Call for the Dead by John le Carré

25345317George 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…

This is the first John le Carré novel I have read, inspired by seeing his name seemingly everywhere I looked in early September thanks to the publication of his memoirs.  He isn’t an author I had given much thought to before then, though his name recognition is huge and I know I have seen more than one film and TV show based on his books.  Spies, though, don’t normally do it for me reading wise so there was always limited appeal.  Still, I was intrigued and the library had a copy of Call for the Dead, the first book featuring possibly his most famous character George Smiley…I decided to give it a go.

Now that I’m done, I can’t say I am any more enamoured of the spy novel but I did enjoy the book and wouldn’t shy away from reading more Le Carré in the future.  Despite being published into 1961 it didn’t feel dated.  Le Carré has a pretty clean, simple, writing style (though I understand it gets more wordy as his books go on) and there were references to modern life which could just have easily been made nowadays…

“The Weybridge road was packed with traffic as usual.  Mendal hated motorists. Give a man a car of his own and he leaves humanity and common sense behind him in the garage. He didn’t care who it was – he’d seen bishops in purple doing seventy in a built-up area, frightening pedestrians out of their wits”

George Smiley also wasn’t what I expected (though I did struggle to not picture him as Alec Guinness).  He was more flawed and much less suave than a spy should be.  His flaws were work related – he doesn’t always get it right – and personal – he has no friends and his wife has left him by the end of the first page of the book.  That, though, makes him more real.  And it makes the life of a spy seem much less glamorous.

The story itself seemed simple enough on the surface – Smiley hadn’t caught a spy and his bosses wanted to know why – but it’s gets pretty complicated pretty quickly.  There are twists and turns, bluffs and double-bluffs all the way through, meaning I was wrong-footed a few times before I finally figured out just what was going on.  Other than Smiley most characters aren’t too well developed and did feel a little stereotypical – there to move the plot along – though detective Mendal is pretty solid; he’s also a decent man, which I liked.

This didn’t bother me too much though as I thought it was a clever plot that kept me turning pages.  As I said, not my normal reading material, but still I liked this one and would recommend it to others.




  1. le Carre is a name I’ve seen around for years but have never tried anything by him. This does sound interesting and worth picking up. I’ve been reading Ian Fleming’s books and have been surprised by how imperfect Bond actually is as compared to most of the movies (pre-Craig) where he seems like a super-hero. I need to add this to my TBR.


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