Carne School, one of the old English public schools, will not tolerate behaviour that endangers the intensely studious and quietly competitive life of its masters and boys. So when Stella Rode, the unpopular wife of an instructor, is murdered the school is shocked to its core. But more trouble is on the way.
George Smiley, assisting a former Secret Service colleague who corresponded with the murdered woman, arrives at Carne. He carries a letter from Stella Rode claiming that her husband wanted to kill her. He has also come to ask questions and listen to answers.
Little by little Smiley begins to uncover the secrets and hatreds that lie within the college cloisters. But while the school seeks to blame outsiders, Smiley is convinced that the murderer resides within its hallowed halls . . .