cover image A Delicate Truth

A Delicate Truth

John le Carré. Viking, $28.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-670-01489-7

State-sanctioned duplicity drives bestseller le Carré’s entertainingly labyrinthine if overly polemical 23rd novel, which features a corrupt British Foreign Office minister, Fergus Quinn, and an American private defense contractor “best known as Ethical Outcomes.” In 2008, a cloak-and-dagger plot to capture an arms dealer in Gibraltar under the mantle of counterterrorism goes awry. Quinn’s secretary, Toby Bell, who was kept out of the loop, has incriminating information about the mission and the chance to use it three years later when one of the soldiers involved ends up dead and a retired British diplomat, roped into participating against his will, tries to salve his conscience about some nasty pieces of collateral damage. As usual, le Carré (Our Kind of Traitor) tells a great story in sterling prose, but he veers dangerously close to farce and caricature, particularly with the comically amoral Americans. His best work has been about the moral ambiguity of spying, while this novel feels as if the issue of who’s bad and who’s good is too neatly sewn up. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown. (May)