Review Tuesday: Call for the Dead by John Le Carre

I am not a huge mystery reader, mostly because I am a huge chicken shit and get scared way too easily. Thus, reading about someone looking for a killer usually doesn’t go over very well – especially at night. However, I decided to give John Le Carre a try because I really enjoyed the movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

After I watched the movie, I realized that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is actually book 5 in the George Smiley series, and so began my quest to start the series. I’ve now read the first two books in the series – Call for the Dead, and A Murder of Quality, but this review is about Call for the Dead. call for the dead

From Goodreads:

“John le Carré classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him — and his hero, British Secret Service Agent George Smiley, who is introduced in this, his first novel — unprecedented worldwide acclaim.

George 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…”

The first thing that I liked about this book was that it was intelligent. I find that in my very sparse perusal of the mystery genre, and my much more in depth look at tv shows that things get dumbed down quickly for the reader/viewer. Not so in this book. You either keep up and figure it out or you fall behind. Some people wouldn’t like that, but I did. I found myself having to flip back to reread parts of scenes because I missed things.

I also found the story engaging. To be fair, this is a book about spies, and I love reading about spies and espionage. (I would make a terrible spy – I can never keep my mouth shut – but I really enjoy reading about them.) But, I found this story fascinating in terms of the time period, who was leaking what secrets, and trying to guess who the spy was. I did end up guessing correctly before the end, but I wasn’t 100% sure I was right until the very end.

The story is a little slow in pacing and there is a lot of quiet build up to the climax. But it’s one of the things I liked about the book because it was the ordinary things that mattered in figuring out who the spy was. The tiny details mattered. And so to catch those tiny details you plod along with the main characters who are looking for them.

At the very end of the book Smiley writes a report to his superiors outlining the case and what happened, which is essentially a way for the author to explain everything to the reader in case he/she missed something. I was really glad that it was there because I did end up missing one or two of those tiny details that later built into something larger, so it was nice to get everything straight in my head at the end.

I really like George Smiley as a character, and I definitely picture him as Gary Oldman because I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy first before I read any of the books, but that works for me. George Smiley is someone you want on your team when it comes to espionage because he isn’t concerned with playing politics and only about figuring out the truth, what has happened, and doing his job to the best of his ability.

If spies and espionage are your thing then this is definitely a series that you need to check out.


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