Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99. If you like to start at the beginning of a series, this is the first of the George Smiley novels.
I really hate reading books out of order. When I decided to read a Le Carré novel, Call for the Dead was not available as an audiobook or kindle book. But with the publicity from the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie, many of Le Carré’s novels are coming back into print or moving to digital formats.
Over Christmas I picked up the first two novels in the series from an Audible.com sale. I knew going in that the reputation of these books is that while they are interesting back story to George Smiley, they are not Le Carré’s best work. He originally wrote them while working as a real spy and it was only after his third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, took off that Le Carré became a full time author.
This is the third of Le Carré’s novels that I have read. In the series I started with the third book, which only has George Smiley as a marginal character. Then I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which brings Smiley back to the center stage (and re-sets the timeline from the first two books making Smiley about 10 years younger).
In Call for the Deal, Smiley is working as a fairly low level intelligence officer that primarily works on security clearances. When an intelligence officer that Smiley had recently cleared (after an anonymous tip) turns up as a suicide soon after Smiley interviewed him, Smiley works with the local cop assigned to the case to uncover the truth.
After Smiley narrowly avoids being killed twice, he resigns from his job and goes into hiding while trying to figure out what is really going on.
I think Le Carré is an author that many will not like. You have to read the book not really knowing what is going on most of the time. I have listened to all of these on audio and really need to read one in print to get a different experience of Le Carré. In audio, the book keep moving whether you know what is going on or not. I think that works well for my reading style, but it will annoy many others.
Smiley has the problem of being able to intuitively figure out what is going on. There are huge leaps that are only explained by Smiley’s intuition (and then you only get the full explanation at the end of the book). In many ways I prefer this to the Sherlock Holmes style deductive reasoning. But it is no easier to really follow along or figure out the story before it unfolds.
In someways this is not unlike the difference between watching an instructional cooking show (where you are invited to watch someone teach you how to do something) vs. watching a competitive cooking show (where you are simply watching someone with skill you cannot match.) If you read mysteries in order to solve the crime yourself, you probably will not like Le Carré. If you read mysteries or spy novels because you like to watch the action unfold, then pick these up.
I agree that Call for the Dead is not the best of the Smiley novels. And I probably would recommend reading them in the order that I did. That means that you have to go back and catch up, but it also means that you read the better books first.