Review

A Delicate Truth

by John le Carré

John le Carré brings us a new psychological thriller that casts his cynical eye toward the Kafkaesque world of espionage, right-wing politics and bureaucracy in A DELICATE TRUTH

Operation Wildlife, a top-secret, bloodless mission to extract a dangerous jihadist weapons dealer on English soil, is put into action by the British Foreign Office under direction of a brash new Scottish Member of Parliament. The MP appoints Christopher Probyn, a middle-aged, seasoned and trustworthy Foreign Officer with no cloak and dagger experience to be his eyes and ears during the operation. A team of American private security contractors out of Houston and a smooth-talking CIA operative who is a friend of the MP have been secretly contracted to work with an elite band of British Special Forces troopers to snatch the arms dealer from a seaside apartment in Gibraltar.

"le Carré, a master of the psychological thriller, has created a cast of duplicitous characters so facile at spinning events to suit their needs for deniability, you never know who, if anyone, can be trusted."

Probyn is provided with a false name and identification, and tucked away in a hotel room to await further instructions. When he is finally contacted, he is outfitted with night vision goggles, an ear piece, an encrypted cell phone and binoculars, and transported to a windy cliffside to report to the MP as the mission plays out. Events turn dodgy for a few minutes, but after some frantic communications and a brief burst of gunfire near the extraction site, the mission appears to be accomplished. Everyone involved gets an “Attaboy,” promotions and new assignments, even a Knighthood to Probyn, the clandestine eyes and ears of the MP. Above all, no one is to even whisper the name “Wildlife.”

Three years later, things start to unravel. One of the Special Forces British soldiers on the mission has cracked over the emotional strain of something that definitely did not go right that fateful night, and is threatening to blow the whistle. Toby Bell, the MP’s private secretary, has never heard of Operation Wildlife. He is handed a cryptic message received by Sir Christopher Probyn who was recognized by the soldier from the mission at a local fair. Sir Christopher wants to discuss the message and its meaning with the MP, but keeps getting stonewalled until he reaches Toby. Together, they learn that the cover-up, if exposed, could mean the end of the careers of several high-level Foreign Office officials.

le Carré, a master of the psychological thriller, has created a cast of duplicitous characters so facile at spinning events to suit their needs for deniability, you never know who, if anyone, can be trusted.

The world we live in is as fraught with danger as it ever has been. With the end of the Cold War, the killer-thriller action novels have evolved to reflect the new enemy, filled with superheroes and whiz-bang weapons in exotic Southeast Asian and/or African locales, roaring with helicopters, humbees and gunships, explosions and futuristic weapons. These translate to blockbuster action movies that reek of gunpowder and death. le Carré relies on nuance, complex plots and sophisticated mind games, creating edge-of-your-seat suspense without the bells and whistles. 

le Carré’s iconic espionage thrillers span over 50 years, with more than 20 titles, including THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and THE CONSTANT GARDENER, all of which were made into movies. He has not lost his touch since he created George Smiley in CALL FOR THE DEAD to rave reviews in 1961. His grateful fans rejoice that at age 81, he continues to create novels on contemporary subjects that keep you guessing to the last stunning page.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on May 10, 2013

A Delicate Truth
by John le Carré

  • Publication Date: April 29, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0143125311
  • ISBN-13: 9780143125310