A Murder of Quality is a very good early effort for John Le Carre. The book affords long term fans a glimpse of the byzantine mind of the author and his budding potential as an espionage writer. This is the classic British murder, set in perfectly ordinary settings, which hide deep and simmering secrets behind a pretty facade.
The story opens with a newly retired George Smiley trying to adapt to post Cold War life. Though tradecraft is hinted at in the book, it is only to set the stage for what is to come. The redoubtable Lady Anne has once again gone off, leaving poor George bereft and bewildered by the storms that drive his lovely wife.
The story opens with an old associate ringing him up to tell him she believes a murder is imminent in the Dorset countryside. Smiley, more to appease his own boredom than anything else, decides to go have a look. He finds a terrible murder has been committed as his friend had feared, but can't seem to get much information out of anyone involved with our victim. The lady obviously got around, but with whom?
With capable hands John Le Carre weaves an interesting tale around the people who inhabit the Carne school. In the process he gives the reader an insiders look at the small pettinesses that accompany rural and academic life. And, it is in these small details that the reader begins to see multiple motives for murdering an academics wife. The sudden death of a student shortly after the initial homicide, only deepens the mystery. A half mad woman, tormented into running like an animal through the dark nights at Carne, lends an eerie, almost occult air to this book. Sadly, when the murderer is finally unmasked, we don't find a monster, but simply a human being who made some very bad choices.
The characters are drawn with a swift light hand, forcing the reader to try and figure out what, if anything, lurks beneath the somber visages. I feel the author did so deliberately, not wanting to make things too easy for his readers. Along with his very first book, A Call For The Dead, John Le Carre shows all the early promise he so ably fulfilled with his Smiley series of novels. The writing is crisp, thoughtful and lively. For anyone who has loved John Le Carre's writings, this early effort will be very rewarding. It is the perfect book to snuggle with on a rainy afternoon.