Review: A Delicate Truth

This is the first novel I have read by John LeCarre, and it is excellent. He’s well known as one of the grandmasters of spy fiction – a genre I have some affection for – but I’ve never picked one of his works up before.  I won’t hesitate to pick one up in the future.

Unlike many spy novels I’ve read, Truth draws the reader in from the first sentence.  I was expecting some scene setting, and then the intricate plot coming into focus.  Instead, LeCarre drops the reader in media res with taut, suspenseful writing that amps the tension up immediately.  And he does that in a description of an older diplomat pacing the floor of a motel room.  That bit of writerly craft is awesome to behold in and of itself.

From there we get a tangled web of deceit and compromise that ensnares disparate characters.  There are a few who are moustache-twirlingly evil, but not many really.  By and large we get to see a set of reasonable, even virtuous, people who construct an undeniably twisty set of circumstances and actions that lead to a tragedy.

Conscience and other forces crack the uneasy and distributed alliance, and much of the book is how and how much that collusion cracks.

The characters and their lives are believable, as is the technology and the machinations that are the problems.

Many spy/adventure novels are very much escapism.  Good guys make last second escapes, and the bad guys go to prison or the grave as punishment.  The world is saved and laurels are passed around.  Truth is not like that at all. These characters live in a world that is real enough that none of that is automatic. LeCarre shows us a world where what is right is abundantly clear, but where doing what is right costs more than a sane person would pay.  Often more than one can pay. It’s  not so much a world of shades of grey in morality, but of the compromises one faces because everyone seems to be making compromises.

One is left with a thrilling, well-written adventure yarn that shows a realistic world of moral appeasement.  It’s tough to do better than that.

Strongly recommended.

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