Call of the Dead/ A Murder of Quality

John Le Carre

I ran into George Smiley in the last decade when I rented “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People.” Although I’m busy now, I’ve wanted to buy those Alec Guinness BBC Productions and watch them. I ran through all the selections on Amazon and found two other moves, which are more difficult to obtain. However, within a week at a library book sale, I found one volume with the two novels, now hard-to-get movies.

Espionage and detective stories are related and approximate one another in procedures, methods and goals. There are differences as these two Le Carre stories demonstrate. The Murder of Quality is a detective story of an investigation into a murder at a British Boarding school. Everyone is reluctant to talk to the local police. George Smiley is retired from Intelligence, and for a newspaper friend, he goes to the village, introduces himself to the police and talks to everyone. His cover story is as a reporter who’s writing an obituary for the newspaper. Some people at the school know Smiley’s background in Intelligence and are not threatened; they willingly talk to him. The police do forensic work – blood tests, fingerprints – and the murderer is caught.

In Call of the Dead the case of a murdered Foreign Office man comes to Smiley, who is to investigate perfunctorily and cover it up. Nobody Smiley interviews acts appropriately, and events and facts are out of place. From previous counter-intelligence work Smiley knows of the espionage allegations against the murder victim. As the investigation of murder lengthens Smiley realizes he was wrong in his counter-intelligence conclusions, and uses both intelligence and police methods to solve the murder, and expose and break up a spy ring.

Introduced in Call of the Dead plus their background are friends present in the later Smiley stories: Mendel and Gilliam. The relationship of trust among the men is firmly set in story.


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