As regular readers know, I don’t often read thrillers, but I enjoyed this one on a brief trip to Queensland to visit my parents. John le Carre’s A Delicate Truth is a gripping tale of a counter-terrorism operation gone wrong and the subsequent quest to uncover the conspiracy to conceal the truth.
All thrillers are, to some extent, predicated on some kind of paranoia. This one is based on the belief that the Americans and British have abandoned any pretensions that they ever had about behaving honorably. When cynical operatives of the British Foreign Office team up with the private armies of the US in the service of counter-terrorism where any means seem to justify the ends, then all kinds of evil may occur, especially since the mantle of secrecy covers any operations to do with terrorism.
In A Delicate Truth, an operation to abduct a jihadist on the island of Gibraltar is so secret that not even the Minister’s Private Secretary knows about it. Its origins lie in the ambitions of the Foreign Minister and the practice of outsourcing military style operations to private defence contractors. Three years later the Private Secretary, Toby Bell, stumbles into the chaotic consequences of the debacle on Gibraltar and has moral choices to make, not least because he is bound by the Official Secrets Act…
The catalyst for Toby’s dilemma is a man called Jeb, one of the operatives on Gibraltar at the relevant moment, and his visit to a retired diplomat called Sir Christopher (Kit) Probyn. Like Jeb, Kit was on Gibraltar too, but he seems to have witnessed events differently and was knighted for services rendered. However his wife Suki is a sort of moral compass in the novel and her reaction to Jeb’s revelations is what sets events in motion and brings peril to nearly all the characters.
There is a girl, of course, Kit’s daughter Emily. She’s of an age to be of interest to Toby and she is smart and brave as well.
All these elements are skillfully brought together in a novel that pits the solitary man of latent ideals against the amoral armory of the guardians of the Official Secrets Act. To enjoy it, you have suspend a few suspicions about the likelihood of some events, but that just goes with this genre. If you find it hard to believe that the British Foreign Office will do anything to guard its secrets and cover up wrongdoing, even to the extent of deploying the kind of strategies we associate with American gangster movies, this novel is not for you.
Author: John Le Carre
Title: A Delicate Truth
Publisher: Viking Penguin Australia, 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of Penguin
Fishpond: A Delicate Truth