Review: A COLDER WAR by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-TK2-AColderWarUKTom Kell returns…

A top-ranking Iranian military official is blown up while trying to defect to the West. An investigative journalist is arrested and imprisoned for writing an article critical of the Turkish government. An Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated on the streets of Tehran. These three incidents, seemingly unrelated, have one crucial link. Each of the three had been recently recruited by Western intelligence, before being removed or killed.

Then Paul Wallinger, MI6’s most senior agent in Turkey, dies in a puzzling plane crash. Fearing the worst, MI6 bypasses the usual protocol and brings disgraced agent Tom Kell in from the cold to investigate. Kell soon discovers what Wallinger had already begun to suspect – that there’s a mole somewhere in the Western intelligence, a traitor who has been systematically sabotaging scores of joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

This is the second novel to star Tom Kell, disgraced SIS agent, and apparently the services new go-to problem fixer. At least, for problems that need to be fixed quietly and delicately – more so than the secret service normally requires. A Colder War improves on A Foreign Country in almost every way (quite the feat, given how good the previous novel was), and hopefully marks the beginning of a long-running series to star Kell. This is another engrossing, expertly crafted espionage thriller. Continue reading

Short Review: A FOREIGN COUNTRY by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-TK1-AForeignCountryUKAn excellent spy thriller

On the vacation of a lifetime in Egypt, an elderly French couple are brutally murdered. Days later, a meticulously-planned kidnapping takes place on the streets of Paris.

Amelia Levene, the first female Chief of MI6, has disappeared without a trace, six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. It is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced in more than a decade. Desperate not only to find her, but to keep her disappearance a secret, Britain’s top intelligence agents turn to one of their own: disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell.

Tossed out of the Service only months before, Kell is given one final chance to redeem himself – find Amelia Levene, at any cost. The trail leads Kell to France and Tunisia, where he uncovers a shocking secret and a conspiracy that could have unimaginable repercussions for Britain and its allies. Only Kell stands in the way of personal and political catastrophe.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite authors – in the thriller genre or otherwise. He writes tightly-plotted, gripping espionage thrillers in the tradition of John le Carré and others of that era. [It is, perhaps somewhat cliché to now compare Cumming to le Carré, but it really is apt.] Cumming’s novels are decidedly British, in that they are devoid of melodrama or the dick-swinging swagger that can characterise American-authored espionage thrillers (see, for example, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor). They are, however, just as gripping. Continue reading