Call For The Dead by John LeCarré

Call for the Dead coverMy sweetie found this one on the free table at the local library. I’m a big John LeCarré fan, but I had never read this one. A Call For the Dead was LeCarré’s first novel from 1961. It’s also the novel that introduces George Smiley for the first time. Right on the first page of the chapter one we get to know Smiley in this unforgettable line, “Short, fat and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes, which hung about his squat frame like skin on a shrunken toad.” What powerful language to introduce your protagonist.

Over eight pages, we learn of all Smiley’s history, how he got to be a spy, worked in Germany under the cover of an exchange scholar to recruit agents for the British, how he was called back to London when his cover had worn off, and how he started preparing for retirement by checking up on high civil servants to make sure they aren’t spying for the Communists.

And that gets the story started. One of the people he interviewed, Fennan, commits suicide the morning after the interview leaving a note that complains about being under a cloud of suspicion. Smiley is surprised since he ended the interview by telling the Foreign Office man, who had been denounced in an anonymous letter, that the allegations in the letter were unfounded and that he’d be cleared.

Smiley’s boss doesn’t want any trouble with the foreign office and wants to put the affair behind them. Smiley is sent to speak to the dead man’s wife. While there, the telephone rings. Smiley expects a call and answers. But it’s the telephone company calling with a reminder that had been ordered the night before. Fennan’s wife tells him she ordered the reminder, but doesn’t seem very credible.

The call puts Smiley on the path to solving this apparent suicide. In the process, Smiley’s past in Germany comes back to haunt him. It’s a neat and twisted mystery novel, a harbinger of future master pieces to come.

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