An unabridged reading by Michael Jayston of John le Carré’s first novel, which introduced his most famous character, George Smiley.
Smiley is one of the most brilliantly realised characters in British fiction. Bespectacled, tubby, eternally middle-aged, and deceptively ordinary, he has a mind like a steel trap and is said to possess ‘the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin’.
This novel, set in London in the late 1950s, finds Smiley engaged in the humdrum job of security vetting. But when a Foreign Office civil servant commits suicide after an apparently unproblematic interview, Smiley is baffled. Refusing to believe that Fennan shot himself soon after making a cup of cocoa and asking the exchange to telephone him in the morning, Smiley decides to investigate – only to uncover a murderous conspiracy with its roots in his own secret wartime past.
©1962 David Cornwell (P)2014 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd.
"A refreshing change"
First venture into the world of George Smiley, good to start at the very inception of his character.
The 4 * is because despite the narrator being amiable there was at times difficulty in distinguishing which character was speaking. You have to really 'listen' intently to the narrative to follow the plot. Perhaps because of the style of narration I found myself rewinding the story quite a bit on numerous occasions. This said, I did enjoy the story and am happily listening to the next installment read by the same chap. I've tuned into him now!
George Smiley - not quite sure what to make of him yet, he reminds me a bit of C J Sansoms Shardlake character; beguiling but with an underlying intrigue, I like him, I hope that he develops as a character throughout the books, that we get to know more about him.
The length of the story is just right, I generally enjoy 20hr plus novels but it has been quite refreshing to partake of this short book.
Recommended - yes
An easy listen - not necessarily and certainly not for when you are tired.
"Classic murder mystery"
I started listening to John le Carre with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (another book which I can thoroughly recommend) and i've become addicted to him. This, his first book, is a great read/listen and a much easier one than Tinker Tailor, albeit just as engrossing. I would highly recommend it.
"Engrossing from beginning to end"
Meeting George Smiley again after a number of years is like running into a dear old friend. A friend who you take at face value with all his foibles because time has taught you he will not let you down. Le Carre draws you into the tale from the very beginning and then there's no stopping .
"Good story, great narration"
Call for the Dead is the first John Le Carre/Smiley novel that I have listened to and, based on this, will definitely be purchasing more. It is an entertaining, compact spy story with great central characters. My enjoyment of it was further increased by the excellent narrator who perfectly performs all of the characters, George Smiley especially.
"Call for the Dead"
Another John le Carré novel that I would recommend unreservedly. I have read other le Carré novels first that were far more epic in nature but enjoyed that this story started off in a far more subtle way gradually bring the characters we love into focus.
In some audio books I find I have to try to ignore the fact that the narrator only seems to be able to do one voice for a dozen different characters or uses a tone/accent that seems completely at odds with the story itself. In this version the narrator is in perfect keeping with the atmosphere of the book bringing the characters and story to life in a way which in my opinion is comparable with the BBC dramatizations.
"A great beginning!"
As the first LeCarre I was a little trepidatious, fearing a weak first novel. But this was a cracker. Excellently read and with a sense of tone and atmosphere which drew me in to a nicely complex plot, not overdone or hard to follow but gripping and engaging.
The first George Smiley novel which is worth listening to for the back story alone. Set at the dawn of the cold war as the first east european intelligence networks are developing, it feels much more of a period piece; telephone exchanges, cockney car dealers and amateur theatre companies. However, in this early novel, we can John le Carres lift this spy story far above a penny thriller through his ability to paint psycological complexity and claustrophobic atmosphere.
"A book that launched a career"
This 1961 novel was Le Carre’s first. It was an instant success and introduced the literary world to George Smiley. It contrasted starkly with the action packed, ruthless, gun totting macho heroes found in James Bond stories. Instead, it portrayed spies as bureaucratic types with academic rather than physical prowess. Smiley’s world is often mundane, even boring, but also peppered with flashes of inspiration and luck. Similarly, his colleagues are not drawn from an elite SAS team, but seem to have all the normal foibles of normal people. If Fleming’s Bond was a hare then LeCarre’s counterpart of Smiley was definitely a tortoise.
On the face of it, Le Carre’s first book does not sound as if it would compete with well established best-selling Ian Fleming and that is the point, it doesn’t. In spite of both authors writing about secret agents they are from very different stables. What Le Carre does is to provide an insight into a different kind of spy from Bond. And he does it in a way that hardly requires any suspension of disbelief. Smiley’s world oozes with the verisimilitude of real spies from that era, Burgess, McLean, Blunt etc., people living apparently ‘normal’ lives, but with dark secrets. Furthermore, Le Carre conjures up his story using outstanding prose that makes you want to keep on listening. It is like missing your stop on the underground because the conversation you are eavesdropping on is just too enthralling, even if it is seemingly about everyday things. So, if you like a well told story that happens to be about spies then you should like this book.
Finally, full marks for Michael Jayston who give a great performance and makes the characters come alive.
"Read them all"
The entire series kept shocking me. You think you know what your grandad got up to when young? No, you don't. I didn't see the TV series and expected this to be different from crime drama I'm used to. It is different. It's cruel, intelligent, stupid, heartbreaking and cold. So bloody cold. Listen to them all, if only because he's a really beautiful writer.
"The Start of George Smiley…"
Can read/listen to this wonderful story again and again. Plus the beginning of the Smiley books…. Just brilliant in conception and plot and characterisation. And beautifully narrated by ‘Guillam’ (Jayston).
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