on 14 October 2002
... This is a murder mystery in the classic mould. It is also a sideways glance at class, via the ludicrous tradition and snobbery of an English public school.
We learn a little more about George Smiley [we never learn much, but every book sheds a little more light]and we see him in an unfamiliar setting.
The plot is well structured and, as ever, lucidly written. The whodunit element is present, but it isn't too hard to outguess George and get to the murderer quite swiftly.
I read this in one sitting-it is not a long book, but it is every bit as satisfying as the author's more sustained efforts.
on 19 November 2003
An early day George Smiley is called to solev an murder mystery at one of the nations best public schools. Here you'll find many familiar elements which made Le Carre greater novels: a younger Smiley, an elitist environment and down to earth police inspectors. Smiley is not as much drawn out as in later novels, but is there allright. A Murder of Quality is one of Le Carre finer sketches, a prelude of much what was to come.
The books reads perfectly as a Murder Whodunnit, much like Agatha Christie, but with familair Le Carre characters. Between the lines, Le Carre takes a dig at some of teh snobbish and extraordinary characters of a public school.
I've read it at one go, didn't bore me at all. Recommended
John Le Carre's second novel: 'A Murder of Quality' was first published in 1962 and features George Smiley after he has retired from MI6. I should start this review by saying that this novel is in no way like le Carre's excellent espionage novels, so if you are expecting something in the vein of `The Spy who Came in from the Cold' or `Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy' then you may be disappointed. That is not to say that this isn't a good novel - it is - but it is more of a `whodunnit' murder mystery, rather like an Agatha Christie or Josephine Tey, and if you approach the book with this in mind, it makes for an entertaining and enjoyable read.
Stella Rode, wife of a master at Carne School, an ancient place of education with its cloisters and its mention in the Doomsday Book, is not quite the right sort; she is from the North, is Chapel instead of Church of England, uses lace doilies and has china ducks on her wall. Even the boys at the school secretly ridicule her realizing she is not `quite the ticket'. Mr. Rode, ex-grammar school boy, who has carefully watched his `betters', tries hard to emulate them, but Stella Rode refuses to be other than what she is, and is often an embarrassment to her socially aspirant husband. Stella is generally considered to be a very down-to-earth person - however, when she confides to her Minister at the chapel that she thinks her husband is planning to murder her, he thinks she is delusionary. But then, one bitterly cold, snowy night Stella Rode is bludgeoned to death in her own home. Enter George Smiley, having temporarily moved away from the world of espionage, he is called upon to help the police investigate Stella's brutal murder and, as Smiley probes deeply beneath the respectable façade of Carne School, he uncovers quite a bit more than he expected to find.
I found this book to be an entertaining read, with a lovely old fashioned feel to it and I enjoyed le Carre's descriptions of Smiley's surroundings; I could almost feel the crisp coldness, the chill of the icy air and the crunch of snow under the feet as Smiley walked towards the Rode house in the moonlight looking for clues to Stella's murderer. In fact whilst I was reading this book in front of the fire, the first of this year's snowflakes fluttered past my window making an ideal setting for this traditional and agreeable murder mystery story.
This is the second novel featuring George Smiley; the first is Call for the Dead. This is unlike most of the Smiley books, in that it is really a classic crime story, much in the style of an Agatha Christie. Set in an exclusive boarding school, Carne School in Dorset, this is obviously something which the author feels strongly about, admitting that he spent much of his life from the age of five (so young!) in such institutions, as well as teaching at Eton.
In this book, Smiley is contacted by Miss Ailsa Brimley, who he knew from the war. She works at a small magazine, the Christian Voice, which has a loyal and long standing readership. One of the readers, who has subscribed since the beginning, is Stella Rode - now a wife of one of the masters at Carne. When she contacts the letters page to say she fears her husband is trying to kill her, Miss Brimley takes it seriously and turns to Smiley. However, when he investigates, he finds that Mrs Rode was killed the previous evening, in a vicious attack at her home.
This is an unusual novel in the Smiley series, but well worth reading if you enjoy crime and mystery books and also offers insights into the character of George Smiley - as the area where the story is set is the one in which his wife, Ann, grew up. It also has an interesting setting and Miss Brimley is an excellent character, as are the snobbish and tradition bound masters at the school. If you wish to read on, the next book is the classic The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Modern Classics).
on 26 April 2009
Le Carre's second novel sees his most famous character, George Smiley, co-opted to solve a murder in an upper class public school. As earlier reviewers note, this is more Agatha Christie than Tinker Tailor, but none the worse for that. These days, Inspector Morse would turn up, but this is still the early sixties. It's an inwardly obsessive world of snobbery, backbiting, social graces and disgraces. A world of passing the port, latin prayers and cello lessons.
Into this microcosm arrives Smiley, his character still developing, his emotional baggage already weighing on him. He sleuths his way through a succession of odious masters, wives and hangers-on, having all the while to conceal his disastrous earlier marriage into the local aristocracy. Although this is a short book, easily digestible in an evening, Le Carre has conjured deliciously vile characters, an entertaining (and totally unguessable) crime, laced with a flavour of the style that was to develop subsequently into the genius of his more "mainstream" espionage novels.
If you love Le Carre and George Smiley, this will give you an evening of pure lighthearted pleasure. You can read it in the time it takes to watch an Inspector Morse...
on 18 May 2006
I think this is one of the first Le Carre novels, and Smiley appears in it for some reason or another, even if it is not a spy novel.
Murder has happened at a private school. A boy has been killed.
Based on this premise, Smiley has to become acquainted with the small inner life of this school, its apparent grandeur and fashionable respectability, and its mean everyday life which hides behind the surface. Investigation is a way to expose the inanity of British society in the 50s before the great crisis of the 60s.
Very well written as all Le Carre works, this is your novel if you like Agatha Christie, if you prefer murder in the parish yard instead of the gutter crime of the black series.
on 28 January 2010
This slim book is John Le Carré's second novel, written while working as a British diplomat in Bonn and Bern or elsewhere in a roving capacity, and again it stars George Smiley(GS). He was Le Carré's hero in his debut Call for the Dead, which described him as being an accomplished and committed spy since 1928, who survived a frightful and nasty war in Germany, and who is still (early 1960's) wearing glasses, short, pudgy, and badly, but expensively dressed. He is also separated from his aristocratic wife Ann, and some characters in this book let him know that they know.
This book is not about espionage, but about a murder at Carne, a centuries' old public school. Miss Brimley, a WW-II colleague of GS in wartime intelligence, who has become editor of a religion-based weekly, contacts GS when she receives a letter from the wife of a teacher at Carne's. The wife's family has for generations subscribed to the weekly. She claims her husband is planning to kill her... When she is found dead days later, Miss Brimley contacts GS and pleads with him to find out the truth. GS, in retirement following the dramatic outcome of his first appearance in Le Carré's debut novel, agrees and travels to Carne to investigate.
Le Carré's subsequent description of the rift between the school and the rest of Carne village, the feuds, prejudices and resentments between and among new and old staff (many are alumni not employable elsewhere) are cruelly revealing of the class-based rifts in English society at the time. Le Carré manages at times in this dark book situated during a cold winter, to convey an atmosphere of awfulness about the English/British mindset not far removed from what the late film director Sam Peckinpah tried to depict in his movie Straw Dogs, a film that has for many years been banned in Britain.
Great reading. Highly recommended.
Okay, this isn’t the best that le Carre has written, and the author acknowledges that himself, but it has that certain something that lots of books don’t have, that makes this a very good read. This was also le Carre’s second novel, and is a murder mystery taking place in a boarding school.
Carne School has tradition and reputation on its side, with old pupils sending their sons there as well, but things are just about to get out of hand, as one of the masters finds his wife bludgeoned to death. For George Smiley this is something that he would normally read in his newspaper, not actually take any part in himself - that is until a former colleague asks him to do some digging.
Stella Rode, the murder victim has written to Miss Brimley recently, claiming that her husband is going to kill her. And of course for Miss Brimley she must do something, resulting in a call to Smiley. Smiley of course still has contacts and the policeman on the case doesn’t seem to mind if he tags along, after all the police can’t seem to get anything out of the school’s teaching staff, whereas Smiley may get somewhere.
On the face of it it would seem that the husband is the guilty party, but there does seem to be some peculiarities with how it looked like the murder was committed. With the Chief Constable, a former pupil of the school pushing for a quick result it seems that a local woman who is a bit nutty may be made a scapegoat.
As the story twists and turns always Mr Rode seems to be in the spotlight, but is he really guilty? It takes someone such as Smiley who although on the outside appears a pleasant and unassuming chap, has a devious mind and cunning to solve this case. This is relatively fast paced and is a nice little whodunit that should keep most people more than interested. Le Carre paints a sharp satire upon public schools, with their traditions, snobbery and isolationism which is just as relevant today as when this was first written. There are two afterwords by the author for this, one in 1989, and another for this particular Penguin edition. The latter of these is well worth reading as it reminds us that although the vast majority of us go to State schools, the country is run by those who went to public schools and don’t really have a proper idea what life is like for those who aren’t privileged.
on 7 October 2012
Le Carre observes people and places so well. His characters' language and mannerisms; their likes and dislikes place them immediately in a society that I have no personal experience of but it is instantly recognisable. The 'whodunnit' becomes a vehicle to introduce you to jealousies, rivalries, arrogance, neuroses and vindictiveness in a small, introverted community in the late 50s but which exists everywhere in all times and walks of life. This is no Agatha Christie with contrived sets and cardboard, cut-out characters. This is real. And it is a relief to find his protagonist is not some smart, street-wise tough cop or girl-getting James Bond but an ordinary man-in-the-street without chiselled Hollywood features. Le Carre's second novel; nothing related to the post-war world of espionage; but a work of literature and modern relevance like everything he does.
on 14 July 2012
"Flawed," writes le Carre about his second novel, "but redeemed by ferocious and quite funny social comment." Quite so. It is a splendid detective story, flawed for me by some plot uncertainties -- which, however, prompt me to read it again soon.
The public school setting of the mid-C20 is only too familiar to this reviewer: snobbish, unbelievably violent, sometimes obviously so, sometimes very subtly so, and yet providing rather a high quality of education. I was surprised and pleased to encounter the environment so accurately described. I hope that by now it is history.
A full-price Penguin is not cheap nowadays, but the £9.99 provided me with several hours of entertainment and thought, and will do so again soon.