#1962Club: A Murder of Quality

These “clubs” happen twice a year, each time focusing on books published in a particular year between 1920 and 1980 or so. It’s always so interesting to read the variety of reviews! Thanks so much to Simon and Karen for hosting.

I don’t always manage to be organized enough to join, but this time I decided to jump in at the last minute and try the second novel by John Le Carre, known for his excellent spy thrillers, as I’d never read anything by this author. This turned out not to be a spy novel at all, but a pretty straightforward murder mystery, set in an English public school. It stood out because of the exploration of that class-ridden setting, where the police are having a hard time conducting the investigation of the death of a schoolmaster’s wife; the snobbish school community does not want intrusion from outsiders.

But when George Smiley is called in, due to his connections from wartime secret service, he is able to unobtrusively slip in, sifting through the secrets, lies, and false fronts that are obscuring an ugly reality.

I have to admit I didn’t understand all the plot points or entirely comprehend the final solution. (This happens frequently to me with mystery novels that depend on complicated obfuscation.) It was a quick read for me, maybe too quick, and I should go back over it more carefully! But I’m never that interested in the contrivances of clever mystery puzzles, what interests me is psychology, and this book was basically an exploration of characters who were not what they seemed. This did not exactly make them well-rounded — the contrasts were a bit too black-and-white — so I imagine Le Carre must have developed his talents in that direction in later books.

The critique of public school hypocrisy was sharp, though, and Smiley, whose career depends on people overlooking him, even as he puts together what others miss, was a great character. I will certainly read the next, acclaimed book that features him, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

(As an aside, I love the Penguin covers done in this style for Le Carre’s books. The illustrations, the typography — so striking and effective.)

Are you reading anything from 1962? Here are some other books I’ve read from that year, with reviews where possible:

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13 thoughts on “#1962Club: A Murder of Quality

  1. I’m sorry this was confusing – it probably confused me too as I scarcely remember the denouement. Smiley’s first appearance, in Call for the Dead (1961) was actually quite good. I’ve also read and enjoyed A Legacy of Spies but that’s one of the last titles from 2017 so I must start filling in with some of the middle offerings.

    You’ll know the three titles we share – the Bradbury, Aiken and L’Engle – but my choice for the Club is John Christopher’s The World in Winter, with a review scheduled for this weekend.

  2. I’ve also only read one Le Carre so far, but a non Smiley one. Wish the mystery elements had made more sense (I do enjoy a good puzzle) but his using his invisibility to his advantage is an interesting aspect.

    1. I am not a puzzle mystery fan, they always seem so contrived to me. I’m looking forward to reading the spy novels now though!

    1. I’m just dense with mysteries, I somehow miss the clues that one is supposed to pick up on and focus on other things. Still enjoyed the characters and atmosphere with this one.

      Travels is copyright 1962 according to the Library of Congress…

  3. I have read a lot of John Le Carre’s books and really enjoy them. Not sure if I read this one. Did you know his house was for sale? I really love the unusual library in it, made from an airplane. It was featured in Country Life.

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