Review: A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

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A Delicate Truth
John le Carré (Penguin, £18.99, *£14.99)

He made his name as a novelist during the Cold War with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but John le Carré demonstrates that he has lost none of his ability in skewering the murkier foibles of the British Establishment. There is no more Iron Curtain, but he has adapted to the age of jihadist terrorism, shrinking standing armies and the rise of the private defence contractor.

Into this less-defined geo-political arena enter the distinct cast of characters that Mr le Carré uses to weave his tale of deception, greed, betrayal and ultimately, revenge. There’s the time-serving Foreign Office mandarin who achieves unlikely promotion and a knighthood; the ambitious New Labour minister left over in a Brownite administration, whose business interests and official duties are tantalisingly blurred; the special-forces soldier who pays the professional price for doing his job; and a high-flying diplomat who sacrifices his career to get to the truth pricked by Edmund Burke’s adage that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.

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The action begins in Gibraltar where a counter-terrorist operation to capture and kidnap an arms-buyer is so secret that the Minister’s private secretary is not cleared for it. But does the official version of what happened bear any semblance to reality? It is only when we are transported to rural Cornwall and the unlikely setting of a traditional pagan village fair that the inconsistencies cunningly disguised in Whitehall begin to become unstitched.

A master craftsman, the author brilliantly builds the drama, adding layer on layer like a potter at his wheel. It is not until the last few pages that the full three dimensions of the plot are thrillingly revealed.

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