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, Miss Elsa Brimley, who now edits a small Christian magazine, 'Christian Voice'. She tells Smiley that she has received a letter from a reader, Stella Rhodes, 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 Rhodes is murdered. Since Stella's father and ancestors had been long time subscribers of the magazine, Brimley feels obligated and guilty over the woman's death, asks Smiley for help, with whom she had worked during the war as his secretory. Smiley travels to Carne to investigate.
Smiley's estranged wife Ann had lived in Carne as a child, and upon his arrival, he becomes the subject of snide gossip. He also is a 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 Rhodes 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. Ms. Brimley discovers the murderer's hidden blood-stained clothes, while in the meantime Tim Perkins, a boy in Fielding's house, becomes the second murder victim. Stanley Rhodes 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 had been blackmailing over his wartime conviction of homosexual conduct with a member of the Royal Air Force. The conviction was known to school authorities, who took advantage of the situation for their own ends with separate blackmail of Fielding into remaining in his position at a significantly lower salary than his peers. Perkins had inadvertently made a discovery that would derail Fielding's attempt to implicate the husband and would have put suspicion on Fielding himself. Instead, until the end Fielding maintained unawareness of the significance of what he had seen.
Fielding ultimately fails to frame the husband for the murders, despite his attempt to misdirect Smiley by saying he loved Perkins. Having admitted his guilt, Fielding is arrested.
Television and radio adaptationsEdit
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 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