Socialist Worker

A Delicate Truth by John Le Carré

John Le Carré’s new novel, A Delicate Truth, portrays a state where any crime can be committed if it can be concealed, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2351

Book cover

John Le Carré’s latest novel begins on the edge of empire. 

“A middle-ranking British civil servant, hauled from his desk in one of the more prosaic departments of Her Majesty’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be dispatched on a top-secret mission of acute sensitivity.” 

This is because a government minister is in hock to “shadowy” interests of private intelligence firms.

Operation Wildlife is a top-secret mission to the rock of Gibraltar, involving CIA, special forces and a cast of spooks. 

What the British can do in the raid and what must be left to the Americans is all about plausible denial.

All the spies, assassins and politicians use language to cover them themselves in case of later revelation. 

Le Carré draws you in to a murky world where the operation was “an utter cock-up” in which two innocent people are killed. 

Three years later one of the soldiers involved reveals that the greater crime is the government conspiracy to cover it up. 

The idealistic hero is lost in a world where war has been outsourced. 

The chief securicrat is “your normal, rootless, amoral, plausible, half-educated, nicely spoken frozen adolescent in a bespoke suit, with an unappeasable craving for money, power and respect, regardless of where he got them from.”


Since the end of the Cold War le Carré’s novels have roamed around the globe. A Delicate Truth is a homecoming. 

Running through the book are old and new coming together in technology, character and style. 

The corporate evils of the 1990s novels have merged with the secret state of earlier decades. 

The state is the villain. The polite British state is in dark deals with mercenaries, torturing and kidnapping, crushing anyone who dares to tell. 

Anything is permitted, so long as it can be concealed. The collusion of government ministers, civil servants, and the police is inevitable.

The themes are familiar—deception, hypocrisy, betrayal and lurking occasionally—honourable behaviour. 

Le Carré is, by his own account, a writer of “political novels”. 

He has often asked, “Who will save us from capitalism?” He rarely finds an answer but the journey is both thrilling and surprising.

A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carré, £18.99


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Tue 30 Apr 2013, 16:34 BST
Issue No. 2351
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