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A Divided Spy: A Novel (Thomas Kell) Paperback – February 13, 2018
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“Breathtaking . . . suspenseful . . . Kell brings a note of grace to the treacherous world of the spy novel." ―Washington Post
"A gripping tale of revenge, betrayal and the personal price that spying exacts." ―People magazine
“A smart, nuanced, readable tale, reminiscent of Olen Steinhauer or Robert Littell . . . Cumming has mastered the texture and language of espionage . . . [A Divided Spy is] a fine specimen of a genre headed back toward the Kremlin.” ―USA Today
“Agent Kell is hell-bent on revenge ― but his quest ends up endangering Britain’s national security. Classic spy fiction at its best.” ―New York Post (Must-Reads)
"A magnetic tale of the New Cold War: not since George Smiley trapped Karla have we seen such a delicious recruitment between East and West." ― Jason Matthews, New York Times bestselling author of Palace of Treason
"Cumming not only tells a moving human story here, he also constructs an airtight espionage plot full of unanticipated twists and leading up to a perfectly orchestrated finale." ―Booklist (starred)
“Nuanced, suspenseful . . . a perfectly constructed plot proves once again that Cumming is among today’s top spy thriller writers.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Cumming writes with ruefully brittle intelligence and keeps the twists coming.” ―Kirkus Reviews
"Charles Cumming is astonishingly masterful at capturing the grey and sometimes amoral world of espionage. A Divided Spy feels authentic and is a riveting read that should be devoured in one sitting." ―Valerie Plame, New York Times bestselling author of Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House
“A convincing and gripping spy thriller with a clever, twisty plot, believable characters and an abundance of credible spy lore. Highly recommended.” ―The Age
“Thomas Kell has become one of the most interesting and well-drawn spies in contemporary literature ― a man who now deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as George Smiley, and who is every bit as discreet. . . . Delicately written, with Cumming’s customary subtle humor, [A Divided Spy] confirms him as le Carre’s heir.” –The Daily Mail
“Cumming has a growing reputation as the heir to the John Le Carré tradition in British fiction.” ―Alan Cheuse, NPR
“Compelling. . . complex. . . dangerous. . . Hard to put down.” ―The Washington Post
About the Author
CHARLES CUMMING is the author of the Alec Milius books and the Thomas Kell books, A Foreign Country, A Colder War, and A Divided Spy, as well as the New York Times bestselling thriller The Trinity Six and others. He lives with his family in London.
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Cumming describes his protagonist as a man with "a facility for deceit and manipulation [that] was as much a part of Kell's character as his decency and capacity for love." And Kell's Russian counterpart notes that "[t]he constant process of lying, of subterfuge, of concealment and second-guess, is exhausting. It is bad for the soul."
In A Divided Spy, Kell at age 46 has left MI6 after a bruising run-in with the bureaucrats who made his life miserable. He is brooding over the murder of his lover, Rachel Wallinger, at the hands of a Russian spy named Alexander Minasian. When Minasian unexpectedly surfaces, Kell resolves to avenge her death. He plans an elaborate entrapment scheme to "turn" Minasian. This plan brings Kell into conflict with Amelia Levene, an old friend who is the Director General of MI6.
Meanwhile, a high-profile terrorist plot is unfolding. A young British man who has fought for ISIS in Syria has reentered England on a false passport and is establishing his new identity in the seaside resort of Brighton. Though it may seem unlikely, these two plotlines are destined to intersect. As they do, Kell is tested in ways he has never before been required to face.
Like le Carre, Cumming grounds his tales in the realities of spycraft. Just as CIA officers were said to devour the George Smiley novels, I imagine that operatives for both the CIA and MI6 are reading the saga of Thomas Kell. Or perhaps they should be.
A Divided Spy is the third book in Charles Cumming's compelling series of espionage novels featuring MI6 officer Thomas Kell. It may be the last.
Through a casual conversation with a former colleague, he learns that the elusive Minasian has resurfaced in London with his wife. There exists an incriminating photo of Minasian, whose father-in-law is a high-ranking Russian oligarch, in a tryst with a gay man. Because homosexuality is considered a crime in Russia, especially when it involves an agent of the Russian spy network, FSB, Kell seizes the opportunity to contact Minasian. If he could blackmail him with this information and turn him into a highly placed mole for MI6, this could restore him to his original status with the agency. When he spells out his plan to Amelia, she rules that expending human and monetary resources based on Kell’s thin evidence is a mistake. She dismisses it as a personal vendetta on Kell’s part, so he decides to undertake the operation on his own. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game to entrap Minasian with his lover.
Charles Cumming has created two main characters whose lives depend on a precarious balance of respect, fear and deceit. As Kell and Minasian deepen their complex relationship, they explore their reasons for why they do what they do for a living. They bond in a guarded relationship that broaches on a dubious reliance between truth and deceit. Each would like to trust the other, but circumstances keep them just beyond confidence, like sparring partners with a wary, invisible net between them.
During this tenuous psychological jousting match, Minasian discloses that he has learned through his FSB sources of a young jihadist who has been tapped by ISIS to commit a mass killing in a popular English amusement park in the immediate future. He promises Kell that he will provide absolute identification and details of the mass killing in return for freedom from becoming a double agent. Another mass killing by ISIS is not in the interest of either Russia or the West, so Kell, again rebuffed by MI6 due to lack of specific evidence, proceeds on his own based solely on Minasian’s information. Cumming also portrays the conflicted young killer as the true believer of the jihadist ISIS movement who is committed to avenging the Prophet, yet tempted by Western values.
This tightly woven novel digs deep into the psyche of each of the principal characters as the story plays out against a ticking clock.
I’ll leave you on this happy note: Oscar winner Colin Firth is adapting the Thomas Kell books to television with a six-episode series scheduled to air this year. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting project!
Reviewed by Roz Shea