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The April 2013 issue (Vol. 326, No. 1955) of Harper's Magazine leads with the first chapter of John le Carré's forthcoming new novel, A Delicate Truth, followed by le Carré's afterword to the 50th anniversary edition of his breakthrough novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Unfortunately, Harper's only lets subscribers read the online versions of articles published in its magazine.

Basically the first chapter shows that A Delicate Truth is the story of a middle-aged, mid-level schnook in the British Foreign Office who gets suckered into serving as an observer for a black ops exfiltration, assigned to a military contractor with the laughably mendacious name of Ethical Outcomes (probably a satiric take on the real-world Executive Outcomes, especially given that the chief exponent of le Carré's firm, in the chapter provided, is a South African), of a high level al Qaeda operative; the politico who effectively press-gangs the schnook (whose alias for this operation is "Paul Anderson") is a recently appointed junior minister named Quinn, who makes much of an exaggerated Glaswegian accent and of being the people's champion against Whitehall (le Carré just might be making a dig at the grandstanding MP George Galloway, which in and of itself would be richly ironic, given that he and le Carré shared a sparring partner in the late Christopher Hitchens). Despite assurances to the contrary, Quinn is in effective command of the operation via secured phone and camera links, meaning that "Paul Anderson" is merely there to take the blame if the mission comes a cropper. Le Carré being the writer that he is, the reader is almost certain at the chapter's conclusion that things did not go as swimmingly as advertised.

The excerpt from A Delicate Truth was engaging and up-to-the-minute (in its moment), but that's what I've come to expect from le Carré; what was somewhat disconcerting for me, since I've only read the Karla Trilogy (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley's People), is the amount of profanity laced in the chapter, and the terse, for le Carré, style: A Delicate Truth isn't anywhere near as disjointed, vulgar and staccato as, say, James Ellroy's White Jazz or David Peace's Nineteen Seventy-Seven, but compared to the Karla Trilogy, it's pretty jarring.

While it was interesting and enjoyable to read le Carré's take on our brave new world of privatized military operations and multi-use Predator drones, I suspect that he may be attempting to point to a larger theme of the legacy of Britain's colonial policies, given the relatively prominent roles in this first chapter assigned to a (white) South African man and an Australian woman; even the Scot junior minister, Quinn, could also serve as commentary on the upcoming vote for Scottish independence, in addition to being a satiric take on a grandstanding pol (and possible secret Muslim convert) who has been accused of accepting the money of the deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Having seen the most recent James Bond installment, Skyfall, I couldn't help but compare Quinn's actions as "gamer-in-chief" with M's in Skyfall's pre-opening credits teaser; both characters make disastrous command decisions by, and thanks to, satellite uplink, but Quinn is a far bigger prat -- the term "douchebag" would not be out of place here -- than Judi Dench's M was.

Still, I've got quite enough unread volumes of le Carré tucked away in my house to occupy me for the foreseeable future; I probably won't pick up a first edition of A Delicate Truth, unless I can get a sweetheart deal.



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