Thursday, October 4, 2012

My First Smiley

Call for the Dead, master spywriter John le Carré's first novel (1961), introduces George Smiley, the rumpled, curmudgeonly British operative, to a generation of suspense enthusiasts.  Short and squat, Oxford-educated, shrewd yet scarcely able to defend himself in violent encounters, Smiley is the anti-Bond, a dogged Inaction Hero without a hint of handsome, with only a reluctant, undashing dash of derring-do.

Structured as a simple mystery, with a murder investigation at its core and only tangential reference to geopolitical intrigue, le Carré's story presents Smiley and his surrounding cast in sharp relief, without the shadowy double-crosses and moral murkiness of his later novels.  Accordingly, this book is an easy read, save for a few quid worth of English colloquialisms, with simple exposition, only a handful of characters to follow, and several recapitulations of "what we know" as the unfolding proceeds. 

Invitingly, Call for the Dead draws the reader into the Smiley oeuvre with this initial foray into the world of old-school spycraft.  The beleaguered agent's life will soon become vastly more complicated.

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