Call For The Dead by John le Carré

Call For The Dead by John le Carré
Call for the Dead by John le Carré. This edition Penguin Classics, 2012

John le Carré is probably best known for his cold war spy novels, particularly Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, but his career started with Call For The Dead. This is the book that introduces us to George Smiley, le Carré’s protagonist for many of his earlier novels, and unlike later novels such as the aforementioned The Spy Who Came In From The Cold this book is less of a spy novel and more of a mystery thriller.

Given that Call For The Dead was published in the decade after James Bond made his debut in print the casual reader could be forgiven for thinking that le Carré’s work comes across as somewhat pedestrian when compared to Fleming’s more popular secret agent. However, whereas Bond was effectively an early template of the action hero, complete with an unambiguous moral compass, George Smiley presents more of a morally complex character, along with a much more complex narrative.

It’s this complexity that I like, and while I don’t personally consider this particular novel to be as good as some of the later George Smiley books I still found it to be gripping and readable. I read a few of the later novels when I was younger, but this was the first time I’d turned my attention to Call For The Dead. I can’t say I was disappointed.

I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to round out their exposure to classic spy novels. If you’re a fan of the classic James Bond action hero style spy stories then you may find this one a little slower than what you’re used to but I’m sure if you stick with it you’ll soon understand why le Carré is still considered by some to be one of the greatest spy writers of all time.

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