A Murder of Quality by John le Carre

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A Murder of Quality by John le Carre

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: The wife of a junior master at a public school writes to a newspaper claiming her husband is planning to murder her. Shortly afterwards, she is found brutally murdered. Retired spy George Smiley investigates an oddity of a whodunit, recommended only for Smiley aficionados.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-0340993736

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Carne School, with its cloisters and woodworm and a line in the Doomsday Book, is one of the Great Schools, where the rich send their sons to be instructed. And it is from Carne that Miss Ailsa Brimley, editor of the small Christian Voice newspaper, receives a letter for the paper's problem page. The writer of the letter is Stella Rode, the wife of one of the school's junior masters. Previously, Stella had written about cake mix for the 'kitchen hints' competition. This time, she asks for help because she fears her husband intends to kill her during the 'long nights'.

Miss Brimley decides not to go to the police (reasoning that if Stella Rode had wanted that she would have gone herself). Instead, she consults her former colleague from the war-time secret service, the retired agent George Smiley. By this time, of course, Stella has indeed been murdered. Smiley takes the letter down to Carne, promising Miss Brimley to make sure it arrives quickly in the right hands. When Smiley speaks to the investigating officer, Divisional Superintendent Rigby, he discovers there is a big gap between the Town and Gown, a gap which seems to prevent the police investigating the murder fully. Smiley offers to help out by making his own discreet enquiries.

As with the first Smiley novel, A Murder of Quality explores the post-Second World War class system through the eyes of the recently-retired Smiley. And even more than Call for the Dead, this is a pure murder mystery with not a single spy in sight. In setting, it is more like an Inspector Morse mystery, in delivery more like Agatha Christie or Marjory Allingham. In execution, though, A Murder of Quality falls below the standard of these crime specialists. I found the 'set up' chapters a little pedestrian, and the characterisation a little flat, so I had trouble differentiating between the suspect dons and their wives. I also found the plot a bit creaky, and there's less tension than one would like or expect from a story of this kind. But remember, this was only le Carré's second book, and he was still learning his craft. There is some excellent writing in here, and flashes of the sort of thing that is to come later in his career.

All in all, A Murder of Quality is a bit of an oddity, and only recommended if you're a Smiley (or le Carré) fan. But it's an easy, entertaining diversion, nevertheless.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

John le Carré's Call for the Dead is another whodunit featuring George Smiley and is a better novel (I suspect he wrote it after A Murder of Quality, even though it was published first). Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels are of course set in the 'Town and Gown' world of Oxford. Or how about the granddaddy of 'donnish detection', Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes.

Buy A Murder of Quality by John le Carre at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Murder of Quality by John le Carre at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Murder of Quality by John le Carre at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Murder of Quality by John le Carre at Amazon.com.

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