George Smiley was simply doing a favour for an old friend, Miss Ailsa Brimley, who edited a small religious newspaper. Miss Brimley had received a letter from a worried woman reader: 'I'm not mad. And I know my husband is trying to kill me.' The writer of the letter was one Stella Rode, wife to an assistant master at Carne School, Dorset, and by the time it arrived, she was dead. Carne was an ancient, self-regarding Church foundation, proud of its proper standards of social distinctions. George Smiley went there to listen, take sherry, ask questions and think. And thus uncover, layer upon layer, the complexities, skeletons and hatreds that comprised this little English institution.