Viking, £18.99, 311pp Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

A Delicate Truth, By John le Carré

Welcome back our peerless spymaster, with another novel that unmasks low deeds in high places

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, John le Carré was left without a clear subject. The USSR had evaporated, and with it the Cold War antagonisms that informed his spy fiction.

Nevertheless, le Carré kept a hawk's eye on the former Soviet bloc's new breed of capitalist oligarch, as they became puffed up with more privilege than yesterday's apparatchik. His previous novel, Our Kind of Traitor, explored corruption within the City of London and the money pumped into it from Putin's Moscow.

A Delicate Truth, le Carré's 23rd novel, is another fable of conspiracy and financial malpractice. In the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a counter-terrorist operation is underway to capture a high-ranking jihadist arms-buyer (who may or may not be in league with al-Qa'eda). The year is 2008. Private arms contractors have infiltrated New Labour, while millionaire silks like Lord Falconer (who advised Tony Blair on, among other things, the "lawfulness" of the Iraq War) continue to pontificate on the differences between "law and justice". Everywhere, ministers are mixing private business with official duties.

Kit Probyn, an old-school Foreign Office servant, is despatched to Gibraltar to report on the outcome of the operation. The operation is so hush-hush that even Probyn is kept out of the loop; only later does he learn how it has gone disastrously wrong and left innocent "blood all over the Rock". Should he turn whistle-blower and tell the truth, or keep silent? A cast of international fraudsters, currency speculators and "Brother Blair" socialites serves to darken the atmosphere of conspiracy.

Chief among the dishonourable Blairites is Fergus Quinn, a Ministry of Defence mandarin with interests in the rich pickings of the armaments industry. Within his circle are rogue CIA intelligence pedlars, far-right American evangelists and a creepy House of Lords lobbyist called Jay Crispin, "a rather obviously pretty man of no depth". Corruption is no respecter of ideology; Labour Party members conspire with Conservatives to see what can be got for nothing.

Quinn's private secretary, Tony Bell, is nonetheless prepared to go public with the truth about Gibraltar. Like the alienated M15 agent Alec Leamas in le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Bell is a loner bent on talking truth to power. The Iraq war, in his view, had been "illegal, immoral and doomed": yet he is duty bound to sing the war's praises. He is a man driven to distraction by the lies he has tell.

In his trademark lucid prose, le Carré tells how a good man like Bell is sucked into the dishonesties attendant on matters of "Deep State", where non-governmental insiders from banking, industry and commerce are made privy to classified information denied to huge sectors of Whitehall and Westminster. Le Carré has always liked to dilate on the threadbareness of post-imperial Britain and the mirage of the country's importance on the world stage; Gibraltar, a "vanishing protectorate", is portrayed as a haven for arms dealers and casino complexes. Britain may be stony-broke but expatriates are making a mint offshore.

Le Carré, now an august 81, is a writer of towering gifts, whose fiction appeals to a reading public both popular and serious. A fiction without a story – le Carré knows – is scarcely worth its weight in paper. Throughout A Delicate Truth, the tension ratchets up superbly as revelation follows on revelation. Much of what passes these days for literary fiction is mere creative writing; le Carré is one of the great analysts of the contemporary scene, who has a talent to provoke as well as unsettle.

Ian Thomson's biography of Primo Levi is published by Vintage

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy