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May 6, 2011

2

In the company of spies: Charles Cumming’s Trinity Six

by quaesitor
Charles Cumming

I’ve just found this in my drafts box having obviously never posted it. So better late than never…

It wasn’t particularly by design, but over Christmas and New Year, I found myself in the company of spies. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Le Carré’s latest, Our Kind of Traitor. And then turned to an advance copy of The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming.

In this book, Cumming has delivered the goods again with a brilliantly speculative creation – the possibility of a 6th man in the Cambridge Spy ring. This conspiracy has haunted the British security services ever since the truth came out and fears that others were involved have always loomed large. So this is the chilling backdrop to what is a very convincing but contemporary plot. The comparisons with le Carré are obvious and not undeserved. Cumming has found a way to weave a tale around the realities of a weakened Britain whose glory days are long behind her and the brutality and aggression of a reasserting post-Soviet Russia run by former KGB agents.

The main character, Sam Gaddis, is a well-meaning and sympathetic Russian history academic from UCL with the angst of a broken marriage, a young daughter and rising debt – a prime suspect for an unsuspecting protagonist in an espionage novel, then. He unwittingly stumbles into the murk of contemporary realpolitik and has to fight to emerge with some degree of integrity intact, let alone his life. The game is dangerous, and the prize, which emerges over half way through the book, is credibly toxic.

The other characters are an intriguing mix (although for me, the one, ever-so-slightly-too-convenient figure was Holly, Gaddis’ actress girlfriend); the pace is speedy and the venues entirely worthy of the genre: London, Moscow, Vienna & Budapest to name but 4. We even visit the Ferris Wheel!

If there is a serious intent behind the novel, other than providing the sheer entertainment of a well-written and exciting narrative (and it is certainly both), The Trinity Six hints at important questions that should be asked about what is really going on in Russia today. For it seems to have become a country that is pretty unsafe for whistle-blowing journalists or oligarchs with the wrong political views (let alone former KGB agents who think they are meeting up with friends in a Mayfair sushi bar).

All in all – a great read – full of intrigue, political insight and gripping narrative. If you enjoyed his earlier Typhoon (which did the same for China in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics) then this will be one not to miss.

Here are a couple of fun videos. First Charlie chats with Dominic West (who read the audiobook) about spies, le Carré, and The Wire, amongst other things.

And here, West reads an excerpt from the book

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 20 2011

    Thanks for4 the heads up on this, Mark. Being a very long-standing Le Carre fan, I am always interested to hear of other good writers in this genre. Thanks to your review and the excerpt read by Dominic West, I shall look out for this book and others by Cumming. Glad you decided to post this after you found the draft.

    Reply

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  1. Q Conversation 3: Spy novelist Charles Cumming | Quaerentia

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