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Updated: June 1, 2013 18:40 IST

Psychological, not physical

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
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A Delicate Truth; John le Carre; Penguin Books, Rs. 350
The Hindu
A Delicate Truth; John le Carre; Penguin Books, Rs. 350

A spy thriller that is also a discourse against war. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

A Delicate Truth is a typical John le Carre spy thriller: more psychological, less physical action. Yet the plot moves swiftly and the book is a gripping read. A seasoned but low-flying British foreign office man, “Paul Anderson” is sent off on an undercover assignment to Gibraltar by Minister Quinn. Operation Wildlife is a secret operation and a public-private enterprise to kidnap a high-value terrorist from the Mediterranean Sea. Predictably, as with any conflict situation, there is collateral damage.

Three years later, Toby Bell, Private Secretary to Minister Fergus Quinn, begins to unravel the mystery behind this operation. Despite being a part of the Minister’s official team at the time, he had absolutely no knowledge of some of the projects his boss was involved with. He can only connect the dots and, after tapping a secret conversation in the Minister’s chamber, he realises what a wide and intricate mechanism defence contractors and mercenaries have set up globally, with Quinn being a cog. A name heard often is that of Jay Crispin and his Ethical Outcomes group, a fly-by-night company of defence contractors, with Crispin being considered Quinn’s Svengali.  A Delicate Truth is set during the Bush-Blair years when the number of conflicts around the world increased, especially post-9/11Post-Cold War, the espionage genre floundered a bit since it was no longer a polarised world, easy to write about. It had taken off immediately after the World Wars, with writers like Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Graham Greene, and John le Carre dominating it. But contemporary warfare since the early 1990s once again has provided a context and probably an appetite for this kind of fiction. Anti-war literature like debut author and ex-Iraqi war veteran Kevin Power’s The Yellow Birds and A Delicate Truth (given le Carre’s vocal condemnation of the Iraq war) that are creating a healthy public discourse about war and conflict, circumventing doctored press releases.

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