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A Delicate Truth Hardcover – May 7, 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 691 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Shockingly, le Carré no longer writes about moral ambiguity. Gone is any semblance of the notion that a government and its emissaries in the secret services could ever be on the side of the individual. That’s been true for several novels—certainly since The Constant Gardener (2001)—but le Carré’s latest is perhaps the most definitive statement yet of his new worldview. It starts with a 2008 counterterrorism operation, code-named Wildfire, gone wrong. A team of agents, led by a British foreign minister and a private defense contractor, was charged with capturing a terrorist on the island of Gibraltar. Billed as a rousing success, the op was, in fact, a fiasco. Three years later, a now-disgraced British agent tells the real story to retired diplomat Sir Christopher Probyn, also involved in the mission but in the dark as to what actually happened. Probyn eventually teams with Toby Bell, secretary to the minister in charge of Wildfire. Bell, also in the dark, starts digging and finds he faces a personal crisis: expose the cover-up and scuttle his career or keep quiet. Whistle-blowers risking life and livelihood to bring evil bureaucrats to their knees have long been a staple of espionage fiction. In le Carré’s new world, however, evil bureaucrats never skin their knees; there are no happy endings, even attenuated ones. We commented in our 2008 review of le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man (a film version of which will open in the fall) on the slow, inexorable way that, in the novel, “institutional will grinds down individual lives.” That grinding process is even more brutal this time around, as le Carré further establishes himself as a master of a new, shockingly realistic kind of noir in which right-thinking individuals who challenge the institutional order of things always lose. No ambiguity there but plenty of gut-wrenching tragedy. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: It’s been nearly 50 years since le Carré broke through with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. He has set the bar ever since for espionage fiction that appeals to head and heart rather than just quickening the reader’s pulse. --Bill Ott


“At the moment a new generation is stumbling upon his work, le Carré is still writing at something close to the top of his game…. [A Delicate Truth] is an elegant yet embittered indictment of extraordinary rendition, American right-wing evangelical excess and the corporatization of warfare. It has a gently flickering love story and jangling ending. And le Carré has not lost his ability to sketch, in a line or two, an entire character.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times Magazine

“The narrative dominoes fall with masterly precision....As ever, le Carré’s prose is fluid, carrying the reader toward an inevitable yet nail-biting climax.”—Olen Steinhauer, The New York Times Book Review (front page)

“Timelier than ever.”—The New York Times
“Well-wrought….A sharply sketched gallery of characters.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Le Carré is fiercely modern…a confluence of styles, voices, approaches….A novel that beckons us beyond any and all expectations.”—Washington Post

“[L]e Carré is...at full power with a book that draws on a career’s worth of literary skill and international analysis. No other writer has charted—pitilessly for politicians but thrillingly for readers—the public and secret histories of his times.”—The Guardian (UK)
“Gorgeous writing. It’s sophisticated storytelling at its very best.”—USA Today
“A ripping, fun yarn.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Loyalty to the crown is tested; consciences are checked; and nothing is more terrifying than, as this novel’s protagonist puts it, ‘a solitary decider’ asking himself how on earth he talked himself into this mess.”—The Daily Beast
“A remarkably assured touch…. [Le Carré] has maintained full control of his prodigious literary talents.”—SF Gate

“The dirty deeds are brutal and crude. And so is the cover-up.”—The Huffington Post
“Heady and absorbing....John le Carré remains in full command of both the craft of writing and the art of espionage.”—Christian Science Monitor
“As fresh as today’s headlines….A ripping yarn in the le Carré tradition.”—Washington Times

“Le Carré further establishes himself as a master of a new, shockingly realistic kind of noir.”—Booklist (Starred)

“This is a guaranteed hair-raising cerebral fright, especially for anyone who enjoyed Robert Harris’s The Ghost or who just knows his or her email account has been hacked.”—Library Journal (Starred)

“Le Carré focuses on the moral rot and creeping terror barely concealed by the affable old-boy blather that marks the pillars of the intelligence community.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

“A great story in sterling prose.”—Publishers Weekly

“Le Carré proves himself a master of character development.”—The Millions
“Another breathtakingly good work…. [the] story hurtles along with the speed of light.”—Newsday

“The upper register of a great writer’s oeuvre. Knowledge is not power in the novel: John le Carré believes that truth, difficult and generous on its own, can also kill you.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Characteristically clever.”—The Kansas City Star

“Stylish, taut storytelling….One of our finest writers.”—Tampa Bay Times
“Witty as it is insightful….A Delicate Truth is a delightful read that unnerves as it entertains.”—The Columbus Dispatch
“The master storyteller, le Carré, is still at war. His foes now are legion. But his battles, and his novels, are flooded with light and hope. He pins his faith, and that of his readers, on the fundamental decency of those most vulnerable and quirky of warriors – the average joes.”—OregonLive.com

“Expertly constructed and sharply detailed….How uncannily this [novel] reflects the headlines of the day.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Vintage le Carré.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A career’s worth of literary skill and international analysis…..No other writer has chartered…the public and secret history of his times.”—The Guardian (UK)

“Remarkable….[A Delicate Truth] displays the mastery of the early and the passion of late Le Carré.”—Robert McCrum, The Observer (UK)

“Writing of such quality that…it will be read in one hundred years….[Le Carré] found his canvas in espionage, as Dickens did in other worlds. The two men deserve comparison.”—Daily Mail (UK)

“The tension ratchets up superbly as revelation follows on revelation….[Le Carré] is a writer of towering gifts, whose fiction appeals to a reading public both popular and serious….A talent to provoke as well as unsettle.”—The Independent (UK)


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670014893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670014897
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (691 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

John le Carre was born in 1931. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy: Tinke, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People. His novels include The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy, The Russia House, Our Game, The Taileor of Panama, and Single & Single. John le Carre lives in Cornwall.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When we last were blessed with a John le Carré novel, we were confronted with a question not often posed in espionage thrillers --- who is more immoral, the biggest money-launderer in Russia or a London banker? (Maybe the title will give you a clue: "Our Kind of Traitor.")

Now comes his 23rd novel, "A Delicate Truth." If you are hoping this title suggests le Carré has written about espionage that is sophisticated and civilized --- espionage as an art form --- you should leave now with your illusions intact. In these pages, the dirty deeds are brutal and crude. And so is the cover-up.

What is delicate? In these pages, most of the action occurs in England. For the first time in a le Carré novel, it's Brit against Brit. They wear good clothes and went to good schools and they sure can talk the talk --- when they speak of protecting our freedom from terrorists, they're quite moving.

So"delicate" is an irony. That cool English charm has worn thin. The bad guys? They're in the government, or were. Since the end of the Cold War, le Carré's books have been moving in this direction. It took George Bush ("The US has gone mad") and Tony Blair ("A leader who takes his country to war under false pretenses is simply not an acceptable person") to concentrate le Carré's disgust.

Thrillers may be his traditional literary category, but that no longer describes his work. The author of "A Delicate Truth" has become a moralist, enraged that the powerful commit great crimes, lie and get away with it. In essence, he's writing the books that Charles Dickens would be writing now. For that alone, I say: three cheers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the time le Carre wrote "Call for the Dead" in 1961 he has played the theme of moral ambiguity: good men stepping into the quagmire of murky morality in their fight against evil, resulting often in the death of innocent, naive ideologues. He chronicled the challenges against western civilization for the last five decades, delving into current events that raise moral conundrums, and the decline of British influence in the post-war decades as the UK devolved into another inconsequential European country in "Our Kind of Traitor," le Carre's last book.

In "A Delicate Truth," le Carre examines the delicate fragility of democracy, the delicate concepts of personal freedoms and equity that underlay the foundations of democracy. The author peers through the looking glass and asks the question: are the great democracies of western civilization sliding towards the same corruption of third world, developing countries, corruption in which leaders pursue power and greed with no concerns for moral ambiguity, as long as they avoid personal consequences.

Le Carre explores the potential conflicts and entanglements of the modern military and secret service use of contracting traditional services far beyond anything Eisenhower envisioned in his: beware the power of the military-industrial complex. Toby Bell is a young, rapidly rising, mid-level officer in the Foreign Service, a Private Secretary to the overly ambitious Quinn, Assistant Director of the Foreign Office. Quinn launches into a secretive operation, but keeps Toby completely isolated from the action, although he suspects an illegal operation. But his mentors tell him to stay out of the way to protect his career. The story begins with Toby breaking the law in an amateur attempt to expose Quinn.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book in little more than a day. I found it much more compelling than Le Carre's last - OUR KIND OF TRAITOR - and think it marks a return to form for him; this is probably his best book since THE CONSTANT GARDENER. Although his politics have never been shriller or more heavy-handed, and some of the caricatures here (particularly of the Americans) are just embarrassing, this is such a superb piece of storytelling that one can almost overlook its faults. Rather than regurgitate the book's plot, I'll just say that the writing here has tremendous assurance - from the very beginning you feel in the hands of a master - and the main characters are superbly-drawn. I think Le Carre buffs will get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
There is no one more skillful at advancing plot through conversation than John LeCarré. His duels between bright and alert antagonists are a thrill to follow. This book, a sort of black hole edition of Don Quixote, pits a young man of considerable skill, moral fibre and determination against the corporate-government fusion strangling civil culture, decency, and freedom and making short work of all three in these earliest years of the 21st century. It's a sobering and chillingly real book that I could not put down, taking it in in two extended draughts to the last ambiguous sentence. Now, I'll start it again
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A public / private snatch operation of a terrorist leader on Gibralter goes badly wrong with civilians being killed.

Three years later one of the members of the operation approaches others involved to assist in going public with events as he has been hung out to dry by his masters.

From here the 'system" begins to close in on the three who have decided to bring the failed operation to public attention.

The book has a very small cast of characters but the way it is written there is a continual build up of tension right to the end. It almost a 'tilting at windmills' tale as three or four men decide to follow their conscience rather than take easy options which are made to them.

A great cameo from a character called 'Brigid' fantastic dialogue from her.

All in all it shows that Mr Cornwell still has what it takes to write a decent thriller even though he is becoming more overt and much less subtle in a dislike for certain aspects of government.

Not a huge book or a long read but money well spent.
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