A Delicate Truth

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A Delicate Truth
A delicate truth -- book cover.jpg
Paperback cover
Author John le Carré
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Penguin Books
Publication date
25 April 2013
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 320
ISBN 9780670922796
Preceded by Our Kind of Traitor

A Delicate Truth is a 2013 spy novel by John le Carré. Set in 2011, the book flashes back to a 2008 joint American-British covert mission on the Rock of Gibraltar and the consequences for two British civil servants.[1]

Le Carré describes this as not only his most British novel but also his most autobiographical work in years.[2] The author told The Daily Telegraph that he has based two of the book's characters on himself. Le Carré sees Toby Bell as the "thirty-something rising star of Her Majesty's Foreign Service, [...] the striving ambitious fellow I fancy myself to have been at much the same age." Whereas Sir Christopher ("Kit") Probyn, "is a retired Foreign Office civil servant, who lives in rural Cornwall," – the author "has lived in a clifftop house outside St Buryan, near Land's End, for more than 40 years."[2]

Plot summary[edit]

In 2008, a civil servant in British Intelligence, known by his alias "Paul Anderson", is recruited by Foreign Office minister Fergus Quinn to take part in Operation Wildlife, a joint operation with a U.S. military contractor called Ethical Outcomes. Paul is sent to Gibraltar and joins a team composed of British operatives and Ethical employees, directed by Quinn and an Ethical executive named Elliot. The operation is compromised when Quinn and Elliot insist that the operatives raid an abandoned house where, despite the absence of proof, they assume a high-ranking jihadist is hiding. When the commandos disappear, Paul is abruptly sent back to Britain by an Ethical liaison, who insists that the operation was a success.

Quinn's newly appointed Private Secretary, Toby Bell, becomes suspicious of his secretive nature and his close ties with Jay Crispin, the founder of Ethical. Bell sees Quinn with Crispin during diplomatic trips to Brussels, Prague, and Berlin, and learns that the two met during Quinn's time at Harvard. Bell learns that Quinn was saved from scandal after it was discovered that Crispin was found running a privatised spy shop within the Ministry of Defence; Crispin is said to have been cast away by the British government, but Bell learns that he meets with Quinn at parliamentary functions. Concerned at the continued ties between Quinn and Crispin, Bell decides to take drastic action.


A Delicate Truth was broadcast in a ten part series on BBC Radio 4 from Monday, 13 May to Friday, 24 May 2013. The book was abridged by Sally Marmion and was read by Damian Lewis.[3] Writing on webzine Collider.com in April 2013, Adam Chitwood noted that screenwriter William Monahan is "in advanced talks to adapt [...] A Delicate Truth". He added that "BBC Films is developing the adaptation, but there's no timetable for when the pic might get in front of cameras."[4]


Publishers Weekly describes the novel as "entertainingly labyrinthine if overly polemical." The anonymous reviewer believes that le Carré "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."[5]

Kirkus Reviews notes that le Carré "resolutely keeping potential action sequences just offstage," and "focuses instead on the moral rot and creeping terror barely concealed by the affable old-boy blather that marks the pillars of the intelligence community."

Bill Ott, writing for Booklist, believes "Le Carré further establishes himself as a master of a new, shockingly realistic kind of noir in which right-thinking individuals who challenge the institutional order of things always lose."[6]


  1. ^ "A Delicate Truth". curtisbrown.co.uk. 
  2. ^ a b Stock, Jon (5 April 2013). "John le Carré gets personal for new novel". The Daily Telegraph. p. unknown. 
  3. ^ Staff. "A Delicate Truth". BBC Media Centre. BBC. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Chitwood, Adam (25 April 2013). "William Monahan in Talks to Adapt John le Carré Novel A Delicate Truth". Collider.com. Retrieved 3 May 2013. 
  5. ^ anonymous (18 March 2013). "Reviews: A Delicate Truth". Publishers Weekly. 
  6. ^ "Booklist Review: A Delicate Truth". 15 March 2013.