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|
Retired spy George Smiley is contacted by a wartime colleague, Ailsa Brimley, who now edits a small Christian magazine. She tells Smiley that she has received a letter from a reader, Stella Rode, claiming that her husband is plotting to kill her. The woman's husband is a teacher at a public school in the town of Carne. It so happens that Terence Fielding, brother of a classics professor who was one of Smiley's close associates in British intelligence during the war, is a house master at the school. However, before Smiley can intercede, Stella Rode is murdered. Feeling obliged to Brimley and guilty over the woman's death, Smiley travels to Carne to investigate.
Smiley's estranged wife, Ann, lived in Carne as a child, and upon his arrival, he becomes the subject of snide gossip. He also is witness to an invidious class division between "town and gown" which is superimposed upon a religious division between adherents of the Church of England and Nonconformists. As the wife of a public school teacher, and as a nonconformist, Stella Rode occupied a low rank in the local social hierarchy, especially in the estimation of Carne's upper crust.
The town police focus on a homeless madwoman as the murderer, but both Smiley and the investigating officer believe her to be innocent. Brimley discovers the murderer's hidden blood-stained clothes, while in the meantime a boy in Fielding's house becomes the second murder victim. Stanley Rode admits to Smiley that, behind her apparent piety and ostentatious good works, his murdered wife was a pathological liar and schemer who would emotionally abuse him and viciously beat her own dog. Digging deeper, Smiley learns that Stella habitually humiliated, blackmailed, and otherwise terrorized those around her, using both her mask of civility and a fear of reprisals to escape suspicion or retribution for her behavior.
Smiley follows the clues to identify the real murderer, Terence Fielding, whom Stella Rode had been blackmailing over a wartime homosexuality conviction. The conviction was known to school authorities, who took advantage of the situation to themselves blackmail Fielding into remaining in his position at a significantly lower salary than his peers. The murdered boy had inadvertently made a discovery that would derail Fielding's attempt to implicate Stanley Rode and that would draw suspicion on Fielding himself instead. Incidentally, the boy was never aware of the significance of what he had seen before falling victim himself.
Fielding ultimately fails to frame Stanley Rode for the murders. Having admitted his guilt, Fielding is arrested.
Television and radio adaptations
John le Carré himself adapted the novel for Thames Television. A Murder of Quality was shown on the ITV network in 1991. It stars Denholm Elliott as George Smiley; Glenda Jackson as Ailsa Brimley; Joss Ackland as Terence Fielding; Billie Whitelaw as Mad Janie; David Threlfall as Stanley Rode; and a teenage Christian Bale as the murdered student, Tim Perkins.
The novel was read on BBC Radio 4's Story Time in 1976, and dramatised on the same station in 1981. More recently, in 2009, BBC Radio 4 broadcast A Murder of Quality as the second in a series which featured all the Smiley novels (The Complete Smiley), with Simon Russell Beale in the main role.
- CRANMER, DAVID (October 29, 2014). "A Murder of Quality by John LeCarre: An Old-Fashioned Detective Mystery". criminalelement.com. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "A Murder of Quality (George Smiley) by John le Carré". Goodreads. goodreads.com. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- BBC Genome Project - Radio Times listings