Novels about spies and espionage never go out of fashion, and this is the core that the story is built around. Indo-China (now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) is a colony of France. A war has been simmering since the 1940s as the locals fight to regain control of their country. They Americans have recently decided they want a piece of the action too, to prevent the rise of communist elements. Fowler is an English journalist, reporting the news. He lives with the much younger, and very beautiful Phuong. Fowler loves Phuong very much, cares for her and her family. I feel he is getting tired of the work he does, but realises the importance of reporting the news and remaining objective and fact oriented. He has nothing left in England other than a wife who will not divorce him, and an employer who can't decide what to do with him.
Into this cosy life comes Alden Pyle. Younger, virile, ambitious, clouded by US doctrine, he arrives in Saigon as an attache to the US Embassy, but secretly, although widely known, a spy. He also immediately falls love in Phuong and using her sister, cruelly takes Phuong away from Fowler. The death of Pyle is reported very early on in the novel, so nothing given away by stating this fact now. What follows is the unfolding of events leading to his death, and the part, if any that Fowler plays in the death.
This is very good, very good writing indeed. Moody, dangerous, unsettling, characters compromised by their own morals, ethics, no one comes of out this looking good. The world of war is very murky, and when living on foreign soils much more so, as nothing or anyone is as they seem. Plus one's own mores, traditions, ways of doing things and lines of thinking are constantly challenged by what is clearly different in this unfamiliar world. Such a good book.