George Smiley appears again in John le Carré’s second novel. This time he does a favor for an old friend and travels to a private school that sounds like Eton. The wife of a faculty member has written a letter stating that her husband plans to kill her. By the time Smiley arrives, she’s already dead. It’s not an espionage story, just a typical English murder mystery.
A Murder of Quality is worth reading for le Carre’s excellent prose and for his depiction of the mostly upper-class inhabitants of the school. My favorite part, however, was being able to spend time with the wonderful character of George Smiley. Whenever he spoke, I could almost hear the voice of Alec Guinness.
Call For the Dead was John le Carré’s first novel. He wrote it while still an employee of MI6, the British version of the CIA. It’s an entertaining mystery story about spies and murder that introduces the character of George Smiley, the “little fat man, rather gloomy,” who is the hero of Le Carre’s later novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
We also meet other characters who will return in later novels: the younger, suave Peter Guillam; the police officer Mendel; and the high-level civil servant Maston, later known as Lacon. Unfortunately, we don’t meet Smiley’s ex-wife Ann, although her words do appear a few times.
It’s a short novel, but quite good. My only problem was wondering how Smiley survived several blows to the head with a lead pipe, and why the police weren’t immediately summoned at a climactic moment. But if Smiley had died, or the police had been called, Call For the Dead would have been even shorter.