Quick Review: THE MAN BETWEEN by Charles Cumming (Harper Collins)

CummingC-ManBetweenUKA spy novelist finds himself recruited into the world of espionage…

He risked it all to become a spy. Now he must pay the price.

One simple task for British Intelligence takes him into a world of danger.

Successful novelist Kit Carradine has grown restless. So when British Intelligence invites him to enter the secret world of espionage, he willingly takes a leap into the unknown.

But the glamour of being a spy is soon tainted by fear and betrayal, as Carradine finds himself in Morocco on the trail of Lara Bartok a mysterious fugitive with links to international terrorism.

Bartok is a leading figure in Resurrection, a violent revolutionary movement whose brutal attacks on prominent right-wing politicians have spread hatred and violence throughout the West.

As the coils of a ruthless plot tighten around him, Carradine finds himself drawn to Lara. Caught between competing intelligence services who want her dead, he soon faces an awful choice: to abandon Lara to her fate or to risk everything trying to save her.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite thriller authors. It’s becoming almost cliché to compare him to le Carré, but he remains the best comparator. Cumming writes intelligent, engaging and interesting espionage thrillers. In his latest novel — The Man Between in the UK, and The Moroccan Girl in North America — he takes a premise that is very interesting and possibly something many thriller authors think/fantasize about frequently: what if an author of the genre was recruited by a secret service to aid them in an investigation? I really enjoyed this novel.

As with Cumming’s previous novels, this one is well-paced — neither rushed, nor plodding, it felt just right. The story moves along at a good clip, as well as logically, as Carradine travels to a book fair in Morocco, where he becomes rather more embroiled in the hunt for a missing activist than he expected. He finds himself living the part he has written so many times, sometimes awkwardly and a bit cliché:

As he walked across the lounge, a vodka martini in one hand, a packet of cigarettes in the other, he realised that he was casting himself as the central character in a spy story no different to the ones he had written in the pages of his books or seen a hundred times at the movies.

During the conference and while conducting his investigation, he comes into contact with various shady characters with questionable agendas and loyalties. The activist he and the Service are looking for is connected to a violent group who have been wreaking havoc in a number of Western countries. As a result, multiple security services are after them, and Carradine has been tasked with bringing her in. Cumming does a really good job, showing how Carradine navigates these challenges, mixing in some great tradecraft details and fumbles along the way.

Cumming taps into the current Western political and social climates, discussing through his characters various contemporary. The author’s prose is excellent, and he offers many sharp and interesting observations throughout — mainly from Carradine’s perspective, but also from Lara’s and other secondary actors in the story. For example, the rise of right-wing forces, and the use and abuse of social media and technology in politics and society:

People have taken courage from the aggression of others. They have seen how they have acted and they believe that they can behave in the same way.

The spectre of a resurgent, aggressive Russia also hangs over the novel, whether in the form of clandestine operations, or the manipulation of political and social forces throughout the West.

Carradine gets himself into a fair amount of trouble over the course of the book, extending himself further than he is prepared or trained for. It builds to a couple of dramatic confrontations near the end. The protagonist never felt truly in peril, which is maybe my one criticism of the story, but I do think this fact still is in keeping with what Cumming was trying to do — he is not James Bond, so Cumming doesn’t make him into that kind of character. I have read quite a few novels in which a character who is fundamentally not suited to nor trained for fieldwork transforms, within hours or minutes, into a super-agent. There is a place for these books, and I have enjoyed many of them, but Cumming I think is aiming for a bit more realism in his books.

Overall, then, I would certainly recommend this novel to all fans of Cumming’s previous work, and also anyone who enjoys espionage thrillers. I’m now eagerly awaiting Cumming’s next novel.

*

Charles Cumming’s The Man Between is out now in the UK, published by Harper Collins; the novel will be published in North America by St. Martin’s Press as The Moroccan Girl on February 12th, 2019.

Also on CR: Interview with Charles Cumming (2014); Reviews of TyphoonThe Trinity SixA Foreign Country and A Colder War

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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