Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 30, 2013

A Delicate Truth (2013), by John le Carre

A Delicate TruthAs 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.

©Lisa Hill

Author: John Le Carre
Title: A Delicate Truth
Publisher: Viking Penguin Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9780241965160
Source: Review copy courtesy of Penguin


Fishpond: A Delicate Truth

Direct from Penguin


  1. Thank you for reminding me that I want to read this book. I have enjoyed most of LeCarre’s thrillers. He provides the combination of a well-built plot with interesting characters in interesting places. The paranoia goes with the territory and, if you believe such things can never happen, you haven’t been paying attention lately. Some of us are appalled, but not surprised.


  2. Are you leaving this with your father?

    Sent from my iPad, odd punctuation and spelling is iPad s keyboard fault. Cheers Carol


    • Yes, he couldn’t wait for me to finish it!


  3. Nice review, Lisa. I have read one or two of John Le Carre’s cold war spy novels. I thought that he would struggle to produce the same effect if he set his new novels in the current world, but after reading your review, I realize that he can paint on any canvas and is a master at creating that uncertain atmosphere filled with dread for its characters, irrespective of the environment which he has to work with. Thanks for this wonderful review!


  4. I agree with the above comments. To me, Le Carre is that rare beast, a best-selling author who is also a consummate artist.


  5. I last read him our game which was a long while ago ,I always loved his smiley books probably because I loved the tv show .This one seems quite up to date would love to see his views on how the intelligence peoples job has changed over recent times ,all the best stu


    • I haven’t read any of those, Stu. I think one of them is listed in 1001 Books I Should Read so I probably will, one day. I don’t think we ever had the Smiley shows here in Australia, but of course we had the 007 films, and I loved those. Well, *blush* Sean Connery really. I lost interest once he stopped playing the debonair spy.


  6. I was a Le Carre fan a long time ago when his books were so available in my country. I guess I have to go back to searching. Thank you for this great review.


    • Hi Celestine, does the Book Depository deliver to your country? I know they don’t deliver everywhere in Africa because I tried to send a book to a friend once and was hoping to take advantage of their free delivery. But no, I had to wait till the book came here to Australia and then post it to on to her in Africa.


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