JOHN LE CARRÉ. A Murder of Quality (1962).

03 Jan

Amid his early accounts of George Smiley, Cold War spy, le Carré included this smart, spare account of George Smiley, amateur detective. An old war associate of Smiley’s, who edits a religious paper, receives a letter from a subscriber who thinks that her husband is bent on killing her. The editor ask Smiley to investigate the matter informally, but almost immediately the case becomes grimly official: MurderQuality.jpgThe woman in question is found slain at her home near the ancient and exclusive Public School of Carne, where her husband teaches. Her corpse, in that setting, appears like the proverbial snake in a garden. Even in life, though, she had seemed out of place to Carne insiders, who viewed her middle-class ways and her low-church sensibility with disdain, and much of Smiley’s detection involves infiltrating the school’s culture and observing at close range its insular snobbery. Smiley, as a spy-cum-sleuth, ably contends with standard physical clues as well—a coaxial cable, a writing case, a man’s trench coat—and he negotiates with aplomb more than one abrupt swerve of the plot. Yet the author’s coolly passionate dissection of the English class matrix, together with the somber empathy shown toward those trapped within it, sets this work apart from standard genre models. As he does in his espionage stories, le Carré wraps his mastery of a classic escapist form in a mood that blends world-weariness and social anger.


Posted by on January 3, 2013 in British, Novel, Puzzle


5 responses to “JOHN LE CARRÉ. A Murder of Quality (1962).

  1. Steve Powell

    January 3, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Great review. Shame some of Le Carre’s later works seemed to lack the empathy necessary to mitigate his social anger.

  2. Mike

    January 4, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    Thanks for your comment, Steve. I’ll confess that I haven’t read a great deal of le Carre’s later work (I’m not a huge fan of the espionage genre), but I’ve read enough to see your point about the unforgiving attitude that drives a lot that work. I just wish that le Carre had devoted his talents to writing a few more straight detective novels.

  3. Richard

    January 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Though I have a couple of the “classic” Le Carre works, SMILEYS PEOPLE and SPY WHO, I missed this one. Thanks for the information.

  4. Cavershamragu

    January 5, 2013 at 2:08 AM

    I remain a big fan of le Carre new and old and I think THE CONSTANT GARDNER may be his finest novel in fact. Nice review Mike, especially as this whodunit tends to get unfairly sidelines – it’s not as good as the two Smiley books that bookend it but it’s still a highly entertaining mystery. Thanks.

  5. Mike

    January 5, 2013 at 7:22 AM

    Thanks for your comments, Richard and Sergio. Amid the entirety of le Carre’s output, “A Murder of Quality” probably counts as a mere curiosity. It’s kind of a chamber piece, really. It has modest ambitions, and le Carre fulfills those ambitions quite ably. (I tend to prefer such works to the orchestral extravaganzas that publishers urge writers to create nowadays.)


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