Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Delicate Truth by John Le Carré - Viking (about $30.00)

When this first landed on my desk I was immediately transported back to the Cold War days of George Smiley. Of course that was the hey day of Le Carré, I think even my parents had a stash in their book case. I’m sure they did. Even today you’ll find dusty first editions of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Looking Glass War.

To anyone who read Brittish literature the Cold War was entirely waged by Albert Broccoli and Ian Fleming and John Le Carré’s war. But once the Berlin Wall fell, then so did Le Carré. Well James Bond carried on. He found new enemies to fight. And so did Old John. I completely missed the book, but the film version of The Constant Gardener, perhaps his well-received post Cold War effort, was a brilliant story. The book explored the world of global pharmaceuticals tracing a plot of deception and cunning. All a subject we are familiar with and love to delve into. Its popularity was probably helped along by starring of actor Ralph Fiennes in the movie adaption.

But A Delicate Truth is a new beast. Toby Bell, a brand new character becomes embroiled in more recent history, and particularly the use by government of corporate security forces to engage in war. He is allowed to explore the new order (the new Government prcesses and the way politics and ‘homeland security’ mingle as close enemies and bedfellows. I get the feeling Le Carré does not seems to approve. He bitterly slams the invasion of Iraq. Tony Blair is tarred up as blatantly corporate: “New Labour loves Big Greed and Big Greed has armies of amoral lawyers and accountants on the make . . .” he shouts from the roof tops in early chapters.

Now Bell is a compelling and complex character. Apparently he signed up to the Foreign Service “to make a difference . . . take part in his country’s discovery of its true identity in a post-imperial, post-Cold War world.” But he’s also an ambitious young diplomat in the making, stationed to serve Fergus Quinn a Scottish MP, a ghastly “marooned Blairite of the Gordon Brown Era,” – actually a finely rendered caricature of a corrupt beneficence, with an apparently dodgy past. Meanwhile, a private intelligence company, Ethical Outcomes (wonderfully ironic name, don’t you think?) had been hired to kidnap a high-profile jihadist arms dealer whose boat is moored just off of Gibraltar. The company’s bankrolled by a wealthy, evangelical Christian, Republican American widow Mrs. Spencer Hardy, and staffed with global mercenaries including South African Jay Crispin. To keep an eye on them a U.K. soldier named Jeb is on the mission, as is Christopher “Kit” Probyn — codename “Paul” — a diplomat nearing the end of his career. He’s considered safe and is given the duty of being the British government’s “red telephone” — just in case the proverbial brown stuff should hit the big spinning blades. The mission (hope you’re keeping up) is carried out and hailed a success. Everybody goes back to their pre-mission lives. Probyn is awarded a coveted post in the Caribbean and a knighthood.

But then. But then . But then (hold your breath….). Against the odds, three years later, Probyn runs into Jeb accidentally. Jeb’s the worse for wear. He’s broke and is intent on exposing the truth about Operation Wildlife and an alleged disastrous ending! Probyn, along with Bell, is convinced of the need to get the truth out and the pair offer a delicate balance between the old way of doing things and the new. Le Carré makes the point that, with the corporatization of war, democracy is eroded. A Delicate Truth is Le Carré’s denouement of the new identity the West is creating for itself. “What the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain wasn’t stupidity at all. It was sheer, wanton, bloody indifference to anybody’s interests but their own.”

It’s a warning Bell (‘scuse the pun) on the sort of society we might create when the truth is doomed to remain secret! You have been warned!

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