Image: Penguin Books
A Delicate Truth
- by John Le Carré
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Penguin Group (2013)
- Hardcover: $28.95
- Kindle and Nook: $12.99
A Delicate Truth is John Le Carré’s 23rd novel, and his 20th since he became famous in 1963 with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Now he’s in his 80s, and still publishing.
The story starts with a bureaucrat in the British Foreign Office, near the end of his career, who has been chosen to be the liaison to an off-the-record covert operation on Gibraltar. He is told his name for the duration is Paul Anderson. At the beginning of the action he is in charge of a group of special forces, who are also off the books. The mission, named Operation Wildfire, is to aid the American rendition of a terrorist who’s there to negotiate an arms purchase. Once the engagement gets underway, Paul is extracted from the scene, and, as far as he knows, it went off without a hitch.
The next segment, set in the same time period, involves Toby Bell, a rising star in the Foreign Office, who has just become private secretary to the newly appointed Junior Minister of State, Fergus Quinn. Toby observes that his boss is closely connected with corporate operators in both Defense and the Foreign Office, and that Quinn seems to be planning something in secret with them. However, Quinn keeps him in the dark.
Fast forward a couple of years. Paul is revealed to be Sir Christopher (Kit) Probyn, knighted and recently retired to Cornwall. He is approached at a country fair by Jeb, the leader of the special forces in Operation Wildlife, who asserts that the action went horribly wrong, and that an innocent woman and child were killed.
The rest of the novel is devoted to how Kit, Jeb, and Toby (whom Kit tracks down to find out what he knows) try to uncover the resultant coverup and establish some responsibility within the British Government. Even though there is some action and plenty of suspense, this book’s message is foremost an admonition about the dangers of allowing corporate interests into government intelligence activities, the general immorality of such activities, and the hazards of secrecy.
Perhaps I’m too cynical, or perhaps I’m jaded by the events of the last 12 years. Yes, I was upset by the accidental murders and what some unfeeling people might characterize as collateral damage, but I just couldn’t seem to muster the degree of moral outrage that the author seems to expect of the reader in this book in order to sympathize with that of his characters.