P. Pufferfish: On the road to becoming a John Le Carré fan?

Really quick note: I reorganized the Reviews page so that my meager number of reviews are now grouped by decade of publication. I’m hoping it’ll help me see gaps in my reading (not that I have much desire to read as many old books as new ones). Anyways, jumping right in.

murderofqualitycover

Today’s featured book: A Murder of Quality, by John Le Carré.

Format I consumed it in: Print, from the library where I work. They actually didn’t have AMoQ on its own– I had to check out the edition that came in the same volume with CFtD. 

The premise: Smiley, now retired, receives a request from an old war-time colleague, Ms. Brimley, who is working as the editor of a newspaper: a long-time reader/subscriber to the newspaper, Stella Rode, has written to tell her that she’s afraid her husband is going to kill her. Considering that their correspondence mostly consists of bland advice and recipes, this is a bit alarming. Smiley agrees to investigate, but before he can even get started, lo and behold! They receive news that Mrs. Rode has been brutally murdered! Smiley immediately heads off to Carne, the location of an expensive boarding school where Stella’s husband, Mr. Rode, teaches; coincidentally, it’s also the place where Smiley’s ex-wife, Lady Ann, grew up.

The staff of the school are stuck-up and desperately trying to hold onto the old ways, despite evidence that this isn’t working. The inhabitants of the town, including the police chief, don’t mix with the staff, but are still closed off and conservative in that small-town way. Everybody is nasty and suspicious, but nobody seems to have a really good, solid motive, which does it make it a bit tricky to figure out who the murderer is.

My thoughts: I am glad I didn’t give up on the Smiley series after the first one, because Le Carré’s writing really improves in the span of just one year/one book– the pacing is better, the big reveal is done in a much more logical/satisfying way, and although he still uses the typical giant-explanatory-paragraphs-to-show-how-a-crime-was-perpetrated method, I wasn’t bothered by it because he got his timing right. George Smiley himself is also much more likable in here.

That said, this wasn’t a particularly original or refreshing mystery novel or anything like that. It was a bit formulaic, but I’m reading it in 2017 after a shit-ton of other similar novels have been published/adapted into TV series and movies. AMoQ reads like an Agatha Christie novel, which was a bit surprising to me, because Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the movie/my introduction to Le Carré) is completely different.

Rating: 3.5/5. I liked it, but I didn’t REALLY like it. I gave an extra star for the ending, though– it threw me off a bit and I’m still thinking about it, trying to decide if I liked it or not.

 

P. Pufferfish’s first attempt at reading John Le Carré

Last week, I got around to watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy after… 3 or so years? It was a decent movie, but I had some trouble telling if some of the flashback scenes were part of one large flashback or were actually different flashbacks that all happened to be around the same time each year (you’ll know exactly what I mean if you’ve seen it). Anyways… callforthedeadcover

Today’s featured book: Call For The Dead, by John Le Carré, who, by the way, is one of the most fascinating authors ever. Check out his Wiki page.

Format I consumed it in: Print, on loan from another library in the system where I work. They have one of the older editions with nothing but the title and author’s name on the cover.

The premise: George Smiley (Gary Oldman, in the movie), still recovering from his divorce (separation?) from his wife, Lady Ann, is asked to do a routine interview of a Foreign Office executive who the department has received an anonymous tip about. After the interview, the executive, Sam Fennan, appears to commit suicide, leaving behind a typed/signed letter stating that his reputation is in ruins after the interview and all the suspicion towards him. His wife, Elsa, confirms that he had been feeling down since the interview. However, while questioning her, Smiley borrows her telephone and accidentally picks up a reminder call that Elsa claims is for her; the telephone company informs Smiley that the call had been placed by Sam Fennan the night before his death, which would mean that he didn’t expect to die the next day. Smiley is suspicious and proceeds to investigate further.

My thoughts: I’ve heard John Le Carré’s name all my life and am aware of all the books that he’s published since 1961, when Call For the Dead came out. This book really feels like a first novel. Thankfully, it’s very short (128 pages, in the edition I have; I think there’s another edition that’s 160 pages). Some of Le Carré’s point-of-view shifts were a bit jarring, and there was SO MUCH DIALOGUE. I am a big fan of dialogue-heavy books, but there were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition. I found myself wishing for a flashback when I normally find flashbacks (especially in a mystery novel setting) sort of cheesy and overused. Too much telling, not enough showing– this book is a prime example of that age-old writing workshop rule!

George, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch in the TTSP movie), and Elsa Fennan were all interesting enough as characters, but they weren’t great characters. I have no doubt that if I keep reading until I get to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which is actually the fifth book in the Smiley series), Smiley and Peter will really start to grow on me, but for now, I’m not that invested yet. I do want to know more about Smiley’s odd relationship with his ex-wife(?) Ann, though; she seems like an unusual woman, especially for that time period. Smiley’s descriptions of the man she left him for, though, are a bit racially insensitive. I get that he’s frustrated, and the comparison he uses is “understandable”, considering the time period in which this was written, but still uncomfortable to read.

I did not like [SPOILER] the whole Dieter Frey-being-behind-the-whole-thing path the book took. It felt very contrived, and it didn’t help that the introduction/presentation was done poorly. Peter’s investigation reveals that Elsa has been sending correspondence to an address belonging to a specific German firm. Smiley then treats us to a paragraphs-long story about his time in Germany (where he first met Dieter Frey, who was still a university student at the time) seemingly out of nowhere so we can get to know our villain more intimately. Then, at the end, Le Carré proceeds to explain Frey’s overall motivation in such a hand-wavy way. HEH?

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if I had more knowledge of the politics/history of this time period. As it is, I know virtually nothing about popular university politics and opinions in this particular time period in England and Germany’s history (so many people were in the Communist party! Whaaaaat?) and Great Britain’s involvement in the Cold War in general. Same with all the directions and street names the characters shout out during chase scenes– I can imagine that if I were a resident, I would go I know exactly which alleyway they’re running down! or something along that vein, but when Le Carré says “in the style of Fulham” or whatever, I have no clue what that means.

Rating: 2.5/5. I didn’t really like it, but I didn’t dislike it. I think it was a decent book, but I feel as if I’m watching the first one or two episodes of a show and am not that into it yet.