan killed himself or was murdered this is also suitable for crime readers as well as spy thriller readers, and also as this is not too long makes for a quick exciting read.
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Reading the biography of John le Carré earlier this month has sent me back to re-read the novels, starting with this one, first published more than fifty years ago. Compared to his later books, it's more like a murder mystery than a spy story, although it establishes George Smiley (hero of more elaborately complex books such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) in its opening pages as a clever man with a disappointed emotional life. Characters and settings are assuredly sketched in: Guillam is "the kind of friendly spirit who always has a timetable and a penknife" [p17], whilst the people Smiley sees through his Chelsea window include "leggy Kensington girls going shopping with beautiful young men in pale blue pullovers [and] the car-cleaning brigade toiling happily in front of their houses, then drifting away to talk motoring shop and finally setting off purposely down the road for the first pint of the week-end" [p123]. It's a well-written, confident debut with an interesting and gripping plot which doesn't take long to read, but is nonetheless rewarding.

[A very minor mystery which came to light during this latest re-reading is why the name of the Oxford district of Holywell has been spelt with an extra l on p90 - a slip-up which has apparently survived to the latest printing of the book.]
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on 16 May 2008
This is Le Carre's first novel, and for anyone who loves his George Smiley books this is a most enjoyable introduction to him. In comparison with his later work, this has a slightly amateurish feel to it but that shouldn't spoil the pleasure. It's a good story, full of intelligence, character and with a dash of humour. It was first published in 1961 and therefore it has a certain "period" charm. Telephone numbers have 4 digits, espresso coffee is spoken of as a sophisticated treat, and actresses say "Gosh". It's a thoroughly pleasurable read, and at about 150 pages you can finish the whole thing in an evening.
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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.
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