Book Review : A Murder of Quality

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Eminent British espionage fiction writer John le Carré’s most famous character, George Smiley, was introduced in the writer’s debut novel, A Call for the Dead. More famous for the Karla Trilogy (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, anyone?) that was published in the 70s, George Smiley is an old chap right from his fictional debut. Here I am presenting a review of Smiley’s second book.

Miss Ailsa Brimley, editor of a small magazine called Christian Voice, receives a letter from an old reader of hers, Stella Rode, in which she accuses that her husband Stanley Rode is going to murder her. Miss Brimley calls on her wartime colleague, George Smiley. But before Smiley can do anything, Mrs. Rode is killed. Mr. Rode is a teacher at one of those old and hallowed English boarding school, Carne. Smiley has an old connection with Carne. His ex-wife, Lady Ann Sercomb, belonged to the royalty of that area. Plus the brother of Smiley’s late wartime colleague Fielding, Terence, is a housemaster at Carne. Smiley realises that he has to go there to investigate.

This book was first published in 1962. Mr. Carré (real name David Cornwell) writes in the introduction to the book  (December 1989) that while he doesn’t remember the origins of most of his books, he remembers this one clearly. The reason? He incorporated his hatred of the English boarding school system (from having studied and taught in boarding schools in Northwood and Eton respectively) in the book. Passage after passage of the book illustrates how vitiated the atmosphere of the school is and how its graduates (including the masters) consider themselves superior to others because of their upbringing and their faith. There are two sects in the book, Church of England and Nonconformists. The divide between them is also seen through the eyes of Smiley.

The book was adapted for TV in 1991 by ITV. It featured Christian Bale as the head of Fielding’s house, Tim Perkins. Here’s the link for those interested.

The curious thing about A Murder of Quality is that this is the only novel to feature Smiley that doesn’t deal with espionage, or so Wikipedia tells me. This has more in common with the Hercule Poirot novels than the Harry Palmer books. You can also call it a typical British murder thriller. While there’s nothing wrong with that description, the book isn’t as good as a lot of Le Carré’s (and Smiley’s) later novels. Despite being relatively thin, it drags at times. Some passages e.g., the ones where the ladies of the school discuss mundane matters, could have been excised and the flow streamlined better. Also, in all my years of reading whodunnit murder mysteries, this was the first time that I was able to guess correctly, really early, who the murderer was. I wouldn’t like to take credit for that. Rather, I think things could have been concealed better. Be that as it may, legends like Mozart or Newton or Shakespeare weren’t made in a day so I think we can cut Mr. Le Carré some slack. His later work is reputed to be some of the best espionage fiction ever. Despite the disappointment of this book, I’ll read them.

Genre : Drama, Thriller, Murder mystery.

Rating : 3/5

Share your views and thoughts on this or any other Le Carré book in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

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