Audiobook Review: “Call for the Dead” By John le Carré

call for the dead

“Call for the Dead”

By John le Carré

Read by Michael Jayston

Published by Penguin Audio

Approx. 5 hours


Why not a spy novel?  That’s exactly what I was thinking when I was going through my stack of audiobooks yet to be heard.  As my answer I picked up this release from Penguin Audio.  I don’t think I’ve ever actually sat down with a spy novel and wasn’t sure what I was going to get.  What I did get was a nice short novel that to my surprise was originally published in 1961, and just recently released in audiobook form from Penguin.


As I listened to the first disc in this book I was completely lured into the story by the smooth voice of Michael Jayston.  Jayston narrates the book and has such great vocal control that he can narrate the story and portray the characters within their dialogue to keep the listener focused on the story.


I found out that “Call for the Dead” is John le Carré’s first novel, which surprised me because of the seamless dialogue and storyline make the book seem as though he had been writing about this character forever.  This book introduces George Smiley, the most famous of le Carré’s recurring characters, and the recurring fictional version of British Intelligence, called “the Circus” because of its location in Cambridge Circus, that is apparently based on MI6.


Foreign Office civil servant Samuel Fennan apparently commits suicide after a routine security check by Circus agent George Smiley. Smiley had interviewed and cleared Fennan only days previously after an anonymous accusation; however, Circus head of service Maston sets up Smiley to be blamed for Fennan’s death. While interviewing Fennan’s wife Elsa in her home, Smiley answers the telephone, expecting a call from the Circus for him. Instead, it is a wake-up call from the local exchange, but Elsa seems surprised by it.


Smiley then meets Inspector Mendel, a police officer on the verge of retirement who is investigating the Fennan case, and finds out through him that the wake-up call had been specially requested by Fennan the night before. When Elsa later tells Smiley that she requested the call from the exchange (which Smiley knows to be false), he tells Mendel and Maston. However, Maston unequivocally orders Smiley to refrain from any further investigation into Fennan’s death. Back in his office, Smiley receives a letter posted by Fennan the night before, requesting an urgent meeting that day. Believing that Fennan was murdered to prevent the meeting, Smiley promptly resigns from the Circus and attaches his resignation to Fennan’s letter, which he forwards to Maston.


Together, Mendel and Smiley uncover an elaborate ring of East German spies and their network.  The case does come to be closed but it does open a new future for Smiley, who becomes the focus of many more John le Carré novels.