Call for the Dead
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3.82 / 5

"Call for the Dead" Characters Analysis

By John le Carré

fiction | 160 pages | Published in NaN

John le Carré classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him -- and his hero, British Secret Service Agent George Smiley, who is introduced in this, his first novel -- unprecedented worldwide acclaim.George Smiley had liked Samuel Fennan, and now Fennan was dead from an apparent suicide. But why? Fennan, a Foreign Office man, had been under investigation for alleged Communist Party activities, but Smiley had made it clear that the investigation -- little more than a routine security check -- was over and that the file on Fennan could be closed. The very next day, Fennan was found dead with a note by his body saying his career was finished and he couldn't go on. Smiley was puzzled...


Estimated read time: 9 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
George SmileyProtagonist, British Intelligence Officer
Samuel FennanMurder Victim
Elsa FennanSamuel Fennan's wife
Inspector MendelPolice Detective
Peter GuillamBritish Intelligence Officer
MundtEast German Spy
Hans-Dieter MundtMundt's brother
Dieter FreyEast German Spy
Inspector RigbyPolice Detective
Miss BrimleyGeorge Smiley's secretary

Role Identification

In "Call for the Dead" by John le Carré, the characters play different roles that contribute to the development of the plot and themes of the novel. The main protagonist, George Smiley, is a British intelligence officer who becomes involved in a murder investigation. Samuel Fennan, the murder victim, and his wife Elsa Fennan play pivotal roles in the story. Inspector Mendel and Inspector Rigby are the police detectives investigating the murder case. Peter Guillam is another British intelligence officer who assists Smiley in his investigation. Mundt and Hans-Dieter Mundt are East German spies, while Dieter Frey is an accomplice of Mundt. Miss Brimley is George Smiley's secretary who provides support throughout the story.

Character Descriptions

  • George Smiley: Smiley is a middle-aged, intelligent, and analytical British intelligence officer. He is described as having a reserved and unassuming demeanor, often underestimated by others. Smiley is known for his meticulous attention to detail and his ability to decipher complex intelligence puzzles.
  • Samuel Fennan: Fennan is a middle-aged civil servant who works for the British Foreign Office. He is portrayed as a troubled man with a secretive past. Fennan is described as reserved and introverted, with a sense of guilt and paranoia.
  • Elsa Fennan: Elsa is Samuel Fennan's wife. She is depicted as a supportive and caring partner who becomes deeply affected by her husband's death. Elsa is shown as a vulnerable character who seeks answers and justice for her husband's murder.
  • Inspector Mendel: Mendel is a diligent and perceptive police detective assigned to investigate Samuel Fennan's death. He is portrayed as methodical and objective in his approach to solving the case.
  • Peter Guillam: Guillam is a young and resourceful British intelligence officer who assists George Smiley in his investigation. He is depicted as highly skilled in espionage and loyal to Smiley. Guillam is described as having a quick wit and a willingness to take risks.
  • Mundt: Mundt is a prominent East German spy and a central antagonist in the story. He is portrayed as cunning, manipulative, and highly intelligent. Mundt is known for his double-crossing tactics and his ability to deceive others.
  • Hans-Dieter Mundt: Hans-Dieter is Mundt's brother and a key figure in the plot. He is portrayed as less intelligent and more impulsive than his brother. Hans-Dieter is used as a pawn by Mundt in his larger scheme.
  • Dieter Frey: Frey is an East German spy and an accomplice of Mundt. He is depicted as loyal to Mundt and willing to carry out dangerous missions. Frey is portrayed as a skilled operative with a cold and calculating personality.
  • Inspector Rigby: Rigby is another police detective assigned to investigate Samuel Fennan's death. He is depicted as more skeptical and less invested in the case compared to Mendel.
  • Miss Brimley: Miss Brimley is George Smiley's secretary. She is portrayed as efficient and reliable, providing crucial support to Smiley throughout the investigation.

Character Traits

  • George Smiley: Intelligent, analytical, reserved, unassuming, meticulous, perceptive.
  • Samuel Fennan: Troubled, secretive, reserved, introverted, guilt-ridden, paranoid.
  • Elsa Fennan: Supportive, caring, vulnerable, determined, seeking justice.
  • Inspector Mendel: Diligent, perceptive, methodical, objective.
  • Peter Guillam: Resourceful, skilled, loyal, quick-witted, risk-taking.
  • Mundt: Cunning, manipulative, highly intelligent, double-crossing.
  • Hans-Dieter Mundt: Less intelligent, impulsive, used as a pawn.
  • Dieter Frey: Loyal, skilled, cold, calculating.
  • Inspector Rigby: Skeptical, less invested.
  • Miss Brimley: Efficient, reliable.

Character Background

  • George Smiley: Smiley has a long history in British intelligence and is known for his expertise in counterintelligence. He has a complicated personal life, having experienced a failed marriage and a strained relationship with his superiors.
  • Samuel Fennan: Fennan has a background as a civil servant in the British Foreign Office. He is known to have connections to individuals involved in espionage activities.
  • Elsa Fennan: Elsa's background is not extensively explored in the novel, but she is portrayed as a supportive wife who had a close relationship with Samuel Fennan.
  • Inspector Mendel: Mendel's background is not provided in detail, but he is described as an experienced police detective with a reputation for being thorough and diligent.
  • Peter Guillam: Guillam's background is not extensively explored, but he is portrayed as a skilled intelligence officer with a close working relationship with George Smiley.
  • Mundt: Mundt's background is revealed to be a highly trained East German spy with a history of double-crossing and deception. He is known for his deep infiltration into British intelligence.
  • Hans-Dieter Mundt: Hans-Dieter's background is not extensively explored, but he is portrayed as Mundt's brother and a pawn in his brother's larger scheme.
  • Dieter Frey: Frey's background is not provided in detail, but he is depicted as a loyal accomplice of Mundt.
  • Inspector Rigby: Rigby's background is not extensively explored, but he is portrayed as a police detective who is less invested in the investigation compared to Mendel.
  • Miss Brimley: Miss Brimley's background is not provided in detail, but she is depicted as an efficient and reliable secretary who has worked closely with George Smiley.

Character Arcs

  • George Smiley: Throughout the novel, Smiley undergoes a character arc as he delves deeper into the murder investigation and uncovers a larger espionage plot. He transitions from a retired intelligence officer to an active investigator, using his intellect and expertise to unravel the truth.
  • Samuel Fennan: Fennan's character arc is centered around his mysterious past and the secrets he holds. His death sets off a chain of events that ultimately reveal his involvement in espionage activities.
  • Elsa Fennan: Elsa's character arc revolves around her journey to seek justice for her husband's murder. She initially struggles with grief and confusion but becomes determined to find the truth and hold those responsible accountable.
  • Inspector Mendel: Mendel's character arc is focused on his role in the investigation. He starts as a diligent and objective detective, but as the case progresses, he becomes more entangled in the complex web of espionage and undergoes a shift in his perspective.
  • Peter Guillam: Guillam's character arc revolves around his loyalty to George Smiley and his involvement in the investigation. He takes risks and confronts the dangers of espionage, ultimately proving his dedication to the cause.
  • Mundt: Mundt's character arc centers around his elaborate plan to infiltrate British intelligence and his attempts to deceive those around him. He manipulates others to achieve his goals, but his true nature is gradually exposed.
  • Hans-Dieter Mundt: Hans-Dieter's character arc is intertwined with his brother Mundt's plan. He is used as a pawn and becomes a victim of the larger espionage scheme.
  • Dieter Frey: Frey's character arc is limited, but he remains loyal to Mundt until the end, adhering to his instructions and participating in dangerous missions.
  • Inspector Rigby: Rigby's character arc is less prominent, as he remains skeptical and less invested in the investigation compared to Mendel.
  • Miss Brimley: Miss Brimley's character arc is focused on her role as George Smiley's secretary. She provides unwavering support to Smiley and remains reliable throughout the investigation.


  • George Smiley and Samuel Fennan: Smiley and Fennan have a professional relationship that evolves into a personal connection as Smiley investigates Fennan's murder. Smiley becomes determined to uncover the truth and find justice for Fennan.
  • George Smiley and Elsa Fennan: Smiley and Elsa develop a bond as they both grieve over Samuel Fennan's death. Smiley becomes Elsa's confidant and ally as they navigate the complex world of espionage.
  • Inspector Mendel and George Smiley: Mendel and Smiley form a working relationship as they collaborate on the murder investigation. They share information and insights to unravel the truth behind Fennan's death.
  • George Smiley and Peter Guillam: Smiley and Guillam have a close working relationship, with Guillam providing support and assistance throughout the investigation. They trust each other and work together to uncover the espionage plot.
  • Mundt and Hans-Dieter Mundt: The relationship between Mundt and his brother Hans-Dieter is complicated. Hans-Dieter is used as a pawn in Mundt's plans, serving as a tool for his larger espionage scheme.
  • Mundt and Dieter Frey: Mundt and Frey have a professional relationship as fellow East German spies. Frey remains loyal to Mundt and assists him in carrying out his dangerous missions.
  • George Smiley and Miss Brimley: Smiley and Miss Brimley have a professional relationship, with Miss Brimley providing crucial support as Smiley's secretary. She is reliable and efficient in assisting him throughout the investigation.

Overall, the characters in "Call for the Dead" have distinct roles, traits, backgrounds, and relationships that contribute to the unfolding of the murder investigation and the exploration of espionage themes within the novel. Each character adds depth and complexity to the story, creating a compelling narrative.