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A Colder War: A Novel (Thomas Kell) Hardcover – August 5, 2014
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*Starred Review* Over several novels, Cumming has established himself, along with Olen Steinhauer, as one of the best of today’s old-school espionage novelists. His latest, a follow-up to A Foreign Country (2012), finds disgraced agent Tom Kell still out in the cold after being scapegoated in the wake of a torture scandal. That changes quickly when his former colleague, Amanda Levene, now head of MI6, drafts Kell to find out whether the airplane crash that killed her lover, Paul Wallinger, head of station in Turkey, was an accident or the work of a suspected mole. Or moles—Wallinger himself may have been a traitor driven to suicide. We’re in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy territory here, of course, but there are also hints of later le Carré, as Kell falls in love with Rachel Wallinger, Paul’s daughter, and quickly finds himself in that treacherous demilitarized zone between the personal and the political. Cumming is a master at describing the details of spy tradecraft, from electronic wizardry to tailing a suspect on the street, and one of the great pleasures of this novel is watching Kell and his team do their work. But is the price of doing that work—and living the clandestine life it requires—too high? Are ideals as deadly as bombs? Those are the fundamental questions of the spy novel, and Cumming asks them with great eloquence, revealing a contemporary twist or two in the way his characters frame their uncertain answers, but coming round in the end to the abiding melancholy that still shrouds all but the most heartless of spies. Superb espionage fiction in the grand tradition. --Bill Ott
“Cumming has a growing reputation as the heir to the John Le Carré tradition in British fiction.” ―Alan Cheuse, NPR
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Top Customer Reviews
Someone is leaking secrets in the Bosporus. There are several targets, and each one is looked at with great rigor. A fellow colleague has been killed in a plane crash, and it is up to Kell to find the reason. Somewhere between, London, Turkey, and Russia, there is a double agent. Along the way, a lot of good sleuthing and spy work. Kell has his choice of the best spies, and he once again meets up with an old antagonist and meets a new one. The environments in each of these countries is explored within the boundaries of work and play, and we are there. We can smell the sea, observe the night clubs and the restaurants. Harrods comes alive in London, the secret offices and houses of MI6, their offices in other countries, the secret phone rooms, the tea, the whiskey, the food, all lead us to an extremely well run organization. We meet the SVR, Russian secret agents, CIA, observe their methods of clandestine work. And, most of all, we get to know Kell, who is almost as secretive as Amelia, the woman he works for.
Such a well written novel, and you cannot guess how 'things' will work out because new problems and people pop up right until the end.
Recommended. prisrob 02-10-17
Tom Kell is a damaged man. "He had lost sight of his own status, allowed himself to forget the considerable achievements of his long career". His insights into treachery and deceit are part of his nature, Kell knows how to find traitors in a world of gray. "Search for men who are hurt by fate or nature. The ugly, people craving power or influence, people who have been defeated by circumstances." He understands the allure of treachery. "Let it go” he says. “You’re talking to people who see through you. This was about pleasure. The pleasure of manipulation. The joy of thumbing your nose at the state. The sadism of control over those whom you consider to be lesser mortals". Working in a world that is not always black and white, he maintains a unambiguous moral compass, telling one culprit, "You degrade the suffering and the complexity of the issues about which you profess to care by using them to validate your treachery".
Charles Cumming's characters are believable and fully developed. Kell's boss Amelia Levene "embodied the nailed-down principle that a pedigree SIS officer should never come off second best". But she's not an entirely reliable boss and not at all forthcoming with information. Kell is the sort of spy she needs to fight this Colder War. He "knew the emotional territory: the quiet, always conscious desire to go face-to-face with an adversary, to prove one’s superiority, often while wearing a mask of kinship and warmth".
Tom Kell is damaged, but not broken; Amelia Levene is confident, but not perfect or invincible. Both come off as human and real in this well-written, entertaining and suspenseful spy thriller.