Book Review: A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré

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Delicate Truth, by John le CarréI attribute my love of espionage to Get Smart, the spy TV show starring Don Adams as a bumbling spy that completely spoofed the genre. Growing up, I loved the weird gadgets and the silliness of the bad guys, but over time I’ve come to enjoy more serious spy stories as much as the light-hearted ones. After reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I was happy to get my hands on the latest novel by John le Carré, A Delicate Truth.

Le Carré doesn’t try to make the world of espionage sound glitzy or glamorous. His characters aren’t cut from the same cloth as James Bond: they’re so normal, albeit with a heightened sixth sense for danger and a perhaps-unhealthy dose of paranoia. The world they operate in is unforgiving, and their missions don’t end with neatly wrapped packages and bows. While the mission is usually the focus of the plot, in A Delicate Truth, most of the story happens three years after a mission in Gibraltar has concluded. One participant, Paul Anderson, is told that it was a textbook case and all was well, but others (both participants and nosy secretaries) aren’t so sure. What exactly happened in Gibraltar? Who can be trusted when your government/employer is telling you one thing, and a washed-up spy tells you something else?

Because we need some background information and because other details come to light much afterwards, the pacing is a tricky bit to get right. Le Carré is marvelous at giving out the right amount of information at the right time, and sprinkling in those other details liberally, but not so much that they become info dumps. Everyone that knows something has a good reason to; there isn’t any extended exposition, nor any requests that the reader suspend common sense in order for information to get shoe-horned in.

The story isn’t a whodunnit, and you don’t feel like you have to solve the mystery before the characters do. Rather, they sort of know who did it, they sort of know someone is lying, but the motivations for such actions remain unclear. It’s a stroll through the world of espionage gone corporate, and a good look at the difficulties spies can face when they’re reporting to both their government and an independent contractor.

I don’t know about the rest of Le Carré’s books, but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy felt bulky at times. It wasn’t a book you felt you couldn’t put down. A Delicate Truth, however, was a breeze. It was serious, of course, but it wasn’t very long and it constantly gave you a reason to turn the page. If Le Carré is going to continue straying from Cold War-era novels, and Truth is any indication of how that’s going to go, I think I’ll be okay with that.

All those pertinent details:

  • Title: A Delicate Truth
  • Author: John le Carré
  • Length: 320 pages (paperback)
  • Genre: fiction, mystery, espionage
  • Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Note: I received this book from the publisher as a result of winning a Goodreads “First Reads” giveaway, in return for an honest review.

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