A Delicate Truth Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of A Delicate Truth

Three years after a top-secret counter-terrorism operation goes awry and is hastily covered up, Toby Bell seeks to find and reveal the truth about what happened. Operation Wildlife, an operation to capture a jihadist arms-buyer during his rendezvous with a seller, is about to be launched in the British colony of Gibraltar. ‘Paul', an undercover and rather average British Foreign Office veteran, has been recruited as the ground representative for the Foreign Office Minister supervising the mission, Fergus Quinn. Paul's knowledge of the operation is limited—his only information is from a mysterious man named Elliot, who tells Paul that a private defense contractor, Jay Crispin, had provided Minister Quinn with the intelligence regarding the target and (after convincing Quinn to approve and finance the operation) has arranged all the surveillance and military equipment necessary to carry out the mission. After laying low in a hotel in Gibraltar for a few days, Paul is whisked away to a hilltop stake out staffed by four former British Army officers, led by a man named Jeb. Jeb explains that directly below the hill is the safe house where the target, codename Punter, is expected to make the rendezvous with his seller, codename Aladdin. Once Aladdin enters the safe house to meet with Punter, Jeb and his team will storm the house by land, while Crispin's men, waiting in boats on the nearby shore, will storm in by sea, capture Punter, and hold him on the boats. Paul is rather excited by the mission and feels proud to be serving his country.
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Jeb, Paul, and the team track Aladdin's arrival on Gibraltar and his progression towards the safe house. Suddenly, the team loses sight of Aladdin and his car. Despite this, Minister Quinn calls Jeb and orders the team to storm the house. Both Jeb and Paul protest, saying that there is no indication that the meeting will take place or that Punter is in the safe house. Ignoring these observations, Quinn nevertheless gives the order to attack. Jeb and his team reluctantly storm into the house, while Paul watches from the stakeout on the hill.

Shots are fired, and before Paul can run down the hill into the safe house, he is whisked away and told that the operation was an unqualified success. Believing this and priding himself on his contribution, Paul returns to England.

The story then shifts (both in location and time) to the weeks before the execution of Wildlife. Toby Bell, a young but bright Foreign Office employee, has just been assigned as Minister Fergus Quinn's Private Secretary. He accompanies the minister on his trips throughout Europe, and notes his odd behavior and tendency to slip away for private meetings under false pretenses. Deciding to follow the minister one day, Toby sees that he is attending a sort of intelligence briefing led by a man Toby did not recognize. Back in London, the minister tells Toby to stay after hours one day and help him entertain some very special and top-secret visitors. Toby waits with the minister, and as the two guests, a man and a woman, arrive, he recognizes the man as the same one he had spotted conducting the meeting in Europe. The man is Jay Crispin, and the lady with him is known only as Miss Maisie, a wealthy, conservative Texan who funds a mysterious corporation known as Ethical Outcomes, which Mr. Crispin runs. Shortly after meeting the two, Toby leaves the office.

Toby shares his suspicions about the minister's behavior with his longtime mentor, Giles Oakley. Oakley listens to the suspicions and reveals that he has information indicating that Quinn may be planning a secret operation with the help of Crispin. He asks Toby to stay alert and to notify him if he hears or notices anything else.

A few days later, Quinn asks Toby to make arrangements for another secret meeting. This time, Toby is not invited. Sensing trouble, he activates the recording device on his desk and leaves. He contacts Oakley to inform him about the meeting, but receives no response. The day after the meeting, Toby returns to the office and picks up the recording of Minister Quinn's meeting. He learns that the meeting was between a man named ‘Paul', who will serve as Quinn's representative during the operation, and Jeb, an Army officer whose team is being disavowed for the duration of the operation. After vaguely reviewing the details of the operation, Jeb tacitly expresses his doubt of the operation and distrust for the private mercenaries and materials provided by Ethical Outcomes. Quinn insincerely addresses these concerns, and Jeb and Paul depart. Quinn is then heard speaking to Crispin, reviewing the meeting and agreeing to meet him later that afternoon.

Toby realizes that he has effectively gathered evidence indicating that a Foreign Office minister is teaming up a private defense contractor to conduct an ethically ambiguous secret operation. He desperately tries to make contact with Oakley and seek advice as to what he should do with the tape. After days of no contact, Oakley finally meets with Toby and tells him to forget anything he may have heard, explaining that ultimately, some secrets are better left unrevealed. Five days later, Toby is removed from Minister Quinn's service and is posted to the British Embassy in Beirut.

Three years later, Sir Christopher Probyn, better known as “Kit”, his wife Suzanna, and their daughter Emily move to an old manor home in Cornwall. Kit is soon revealed to be the ‘Paul' who represented Minister Quinn during Wildlife. He still believes that the operation was successful, and it is revealed that he was rewarded for his role with a posting in the Caribbean followed by a knighthood. One day during a town festival, Kit and Suzanna run into Jeb, now a travelling leather salesman. Jeb discreetly informs them that Wildlife was not actually a success, and that an innocent woman and her child were killed in the process.

Both Kit and Suzanna are greatly disturbed by the idea that they may have been rewarded for inadvertently keeping silent about the death of two innocent people. Kit tries to schedule a meeting with Elliot, his supervisor during Wildlife, in order to find out the truth. Instead, Jay Crispin returns his call and they agree to meet in London. Crispin assures Kit that the operation was in fact a success, and that Jeb was suffering from psychological issues and is therefore not to be trusted. Kit is relieved to hear this news, and calls Suzanna to let her know that he was in fact rewarded for his patriotism, and not his silence.

Kit goes to his room at his club in London, and finds Jeb waiting there for him. Jeb inquires about his meeting with Crispin, then tells Kit the truth about what happened that night. Jeb and his team had stormed into the safe house and heard someone escape out the back door. After making their way carefully to the backyard, Jeb discovers that the person is a woman, most likely a refugee from Morocco, hiding with her child. But Crispin's ocean team thinks the woman is a suicide bomber, and guns her down. Afterwards, everyone involved was taken to Crete and were either brainwashed or paid off to believe that the operation had actually been successful. Everyone but Jeb and one of his team members, Shorty, agrees to believe this revised version of events. Accordingly, they are dismissed from their positions in the Army. Jeb then departs, leaving Kit to consider the truth.

The story once again shifts in time to Toby, who has just returned to London from a three-year posting in Beirut. Upon arriving back at his flat, he sees a heavily sealed envelope waiting for him. Inside is a letter from Sir Christopher Probyn requested Toby to come to the Cornwall manor house and visit him. Toby, suspecting that this has something to do with Wildlife, makes the trip to Cornwall. There, Kit asks Toby of his knowledge about Wildlife, and Toby admits that he knows very little, aside from the recording he made of Quinn, Paul/Kit, and Jeb's meeting. Kit reveals that he is the ‘Paul' on the recording, and that he and Jeb were scheduled to meet two days ago in order to discuss the best way to reveal the truth. Kit had prepared a document relating his side of the story, and Jeb claimed to have hard evidence that would clearly demonstrate that a woman and child were killed. However, to Kit's surprise, Jeb did not show for the meeting and has been unreachable, prompting Kit to contact Toby. Later in the day, Kit receives a phone call from a woman claiming to be a hospital psychiatrist. She informs Kit that Jeb has supposedly been admitted to the hospital and will not be accepting or contacting any visitors. Kit calls his daughter Emily, a doctor in London, to verify the hospital and doctor, and he learns that the call was fake. Toby tells Kit to wait in Cornwall while he tries to find Jeb. Before leaving, Toby speaks to Emily, who gives him the registration number of Jeb's leather van and tells him to keep her updated on his progress.

Toby asks one of his contacts to find the name and address attached to the van registration number, and finds Jeb's address in Wales. His contact warns him that a series of red flags are attached to the information, and that he should be careful. Toby visits Jeb's home and meets his wife, Brigid. Brigid informs him that three days earlier, Jeb had apparently committed suicide in his van. After learning the details of the suicide, Toby quickly realizes that Jeb had been murdered for his intention to reveal the details of Wildlife. He asks Brigid if Jeb had told her about Wildlife or any documents he may have had, and she produces two photographs showing the dead bodies of the woman and child. Toby asks who took the photographs, and Brigid tells him that Shorty, Jeb's team member, had taken the photos. Jeb and Shorty remained in touch after the operation, as they were both dismissed for their failure to comply. However, one day Shorty accepted a financial package from Jay Crispin, and this ended his friendship with Jeb. Upon learning of Jeb's death, Shorty sent Brigid his contact information, which Toby notes.

After copying the pictures and leaving Jeb's home, Toby calls Shorty and poses as a Welsh journalist wishing to do a profile on Jeb. They arrange an interview in London later in the week. Toby returns to his flat in London and hides the photos as well as his recording of Quinn's meeting three years earlier. He then meets with Emily at her London flat and tells her about Jeb's death and his upcoming meeting with Shorty. They both call Kit to inform him about Jeb's death, and request him to hold on to his document until Toby can meet with Shorty gather more evidence.

Kit is shocked by Jeb's death and feels that he can no longer stay silent. Disregarding Toby's advice to wait, Kit travels to the Foreign Office in London and hands in his written report describing his perspective on Wildlife. After reading his document, the legal team urges Kit not to reveal his version or file a lawsuit. If he does, they warn, the blame for Wildlife will be accorded to Kit, and he will be imprisoned. Disheartened and humiliated, Kit returns to Cornwall.

Meanwhile, Toby meets with his mentor Giles Oakley for the first time in three years. Oakley warns him that he knows about Toby's efforts to uncover and reveal the truth about Wildlife, and urges him to stop digging out of loyalty to the public and to his position at the Foreign Office. Toby is infuriated by Oakley's willingness to let the deaths of innocent people be ignored, and leaves.

The next day, Toby meets with Shorty in a café. Shortly after arriving, Shorty says that he feels uncomfortable talking in the café, and suggests that the two conduct the interview in his car. Though Toby senses a traditional set-up, he complies anyway. He soon finds himself in Shorty's car and being driven to meet Jay Crispin.

Cripsin indicates that he knows the extent of Toby's findings on Wildlife and tries to offer him a powerful position and financial incentives in exchange for keeping the truth hidden. Toby refuses the offer and leaves. As soon as he returns to his flat, he is badly beaten by two men. Emily soon arrives to look after him, and he tells her the details about his meeting with Shorty and Crispin. During their conversation, a mysterious package is delivered. Toby finds that it is from his mentor, Giles Oakley, and contains both a hard and soft copy of various files that further prove the disastrous outcome of Wildlife. He and Emily take the files, along with the photographs from Jeb's wife and his own recording of Quinn's meeting, and go to a nearby internet café. He emails the files to several major news outlets, as well as to Kit and Suzanna. As the message sends, he can hear several sirens approaching, implying that he will soon be arrested for his whistle blowing.
Best part of story, including ending: The story addressed the contemporary moral issue of keeping secrets for the "greater good" versus being true to your own conscience and sense of truth. It raises the question of how far we can allow ourselves to go to protect the seemingly immoral acts of our governments.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene was when Toby meets his mentor, Giles Oakley for the last time. While Toby had always been very respectful of Oakley's advice and guidance, he displayed the courage to actively counter and disobey Oakley's advice to keep the truth hidden out of loyalty to the government.

Opinion about the main character: Although Toby became increasingly disillusioned throughout the book, he still maintained his humanity and sense of right and wrong and was ultimately able to stick to his convictions and reveal the truth.

The review of this Book prepared by Jonaki Singh a Level 1 Blue Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of A Delicate Truth

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 10%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 40%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 40%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 10% Tone of story    -   depressing/sad Time/era of story:    -   2000+ (Present) Spying/Terrorism Thriller    -   Yes Cloak & Dagger Plotlets:    -   political manipulations Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Who's the terrorist enemy here?    -   arabs and/or muslims

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   diplomat Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   British


Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   generic/vague references to death/punishment Explicit sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   vague references Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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John Le Carre Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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