MORE GREAT READS FOR JUNE, 2013
A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré
Mr Le Carré, long the undisputed King of the Spy novel, has changed literary direction considerably since the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, instead aiming his expository arrows closer to home, his last novel ‘Our Kind of Traitor’
being a perfect example (see review below). In ‘A Delicate Truth’, the Blair New Labour government and its unpopular alliance with its American counterparts are mercilessly exposed in their relentless use of any method to achieve victory – and profits - in the War on Terror.
WILDLIFE is the code name for a combined U.S./British Special Forces counter-terrorist operation to capture a notorious jihadist arms buyer at a secret location on Gibraltar. There is also a mysterious private right-wing arms and security company involved: ‘War’s gone corporate, Paul!’
Fergus Quinn, a Junior minister of the Crown fuelled more by ambition than good sense recruits a diplomatic ‘low-flyer’ (codenamed Paul) to be his token Man on the Spot, his Eyes and Ears as the top-secret (even from his own government!) mission is carried out and – the ‘low-flyer’ expects – the wit to abort the operation if the situation warrants it. Ah, in a perfect world …..!
Things go wrong. After the collapse of radio and computer contact Paul is literally left in the dark on a Gibraltar hillside until his rescue and hurried evacuation back to England by a young woman constantly exhorting him that the operation was ‘a triumph, right? No casualties. We did a great job. All of us. You, too. Right?’
And maybe that was true, because the low-flyer ends up with a knighthood and a very cushy diplomatic post to the Caribbean.
Enter Toby Bell, aspiring Foreign Office employee and soon-to-be Private Secretary (read minder) to Junior minister Quinn just prior to the Gibraltar fiasco. Toby has been recommended by his long-time friend and mentor Giles Oakley; this is a plum job which could lead to even higher things and Toby is delighted by his good fortune, for his origins are humble, his educational distinction and linguistic qualifications gained through intelligence, hard work and scholarships and disguising ‘the brand marks of the English tongue’ – his Dorset burr – in favour of the ‘Middle English affected by those determined not to have their social origins defined for them.’
Yes, Toby has ambition but he also has morals: ‘ he wishes to make a difference, to take part in his country’s discovery of its true identity in a post-imperial, post Cold-War world’; he is an ethical, decent man, and whilst he is not naïve, he is far from prepared for the corruption he is forced to confront, or its extent. And this is the fulcrum upon which Mr Le Carré’s fine story turns: will Toby fold under the pressure of bribes or threats, physical and otherwise, or will he follow the maxim ‘evil triumphs when good men do nothing,’ and act on it?
Yet again, Mr Le Carré has constructed with trademark elegance and style a novel of honourable men - 21st century anachronisms, their integrity derided and courage discounted - but not content ‘to do nothing’. And again, Mr Le Carré demonstrates effortlessly why he leads and others follow: he still blows lesser writers right out of the water. Highly recommended.
Our Kind of Traitor, by John le Carré reviewed November, 2010
Dima is a Russian gangster, and proud of it. He is also an expert money-launderer for the Russian Mafia and has amassed huge wealth for them, and for himself – but a new young ‘Prince’ is coming to the fore in the Mafia Hierarchy, and the Prince doesn’t like Dima; Dima is too ‘Old-School’, he dwells too much on the old Vor code of Honour amongst thieves (and murderers) and after one last, biggest laundering operation – the opening of a new ‘respectable’ bank in the City of London – Dima and his family will be eliminated, as were several of his dear friends and colleagues already: it’s time, thinks Dima, to defect with all his secrets and sell them to his preferred country of asylum, Great Britain. Yet again John Le Carré has crafted an impeccable story of secret service diplomacy, political corruption and life-and-death back-room dealings; his characters are superb, almost Dickensian in range and description and utterly, utterly believable. Mr. Le Carré has the best eye and ear for accents and body language in the business, and his wit, interspersed even at times of great suspense in this beautifully plotted story, is delicious. This is the master at his best: highly recommended.