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The very first novel by John le Carre. The 1950s Cold War setting may not suit everyone. And it is more of a murder mystery than an espionage story. But a good read for his fans, and those interested in literature of that period. "A Murder of Quality" was written around the same time, and it is also a murder mystery (solved by Smiley) with no espionage element.
I read praises about the the Smiley series and decided to give it a try when I found out the hit novels The Spy Who Came in from the Cold & Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy were installments of it. I've had devoured John le Carré's The Night Manager previously which is easily an offbeat thriller, and so decided to give this a try. This is a quick read but is nothing like a dime thriller, and just when you think you have managed to second guess things, you'll find out your theories are embarrassingly wrong. I felt as if the writer was saying, "Yeah, well, keep trying."
This was the first of the George Smiley stories, set in Britain during the late 50s I would imagine. When talking in money terms, it is old pounds and shillings. It also has a wonderfully atmospheric feel of Retro London and a good old foggy pea souper.
I had read the Karla trilogy of George Smiley which takes place in the 1970s. I also read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in which George Smiley has a minor role. That is set in the 60s. Therefore, I was compelled to learn more of this wonderful character called George Smiley - a cultured and, perhaps, rather snobby English gentleman who works in the British Secret Service.
George Smiley is given a fine introduction in the first chapter, allowing the reader to know all about his beginnings and how he is a rather reserved yet intelligent man - quiet and polite with a softly spoken educated English manner. In some ways, most people might find George Smiley boring – a short tubby man with white hair and glasses when the story actually begins. He is middle aged and has been taken for a ride by his estranged and beautiful wife. No one who knew the Smileys could understand how such a marriage union could have happened in the first place.
We have this boring reserved man (George Smiley) whose wife has run off with a dashing Latin lover. This adventurous lover drives motor racing cars and lives in Cuba. Yet despite all of this, somehow this hopelessly smitten man (George Smiley) is our great hero with a modesty and vulnerability that makes him appear hopelessly week. He is a contradictory type of hero with a certain type of negative view of the world. He trusts virtually no one and has a gift for seeing deep inside people and the ability to keep everything to himself. When he does pick friends or confidants they are rare but usually well chosen. He works in an old and drab London office among clerical staff that all seem equally as cheerless. However, once the story gets going, these dull grey offices and the dreary corridors fade into obscurity. Suddenly, the dower and softly spoken English gentleman will become anything but monotonous.
George Smiley is an absolute peach of a British Agent who can decipher and adapt to his opponents well - very well indeed. In this wonderful story, we are introduced to Smiley for the first time as he tackles the suicide of a colleague and the subsequent involvement of East German field agents. Our little tubby man investigates and unravels with great aplomb. This is an absolute peach of a read and I would highly recommend this first George Smiley story.
I read this book a few years ago. I had decided to read all John Le Carre's books in order and did so. I seem to recall my first time read as an enjoyable experience. This second outing probably has been better. The book was on a Kindle deal at £0.99 pence and I was quite happy to revisit at that price. Mr Le Carre is very very good at what he does. That is make a tangled web and unravel it along the way. He is a master really and truly. His prose in this book is first class and easy to read, not too many big words or over long chapters, just the job. The story itself is most believable, the characters quite real. George Smiley tells us all we need to know about himself for later books. I think I would have been content to pay full price to read this book again. But at £0.99 pence it was a real deal.
This first George Smiley novel—also the first for John le Carre—is not a spy novel really, but more like a murder mystery with spies in it.
You see, Smiley is ordered to conduct a routine security check on Samuel Fennan, and, since he sees no serious concerns in Fennan's past—just a little harmless wartime flirtation with communism—he reassures Fennan and they part in friendly fashion. But soon Fennan is pronounced a suicide, and Fennan's wife Elsa claims that, after his interview with Smiley, her husband was unusually despondent. The higher ups want to stick Smiley with the blame for a botched interview and move on, but Smiley, who is not convinced this is a sucide, becomes even less convinced when he answers the phone in Fennan's flat and receives a “reminder call” Fennan arranged with his service. It just doesn't make sense. Why would a person who intends to commit suicide one a specific night arrange for a reminder call for the morning after?
Since this is a first novel, it has its flaws. For example, Smiley and Police Inspector Mendel are both used as third-person viewpoint characters, but Mendel's first appearance as viewpoint is disorienting, since it is far enough into the novel that we have identified ourselves with Smiley completely, and le Carre has not used any of the novelistic tricks that would make such a transition less confusing and more effective. Also, although le Carre's acerbic descriptions of many of the streets of London are precise and entertaining, they are sometimes too long, and thus retard the action and dissipate the suspense.
Still, Smiley is an intriguing narrator, the characters of Elsa Fennan, Inspector Mendel, and the shady car dealer Adam Scarr are lifelike and convincing, and the final confrontation and chase, in a small London theatre and in the surrounding streets, is suspenseful and exciting.
If you want to know where it all started. How George Smiley came into this world, How his story has spanned television and feature films, this book is for you. It’s a neat, short thriller that introduces you to characters that you will want to meeting again, as I guarantee you will be captivated by this wonderful author. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is his best espionage book and arguably the best spy novel of the period ever written. Call For The Dead is relatively humble in comparison, but it’s a tight well crafted story and, most importantly, it’s where George Smiley’s story starts. Read this and order Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy while you’re at it.
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.