A Murder of Quality
|Author||John le Carré|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Call for the Dead|
|Followed by||The Spy Who Came in From the Cold|
George Smiley is called by a wartime colleague, Miss Brimley, who now publishes a small Christian magazine, to investigate a "death menace" letter sent by a reader who claims her husband, a boarding school teacher, is trying to kill her. Terence Fielding, the brother of a classics professor who was one of Smiley's close wartime associates in the Circus, is also a teacher at the school where the woman's husband teaches, the famous Carne College. Unfortunately, the woman is killed before Smiley can even talk to her, and Smiley goes to the school to investigate, in an effort to ease Miss Brimley's concern that her failure to call the police was a cause of the woman's death.
The town of Carne was the youthful home of Smiley's estranged wife Ann, and Smiley is both the subject of snide gossip and witness to a rural "town and gown" gap (with mistrust on both sides) that makes finding the killer seem more and more unlikely. At every step, he realizes there were many possible reasons for the murder, and the number of suspects only seems to get bigger. The town police focus on a madwoman as the murderer, but both Smiley and the investigating officer believe her to be innocent. Smiley discovers the hiding place of the murderer's blood-stained clothes, while the police find a second murder victim, a boy in Fielding's house. The clues, and a confession about the secret, delusional vindictiveness of the murdered woman from her husband (which confirms the odd reaction to her that Smiley had noted from the local minister), lead Smiley to the real murderer: Fielding, who was being blackmailed by the woman due to a WWII homosexuality conviction, and who had only kept his job at substantially-reduced wages. The boy had inadvertently seen evidence that disproved Fielding's alibi for the time of the woman's murder, although the boy was never aware of it before his death.
Le Carré has denied that Carne was based on any particular school: "There are probably a dozen great schools of whom it will be confidently asserted that Carne is their deliberate image. But he who looks among their common rooms for the D'Arcys, Fieldings and Hechts will search in vain."  Nonetheless, the geography and descriptions of Carne bear a great deal of resemblance to le Carré's own alma mater, Sherborne School.
Television and radio adaptations
The novel was adapted for television by Thames Television in 1991. It starred Denholm Elliott as George Smiley and featured a screenplay adapted from the novel by John le Carré himself. It also starred Glenda Jackson, Joss Ackland, Diane Fletcher, David Threlfall and Christian Bale.
The novel was the second story to be broadcast in BBC Radio 4's major series to feature all the Smiley novels (The Complete Smiley), with Simon Russell Beale in the main role.
- Preface to A Murder of Quality, p. 274 in Octopus/Heinemann omnibus edition, 1979.