A Murder of Quality – John le Carré (1962)

A Murder of Quality is the second novel by John le Carré. It features George Smiley, the most famous of le Carré’s recurring characters, in his only book set outside the espionage community. 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 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. 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 secretary. 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 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. 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 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. …”
Book Group of One
GuardianFrom cold war spy to angry old man: the politics of John le Carré

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Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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