Friday, August 02, 2013

A Delicate Truth by John LeCarre

Spy stories vary but seem to fall roughly into two categories.  The most common at the moment is the person on a mission who's allowed to kill people, often with new-age gadgets (Bond) or the person with super-human abilities who also ends up killing lots of people (Bourne).  In the other camp are mostly normal human beings leading supposedly normal lives but who are actually spying, which might sometimes involve violence.  This second group has David Cornwell (pen name John LeCarre) producing books that feel very real.  It's probably because he was part of the English equivalent of both our FBI and CIA.  He doesn't seem to like those groups, especially the CIA, but has his Englishmen muddle through under murky circumstances to an often inconclusive end.  If you've read "Smiley's People" or "Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy" and like his characters and multiple person focus to telling the story, then this book is for you.

In "A Delicate Truth" Cornwell mines the most current situation, which involves using private contractors to do work that used to be done by intelligence agencies.  Since it's a lucrative field, corruption lurks in the background and cover-up can be the outcome, especially if something goes wrong.  It does.  The resulting desire to do the right thing, which often depends on your point of view, propels a ripping good yarn that I think is one of his best.

The author's use of the English class consciousness and old boy network can be grating to an American reader, but it feels real.  His disdain for the CIA and apparently Americans in general may at least stem partially from working with those folks during the late '50s and '60's when the CIA did a lot of government overthrow but was less successful in actually gathering secret data and making good analysis.  In fairness, the English had their share of spies high in their MI6 who were working for the USSR, so nobody comes out clean in reviewing the history of espionage.  If you like that clear eyed view of the genre, then read this book.

No comments: