57. ‘Call for the Dead’ by John Le Carre

A complete change of genre for me this week; I found some of Mum’s copies of her John Le Carre books while looking for something completely different…as one does…and promptly sat down in the glorious Spring sunshine we have had this week in my tiny patch of Paradise aka the garden and started reading!

‘Call For the Dead’ was first – it is the book that introduces Le Carre’s most famous character, George Smiley, and while it is definitely not the best Smiley novel, it does give you insight and the background to the character who really comes into his own in books like ‘Tinker Tailor’ and ‘Smiley’s People’ that is not, as memory serves me, found in any of the later books. But, it is not so much a spy novel as it is a detective story where some of the detective’s happen to be spies.

Mum read this 1984 Penguin edition while on holiday in Fuengirola in 1988, and as she often did, annotated the flyleaf with things of interest she found while reading – in this case, quotes, which she has also underlined in the text of the book. (The other thing Mum often did was annotate the flyleaf with the characters in the books to keep track of them…more on this in the next review!)

Back to the book. One of my favourite things about George Smiley is that he is the complete anti-thesis to James Bond – not that there is anything whatsover wrong with a James Bond book, I love them – but where Bond is, well, Sean Connery or Daniel Craig, Smiley is a crumpled, rumpled, un-prepossessing character, called Toad by his ex-wife, the beautiful and glamorous Lady Ann who described him upon their marriage as ‘breathtakingly ordinary’; short, over-weight and with the ability to appear to spend a ‘great deal of money on really bad clothes’. Beneath this however lies an astonishing intellect and a deeply curious intelligence, perhaps more important to the real business of spying than an Aston Martin and a sharp suit?

Smiley has recently interviewed a civil servant from the Foreign Office who then apparently commits suicide. There is a phone call, an alarm at 8.30 am, which is the jarring note throughout the book – why the phone call? Why did Fennan’s widow lie about it? Smiley teams up with Inspector Mendel…and of course, the phone call is important in the eventual conclusion.

The first chapter of the book is key, as it gives us Smiley’s background – how and when and why he joined ‘The Circus’, the fictional version of MI6 in Smiley’s world – the remainder gives us a jolly good mystery. It is a novel of its time;  as an example, I doubt if anyone under forty now remembers being able to, or even needing to, book an alarm call on the telephone, these days! Or calling the speaking clock to check your own clock was right… I am showing my age.

It is good, very good, and I’m now tracking down the rest of Mum’s John Le Carre books. In fact, I think I may do something I remember her doing years ago and taking the time to put them in alphabetical order, so that when I find an author I wish to carry on reading, I can without insane searching – Mum, like me, would usually buy all the books someone she liked had written.

As always, this book is looking for a new home. Much as I would love to keep all of my Mum’s Books, I can’t – so, if you would like this one, please get in touch, either here or through the Facebook group or Instagram, and I will send it to you at my expense with love from Mum and I. With a book thong, our favourite kind of bookmark!