You should certainly not read John le Carré’s second novel and decide that you like him or not based on it. I actually liked Call for the Dead more than A Murder of Quality, and that for a number of reasons.
First: I must admit I had to constantly remind myself that this happens in the 1960s rather than in the 1880s. Sure, I may be skewed because I am still a Victorianist at heart, but except for the random mention of a car or a bus or phones, it really could have happened in Victorian England. The society it represents–the teachers of a private school in a small down in southern England–is very much a relic of that era. The obsession with status, the desire to move up in the world through “good families”, doing what is “proper” for one’s class, all very Victorian values. Maybe le Carré meant to build a strange world separated from the reality of the breakdown of the traditional British class system, but it left me confused more than anything else.
Second: The characters, except for Smiley, are pretty much cardboard figures. I felt no connection with the victim, or the murderer, or any other character. Although we had decent characterization in Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality leaves nobody to remember. There were so many occasions to explore relationships between all the pretentious House masters of the school and their wives, but all we end up with is a shadow of a society, like some ombre chinoise without depth or color.
Third: The mystery itself wasn’t very interesting. It seems like le Carré decided one person would be the murderer, then changed his mind and made someone else the murderer at the end of the book. Somehow, there was no build-up to the discovery. It just kind of happens. The ending is anything but surprising… and when it came, I didn’t care that much.
To be fair, le Carré was still learning his craft. I think this book is simply an indifferent step towards an otherwise stellar career. As far as I know, this book is one rare hiccup for le Carré–and he picks himself up by his prize-winning third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
So, skip this one unless you really want to read everything le Carré wrote. You definitely won’t miss it.
What’s your favourite story of murder in a fading world? Share it with us in the comments!You've just read A Murder of Quality by John le Carré on Read, Write, Live by Anabelle. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!