on 28 May 2014
This story is set in comparatively recent times - the War on Terror - and deals with a disastrous decision by the SIS to collaborate with (a partly privatised) episode of 'extraordinary rendition' the illegal abduction of foreigners thought to be a threat to America. This is at the behest of a junior (but ambitious) F.O. Minister of the then government. This involves two career diplomats and a handful of ex SAS men (and a liaison officer with the private pirates). The two career diplomats are very different people: one is close to retirement and one is in his prime and runs the Minister's Office.
The former is sent to Gibraltar (where the abduction is to be staged) as a peaceful observer to report back to the Minister. He does so and witnesses a disaster, in which a harmless civilian and her daughter who are gunned down. After returning to London he is posted to some Caribbean Island to serve as High Commissioner for a couple of years before being retired for good with a gong.
The younger man (Toby), who suspects the Minister is up to no good, secretly records the meeting where the Minister briefs the F.O observer and the SAS participants before they depart for Gibraltar. After the event Toby is sent (for no obvious reason) to serve in the British Embassy in Lebanon for two or three years.
The story is not concerned with details of the rendition operation, but with the two career diplomats who realise the enormity
of what has taken place and feel that public should be aware of what has been done in there name.
It is a very worthwhile story although to my mind it ended rather abruptly.
The first time I read 'The Spy That Came In From The Cold', I remember the first page and then not much until I finished the book. This novel feels much the same. The first chapter confusing, trying to figure out who's who and what is what. Finally, realizing that as this story unfolds, it is brilliant. Paul, Jeb, Eliot, Giles, Toby, Crispin and Emily, all characters that come to life. Gibraltar, Cornwall, London, Beirut, the Caribbean, these are the places for the world of the Intelligence Service.
Le Carré's novels have changed, his characters have come to life with humor and emotion. It is the 'little people' that are the heroes of this story. No more spies, it is the everyday Joe up against the big machine of arms and politics. Paul,aka Kit Probyn, was drawn into a mysterious game as a low level government worker. The job was finished,and he settled down in the country with his wife and daughter to the good life. Now, he finds out this game was not without consequences, and he and Toby Bell, a diplomat are trying to find and report the truth. This is a masterful story that comes alive with suspense as new truths unfold and old truths are found misleading.
There is a lot of political correctness gone awry in this novel. The issue of England and the US working together in clandestine versions of one cover-up after another. So, these two individuals come together to find the truth and to spread light upon dark waters. I do hope we are able to follow Toby Bell in his career. Truth and justice, will it prevail? Le Carre is at the top of his game once again. The Cold War has come and gone. The new era is upon us.
Highly Recommended. prisrob 05-15-13
on 20 July 2013
I read Le Carre's last novel, Our Kind Of Traitor, and found myself rather disappointed. The Master is now in his 80s, I reasoned, has he lost his touch? Don't get me wrong, it was still a finger-on-the-pulse and prescient piece (far more than it ought to be considering the great man's age) but the book seemed slight. Shallow.
It was therefore with some mild reservation that I picked up the hardback of his newly released 2013 novel, A Delicate Truth. By the middle of chapter two (a good 100 pages in I might add) I threw all reservations aside. Le Carre has most emphatically NOT lost his touch and in this novel manages to voice a salient polemical attack on the duplicitous mercenary actions of the New Labour government in its dying days. Occasionally some of the ministerial characters felt like they were lifted from The Thick Of It it is fair to say, but they were believable and often, worryingly so. His protagonists were, as ever, on the side of the angels and deeply sympathetic and engaging.
If I have perhaps one gripe it is that the ending, built up so well as for those final pages to be unputdownable, is a little bit too open ended and abrupt for my liking. But on reflection, where else could it go?
A Delicate Truth is a gripping, thought provoking and exciting read proving the notion that, whilst the game may change, Le Carre - complete with his insider understanding of the rules - remains at the top of it.
on 19 September 2013
JLC's last bestseller "Our Kind of Traitor" OKT) had a mixed reception in the UK, but was a hit in the US. It drew few comments on the EN section of Amazon.de and Amazon.fr. But tens of thousands or more Germans and French readers must have read the book in translation...
Like OKT, this passionate novel is an assault on Britain's political establishment during the New Labour era under Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown. It suggests that some key persons within government push for strategic matters of national defence to be outsourced to private companies based in the US. The "evidence" is presented in the lengthy (46 pp.) first chapter of this book, describing a secret US/UK operation in Gibraltar allegedly mounted to capture a senior Al-Qaeda leader. This chapter also shows JLC's awesome writing skills, which he will keep up until the end..
What follows is the tale of its aftermath. It is about one, then two Foreign Office staff involved in the operation. The naïve one was made ambassador in the Caribbean, then retired. The other, more probing one was posted to Beirut at short notice. Years pass by before the two meet and compare notes. Then the drama begins...
And the powers of surveillance by foreign and domestic security services, disclosed recently by former insiders, soon become apparent in this grand novel... It rivals Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" published in 2007, one year before the ongoing crisis erupted, as the scariest book I have read in a decade.
Highly recommended thriller.
on 11 May 2013
I am a huge fan of le Carre and this has probably tipped me over to giving his latest book 5 stars instead of four. As with A Most Wanted Man A Delicate Truth is set in the "War on Terror". Whereas that book's action was focused in Germany, A Delicate Truth is very much an English story. le Carre is explicit about key parts of this book being set in the dying days of the New Labour. Although he has always been a political writer and someone who has referenced current affairs I think this is the most explicit he has ever been in focusing on a particular political party as opposed to the government or bureaucracy in general.
As other reviewers have commented this is not a book in the style of the Smiley classics where one spymaster outwits another. It is more about ordinary people trying to do the right thing and being prevented from achieving it by multinationals, politicians and their business interests. In this case the people trying to do the right thing are a retired Foreign Office official and a rising star, both appalled by activities that they have been directly involved in or deliberately excluded from.
Where trade craft and other le Carre staples are mentioned it is in efforts by the lead characters to avoid the attentions of their own spy services while they try to find the truth despite knowing it could devastate their own careers and reputations.
on 30 July 2014
The story telling is an intriguing as ever. He begins with the main event, and the book is the slow unfurling of the context of the event and the main character's moral and logistical stuggles to do the right thing. As usual with le Carre we have a foreboding that the hero will not win through.
The usual strengths and weaknesses apply , the dialogue is faultless, credible, you can almost hear the words as you read them - though there is a Welsh character whose dialogue is almost a parody of Welshness. The crafting of the story telling is as exquisite as ever. The shortcomings of female characterisation is there as ever, Probyn's wife might as well wear a sign saying `Conscience', his daughter is doughty, loyal and true.
The problems with le Carre's later work are visible - it now lacks the ambiguity that was characteristic of his classics - Karla returned to a potential show-trial in Moscow rather than defect to Smiley, Smiley used Karla's love of family to bring about his ultimate defeat; the ambiguity of good people doing cruel things in defence of an ideology of toleration. Le Carre's minor characters were always memorable also -Ricky Tarr springs to mind. In this book all the bad guys are unredeemable - greedy, vain, duplicitous, all might as well wear black hats. Even the good guys are superficial - Toby Bell, the hero, is conflicted, but not deep. Toby's mentor - Giles Oakley - seemed to be a Smiley-type, but le Carre drives him into a cul-de-sac. Oakley warns Bell not to act on the information he has, so as not to loose his job, he urges him to wait until he has a pension. Probyn is afraid to act on the infomation he has, because he might loose his pension. In fact the only character developed in the book is Kit Probyn, the aged Civil-servant `low-flier'. I think le Carre might see him as a metaphor for the British public - well-meaning, easily led, decent. As I read the book, I kept seeing John Cleese as Probyn, not in manic comedy mode, but in his pent-up despair role.
Fergus Quinn, an ambitious New Labour Foreign Office minister, picks a biddable Whitehall bureaucrat to oversee "Wildlife", a sensitive counter-terrorism operation - an odd choice, since "birdwatcher Paul Anderson", does not have a clue what is going on, before, during or after an exercise that goes badly awry. So, after accepting a clearly undeserved promotion into a sinecure followed by lord-of-the-manor retirement in a decaying Cornish mansion, what could induce "Anderson" to become a whistleblower? The same could be asked of the hardbitten commando employed in the secret operation, and of young Private Secretary, Tony Bell, whom Quinn tries to keep out of the loop altogether.
This is the basis for a gripping modern thriller with a mission to arouse our consciences over such issues as the erosion of democracy, the corrupt involvement of corporate power in government e.g. for defence contracts, the frightening power of intelligence organisations to spy on ordinary people in the name of national security.
My problem was an inability to believe in much of the dialogue - artificial, with too many characters speaking in the same upper crusty old Etonian voice, or in some Monty Pythonesque portrayal of "a working man". Le Carré gives the impression of being slightly out of touch, as with the school teacher who talks of teaching "arithmetic up to A Level". Most characters are thinly developed, and heavily stereotyped. Frequent placing of important conversations in flashbacks reduces the potential dramatic tension. There is too much "telling", often repeating what the reader already knows. Plot content is slim, and as other reviewers have said, even the wrong at the heart of the novel, although shocking, seems insufficient to awaken consciences to the extent of creating whistleblowers prepared to stake all. Is Le Carré resting too much on his laurels in this latest work?
Chapter 2 provides a lengthy telling of Tony Bell's rapid rise, mentored and advanced by the caricatured éminence grise mandarin, Giles Oakley. At one point, Tony acts out of character, also giving a hint of things to come, with an inward diatribe against the immorality of the Iraq War, including special condemnation of Tony Blair, whose "public postures are truthless". This sounds like Le Carré indulging in a personal rant of his own. Truth being stranger than fiction, it might have been more effective to produce a non-fiction analysis.
I could only cope with the first part of the book by treating it as a parody of upper class, or would-be establishment figures fudging truth and sacrificing principles for the sake of a cushy life.
In the final chapters, where the key players belatedly try to take responsibility and expose the truth, Le Carré creates a real sense of menace and tension. Is struggle futile or will they be able to have the last word? If so, at what personal cost? With the end in sight, the quality of Le Carré's prose improves to what one has hoped for. "What the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain wasn't stupidity at all. It was sheer, wanton, blood indifference to anybody's interests but their own".
Although style and structure often make for an irritating read, it seems a good choice for a book group, both as regards discussion of issues, and exchange of what are likely to be conflicting opinions on the quality of the writing.
on 2 December 2014
I found this gripping but question those reviewers who seem to regard it as a critical commentary on Blair's New Labour and its foreign involvement in the War on Terror. Surely this is fiction. Plausible maybe bur no more than gripping fiction. I found it a real page turner keeping me gripped to the end. But the end lost a five star rating from me as it left the reader rather up in the air wondering what will happen to the main protagonist. Is this inconclusiveness to lead on to the next volume in the life of Toby Bell? I hope so.
on 25 November 2013
The usual high standard from John le Carre with a contemporary twist. Has to be read in one sitting if poss.
This is a rightfully angry book as le Carré traces the logical extremes of capitalism: outsourcing political intelligence and British military operations to private American contractors and mercenaries. For all of his authentic exposé, however, this remains a far less subtle story than his earlier Smiley and Karla books.
The murky moralities of his early works has gone, and been replaced by a strident indignation – the divisions between the villains and heroes are decidedly clear-cut with none of the grey areas that le Carré had so memorably made his trademark.
Much of the complications of this story come from the way it is told with a constant jumping backwards and forwards in the narration, and a circling around the heart of the matter. Told in a straightforward way, this would have been a fairly thin book to reflect the uncomplicated story at its centre.
That said, le Carré still has a social and political calibration that many lesser novelists lack – this isn’t vintage le Carré, and doesn’t have the emotional weight of The Constant Gardner, but it’s still a more authentic and sincere book than many political thrillers.