Quick Review: JUDAS 62 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-2-Judas62UKHCThe (excellent) second Lachlan Kite novel

A spy in one of the most dangerous places on Earth…

1993: Student Lachlan Kite is sent to post-Soviet Russia in the guise of a language teacher. In reality, he is there as a spy. Top secret intelligence agency BOX 88 has ordered Kite to extract a chemical weapons scientist before his groundbreaking research falls into the wrong hands. But Kite’s mission soon goes wrong and he is left stranded in a hostile city with a former KGB officer on his trail.

An old enemy looking for revenge…

2020: Now the director of BOX 88 operations in the UK, Kite discovers he has been placed on the ‘JUDAS’ list – a record of enemies of Russia who have been targeted for assassination. Kite’s fight for survival takes him to Dubai, where he must confront the Russian secret state head on…

Who will come out on top in this deadly game of cat and mouse?

The announcement of this novel was a very nice surprise — it arrived much sooner than expected after the release of the first book, BOX 88. A long-time fan of Cumming’s novels, I eagerly sought out a review copy and was lucky enough to get my mitts on one. I’m happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Another excellent novel from a modern master of spy fiction.

Cumming’s latest espionage thriller is a ripped-from-the-headlines story of Russian hits, international mystery, and the lingering effects of the Cold War. Russian defectors are being assassinated, most likely by the Kremlin, and Lachlan Kite and BOX 88 are on the case. Given the organization’s role during the Cold War (a joint UK-US outfit), they were involved in some of these defections and extractions from Soviet Russia, and so are responsible for those who risked their lives to get out and help the West. After Kite learns that one of his old, Cold War aliases has been added to Russia’s JUDAS list, he is forced to revisit his first international, solo mission.

The story alternates between Lachlan’s past and the present. We learn more about his relationship with Martha Raine, during their youth and college years; and the circumstances around his first solo international mission. Martha, in particular, gets a bigger role in this novel and she’s a great character. Cumming is equally adept at evoking the atmosphere of the Cold War in remote and controlled Voronezh; and the contemporary tension brought about by the pandemic, in the UK and also Dubai. (This is the first novel I’ve read that features the COVID-19 pandemic, and the author does a great job of incorporating it into his story, without allowing it to overwhelm it.) There’s plenty of Cold War-era and modern tradecraft, some contemporary politics and international relations, and some great twists and cat-and-mouse action; all of which builds to a very satisfying conclusion.

Grander in scope, and with higher stakes, JUDAS 62 is another excellent espionage thriller. Cumming skillfully alternates between the past and present, interweaving Cold War fallout into a contemporary setting (including COVID). The novel is populated by engaging characters and great tension and mystery. The novel moves at a good clip, but it is not necessarily a fast-paced thriller — this serves the story brilliantly, and I’m glad the author took a more measured approach to pacing than I imagine some other authors might have.

I would happily read more novels featuring these characters, and I really hope we get the chance to do so. Definitely recommended.

*

Charles Cumming’s JUDAS 62 is due to be published by Harper in the UK, on September 30th. (The first novel is due to be published in North America by Mysterious Press, on January 11th, 2022.)

Also on CR: Reviews of Typhoon, The Trinity Six, A Foreign Country, A Colder War, The Man Between, and BOX 88

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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