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A COLDER WAR
by Charles Cumming
St. Martin's Press, August 2014
400 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 1250020611


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At forty-four. Thomas Kell's effective life seems to be over. He's been sent into limbo by MI6 as a result of his involvement (largely as a spectator) in a far-from-legal rendition arranged by CIA operative Jim Chater in which a British national was bagged and bundled off to Guantanamo and Kell could do nothing to prevent it. His wife has left him for "Dick the Wonder Schlong," and he's now on his own to take up smoking as a serious pursuit and drink rather more than he should. He is, nevertheless, living in one of limbo's more comfortable neighbourhoods - he is house-sitting in Holland Park. In his previous appearance in A FOREIGN COUNTRY, Kell helped the present head of the service, "C," Amanda Levene, to resolve a threat involving her long-lost son.

Now once again, Amanda is calling on him to find out the truth behind the death of Paul Wallinger, who was Kell's colleague and friend. Wallinger, following the collapse of an joint US/UK operation to bring an Iranian asset to London, flew off to a Greek island where his small plane crashed. Was this merely an accident, or did he kill himself, or was he perhaps murdered? Kell finds himself drafted once again because he has certain specialized information known to very few in the Service - Wallinger was once Amanda's lover.

In this follow-on to A FOREIGN COUNTRY, Cumming continues his exploration of the degree to which the vocation of spy erodes normal affective humanness. At the beginning of the book, Kell is semi-frozen. There are no missed calls on his mobile, no messages in his inbox. He's been more or less on the shelf for two years, waiting to be cleared and he wants to be a spy again. It is pretty much all he is fit for.

And, almost miraculously, he gets his chance, however briefly. Along with it comes the attractive prospect of getting revenge on Jim Chater, the American agent who shot down his career. A further miracle - he meets Wallinger's daughter, Rachel, and quite quickly, she ignites in him "something which felt like life again." She is some dozen years his junior, but certainly fully adult and they rapidly proceed to a passionate affair.

Of course, this is not simply a romantic tale; it is a novel with a lot of spycraft in it and Cumming is brilliant at describing how it all works. We are in the age of the "colder" war (and I profoundly hope it remains that way) so the action is more strategic and intellectual than it is action-packed. It is engrossing all the same. Cumming has marched confidently through the door that LeCarré flung open so long ago, into the twenty-first century and a world in which those who both watch us and watch over us risk losing their hearts and souls at least as much as their actual lives..

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, August 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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