Miss Brimley, editor of The Christian Voice, receives a letter from a subscriber, Stella Rode, the wife of an assistant master at the Carne School. She fears that her husband is planning to kill her. Brimley worked with Smiley during the war and knows he is not currently employed, so she calls and asks him to follow up on the accusation. Smiley makes an introductory call to the Headmaster at Carne and finds that Mrs. Rode had been murdered the previous night. He takes the letter to Inspector Rigby in Carne. Rigby, knowing that Smiley will have easier access to the staff at the school, asks him to aid in the investigation.
Some reviewers make a case that le Carré is writing more about British society and the class system than about espionage in all of his books, and I can see that point of view. Being from the US, I may not notice so much. This book is set in an academic setting, and in the introduction to the book, le Carré makes clear his hatred of that type of elite boy's school environment, based on personal experience.
From the introduction, written in 1989:
Rereading the book now, I find a flawed thriller redeemed by ferocious and quite funny social comment. Most of all I recognise the dankness of those old stone walls that formed the limits of my childhood and left me for the rest of my life with an urge to fight off whatever threatened to enclose me.Le Carré is one of those authors that I can read just for the way he tells the story. I am not saying that I can do without any plot at all, but the plot is not the main attraction. Le Carré does characterization very well but most of the people in this novel are extremely unlikable. The school environment is a closed society, and the relationships between various members of the faculty and their wives are competitive and strained at best, sometimes adversarial. I was rooting for some of them to be the murderer, they were so horrible.
I am now reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. In late January I read The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and more recently The Looking Glass War. Both of those books are very grim. Even though those books feature Smiley for just a minimal amount of time, I think they add to the picture I have of Smiley going into Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Publisher: Walker & Co., 2004 (orig. pub. 1962)
Length: 152 pages
Series: George Smiley novel
Source: I purchased this book in 2007.