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by Charles Cumming
St Martin's Minotaur, March 2011
368 pages
ISBN: 0312675291

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The outing of John Cairncross as the fifth man along with Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt in the notorious Cambridge Spy ring should have closed that chapter in the history of British-Soviet espionage. But there have always been those who thought that there was a sixth member of the group.

Sam Gaddis, a middle-aged academic in Russian Studies at UCL, has a career that has stalled. And he is broke. With a large demand for unpaid tax from the taxman, and a plea from his ex-wife for help with school fees, he concludes the only way out is to change the habits of a lifetime and write a blockbuster book that people might actually buy.

Through friends and contacts, he begins to acquire material that might just fit the bill. Matters take a serious turn, however, when his principal source of new information suddenly dies. Gaddis realises that if he is to get at the truth, he is on his own; he will have to do the donkeywork needed to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.

As, one by one, those he talks to also start dying, he realises that his training in academic research will no longer be enough. Painstaking trawling through archives must be supplemented by raw cunning and Geddis is forced to draw on the experience of all the spy films he has ever seen.

Charles Cumming reputed to be a one-time member of MI6, though he denies it creates an intriguingly complex story in which Gaddis becomes embroiled in a world in which he does not know whom to trust, and where, if he makes the wrong decision, he will be destroyed.

This is a gripping and entertaining read which playfully raises some intriguing (if ultimately implausible) possibilities about modern Anglo-Soviet relationships. It is also an intelligent novel that reflects the continuing impact of the cold war era on the modern world.

Martin Partington is a retired Law Professor, barrister and law reformer. His passions are music and reading. He leads a split existence, partly in England, partly in the South of France.

Reviewed by Martin Partington, April 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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