Richard and Judy Review: A Colder War – Charles Cumming

Richard and Judy Review: A Colder War – Charles Cumming

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“So there’s a delicious unpredictability and instability about this cracking novel. You never know where to look for the hidden threats and dangers.”

Richard’s review

Charles Cumming has been bracketed with spy novelists such as le Carre and Deighton, which is flattering but misleading. Cumming writes in his own distinctive voice and he is very much a man of the moment. Indeed, the title, A Colder War, reveals it’s contemporary nature: partly an allusion to the nuclear standoff of the post-war years; the Iron Curtain and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), but also meant to convey the far more complex geo-political times we live in today. Until the fall of Soviet Russia, we all knew where the enemy was – over there to the east, somewhere behind the Berlin wall. Now our foes are anywhere and everywhere, in distant deserts; in flats above the local kebab shop; in the tube and on the bus.

So there’s a delicious unpredictability and instability about this cracking novel. You never know where to look for the hidden threats and dangers. And Cumming usually reveals them without warning: a brutal execution here; a remote-control bombing there. Such moments leap off the page like sentences on coiled springs; you don’t see them coming.

Our central character is Thomas Kell, a brilliant if flawed M16 officer who is struggling to get back into the spying game. That’s because he has been discredited and disgraced (in Cumming’s last novel, A Foreign County) and is languishing in London on unpaid leave. But Kell is about to find himself bounced back into his undercover life with a vengeance

“Amelia, the current ‘C’ (MI6 Director) calls Kell back in from the cold. The two are old colleagues and friends and trust each other.”

Judy’s review

Our central character is Thomas Kell, a brilliant if flawed M16 officer who is struggling to get back into the spying game. That’s because he has been discredited and disgraced (in Cumming’s last novel, A Foreign County) and is languishing in London on unpaid leave. But Kell is about to find himself bounced back into his undercover life with a vengeance.

MI6’s top man in Turkey, Paul Wallinger, is killed in a plane crash. It would probably be written off as a straightforward accident if it wasn’t for the fact that this is the latest in a cluster of setbacks and disasters for the agency. They are set too close together to be simple coincidence. So what’s going on? Has every secret service’s worst nightmare become a reality – is there a mole at the heart of the MI6 Middle East operation, just when the stakes in the region are at their highest for decades?

Amelia, the current ‘C’ (MI6 Director) calls Kell back in from the cold. The two are old colleagues and friends and trust each other. That’s important because Kell will be working completely undercover, reporting only to Amelia.

I liked Kell for his flaws more than anything else. He smokes 30 a day, is unfit, and has a terrible love life. But he is a brilliant intelligence officer, experienced and instinctive. So he is exactly the right man to send to Instanbul to try and unpick the problem. Once there, he must dance a dangerous two-step with his opposite number in America’s CIA and simultaneously watch his back as agents from Russia’s sinister SVR circle.

There’s romance, and comedy – of the deadly kind – and some beautiful, lyrical descriptions of Istanbul, the impossibly romantic city where east and west meet. I can’t wait for Cumming’s next one.

Press reviews

Here are a selection of the reviews for A Colder War

“An espionage maestro . . . The levels of psychological insight are married to genuine narrative acumen – but anyone who has read his earlier books will expect no less”

Independent

“For those hungering for a new John le Carré, Charles Cumming has inherited the master’s mantle. His new book, A Colder War, features sinister goings-on in spook-infested Istanbul”

Sunday Times

“There’s a sense that Kell is developing into a Smiley for our times”

Mail on Sunday

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