More John le Carre and another George Smiley novel, this the second in the series, A Murder of Quality and I'm reading these with a different remit.
Yes great fiction and a series to follow, but this is also about meeting a fictional character I've imbibed via every other source but the books and now I'm really starting to get a flavour of George Smiley from the man who invented him and that's proving fascinating.
I was under the impression all George Smiley novels would be of the spy variety, but this is in fact a crime investigation which George somehow finds himself embroiled in helping to solve thanks to those qualities that seem to have seen him through, what I'm now learning, was a very nasty war.
'Looks like a frog, dresses like a bookie, and has a brain I'd give my eyes for. Had a very nasty war. Very nasty indeed.'
There are still only veiled hints about this 'nasty war' but out of the woodwork and seeking out George's particular skills pads Miss Brimley, a war time colleague who decides to take a disturbing letter from a friend to this 'the cleverest and perhaps the oddest of them all' .
Convinced that her public school master husband is trying to kill her, Stella Rode has written to Miss Brimley in her post-war role as editor of the weekly magazine, Christian Voice asking for help.
They'd been in contact before because Stella had won the Kitchen Hints competition.
'...you can prevent wire wool from rusting by keeping it in a jar of soapy water.'
The Voice is an 'optimistic and informative' rag ensuring that,
'If a million children were dying of the plague in India, you may be sure that the weekly editorial described the miraculous escape from fire of a Methodist family in Kent.'
Sounds a bit like our local newspaper actually.
If there's a murder here (which does happen occasionally) you can be sure the front page will be dedicated to the campaign to move the War Memorial from its less than salubrious location by the public toilets onto the Church Green. The arguments are fierce because that's almost Anglican soil, the public toilets are literally common soil (sorry) but it's less harrowing than a murder after all which might get a few column inches on page three. Perhaps it's to give visitors the impression that violence and drugs busts only happen in London, we all know different of course.
It is Miss Brimley who spills the most beans about our international man of mystery, who had seemed to move through the first novel in the series, Call for the Dead, with a degree of stealth and anonymity to this reader who is trying to meet George Smiley as if for the first time.
'Smiley himself was one of those solitaries who seem to have come into the world fully educated at the age of eighteen. Obscurity was his nature as well as his profession. The byways of espionage are not populated by the brash and colourful adventurers of fiction.'
My picture of George had remained steadfastly Alec Guiness-like until I read this from the mind of Miss Brimley,
'...the most forgettable man she had ever met; short and plump, with heavy spectacles and thinning hair, he was at first sight the very prototype of an unsuccessful middle-aged bachelor in a sedentary occupation.His natural diffidence in most practical matters was reflected in his clothes, which were costly and unsuitable, for he was clay in the hands of his tailor who robbed him.'
What more could a reader ask for in order to start creating a mental picture of a character in a novel?
In many ways, and without being disparaging, the novel and the mystery plot are in themselves unremarkable in comparison to my study of George Smiley.
As the title might suggest I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say Stella's days of preserving wire wool in soapy water are numbered and there is a tangled web of public school double standards and skullduggery to be unearthed, all needing George to do his bit.
With hints of the 'nasty war' I'm intrigued at George Smiley's open and frank admission of real heart-pounding fear in stressful situations, his powers of memory and observation defy superlatives and he engenders respect in every one who mentions his name. There have to be reasons for that and I don't know them yet, this is John le Carre building a character bit by bit and one that is to make him a famous and much-lauded writer, part of our vocabulary and it is the next book in the series that I have been waiting for, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
This the book that by his own admission changed John le Carre's life and
'put me on bare knuckle terms with my abilities...once this book hit the stands, my time of quiet and gardual development was over for good...the last book of my period of innocence, and after it, for better or worse. my experimentations would have to take place in public.'