Review: A Delicate Truth

Posted 1 May, 2013 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

A Delicate Truth
By: John le Carre
Format/Source: ARC courtesy of the publisher via a Twitter contest

A Delicate Truth opens in 2008. A counter-terrorist operation, codenamed Wildlife, is being mounted on the British crown colony of Gibraltar. Its purpose: to capture and abduct a high-value jihadist arms-buyer. Its authors: an ambitious Foreign Office Minister, a private defense contractor who is also his bosom friend, and a shady American CIA operative of the evangelical far-right. So delicate is the operation that even the Minister’s personal private secretary, Toby Bell, is not cleared for it.

Cornwall, UK, 2011. A disgraced Special Forces Soldier delivers a message from the dead. Was Operation Wildlife the success it was cracked up to be—or a human tragedy that was ruthlessly covered up? Summoned by Sir Christopher (“Kit”) Probyn, retired British diplomat, to his decaying Cornish manor house, and closely observed by Kit’s beautiful daughter, Emily, Toby must choose between his conscience and duty to his Service. If the only thing necessary to the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, how can he keep silent?

This is actually only the second John le Carre I’ve read. I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a few years ago and re-read it last year before watching the 2011 adaptation (review). Since then I had been meaning to get around to more of his books but just haven’t found the time, really. This book is to be released on May 7th and I won an ARC of this novel through Chapters Indigo/the publishers on Twitter. May contain some minor spoilers!

I found that, reading through this novel, I couldn’t put it down! It’s not an all-out thriller with fantastic face-offs and espionage capers but there is a major mission that unfolds early in the novel and lots of meetings and second-guessing (who’s lying? who’s telling the truth?). The suspense element comes from wondering if and when the truth about Operation Wildfire will surface. A Delicate Truth portrays le Carre’s typical style of writing–taut and clinical–that adds to the tension of the situation.

The characters were interesting enough, especially that of Toby Bell and Kit Probyn. I was however surprised that despite of Kit’s involvement in the mission and his quest to find out what his colleagues on the mission were really talking about, his involvement tapers off at the end when he hits a dead-end. It seemed like a sad way to end his presence in the novel if only because it made me wonder if it was some gaffe because he was already old and retired. *shrugs*

On another note, I wasn’t sure what to make of his daughter Emily’s involvement in Toby’s investigation. Granted, I’m cool with a more active female presence in le Carre’s novels but in the case of this story, I wasn’t sure why she became so involved in the search for answers. Does she operate in place of her mother, who also wants answers but is too sick to play a greater role? I don’t know, Emily just seemed a little too removed from the main players involved in the operation to be pushing everyone along and poking around and left me wondering more than sitting back and reading the events unfold.

The ending was also a bit of a letdown; evidently the last few pages laid down exactly what was going to happen next and what Toby’s decision was with regards to the information in his hands but I still felt the last paragraph ended the novel far too abruptly. It would’ve worked in a cinematic format but here I would have appreciated a more decisive conclusion to some of the storylines that were left hanging.

Despite of these few issues that came to my mind as I read the book, I enjoyed reading A Delicate Truth. It greatly reflects the international and political climates we live in while providing the uncertainty and the hidden corridors of politics and power that are signature to le Carre’s stories. If you’re a fan of John le Carre’s works or a fan of the quiet kinds of political & espionage thrillers, this is a book worth checking out.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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2 Responses to “Review: A Delicate Truth”

  1. Melissa

    But who were the sirens coming for? Toby, for broadcasting the truth? The three thugs in the street pretending to fix a tire–and therefore short-stop said thugs from getting to Toby for a second beating? Were they police coming to drag Toby and arrest Emily as an accomplice? Or ambulances sent by the concerned downstairs neighbor or by G. Oakley upon his departure, knowing Toby had perhaps been in desperate straits? This ambiguity is what drove me to cut short a liaison with a Brit. Even when I asked for clarity it led to more subterfuge. I was glad to be done with this book.

  2. Mark

    I think the answer to the ending is provided in the very descriptive passage in which the two Foreign Service lawyers browbeat Kit into submission by describing the mechanism of secret criminal trials with no means to cross examine witnesses. In the endnotes, Le Carre mentions the assault on freedom as part of the war on terror. I think Toby and Emily were sent off to the Brit equivalent of Gitmo, never to be heard from again.

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