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Disingeneous choice of enemy
le 14 novembre 2014
Are the rave reviews from British newspapers on the back cover justified and is Charles Cumming (CC, 41) the new Len Deighton or John Le Carré? This spy novel is his sixth and my first acquaintance with his writing. It is well-paced with 80 chapters in less than 400 pages and situated in the UK, France, Tunisia and (briefly) Egypt, all after the start of the Arab Spring. Its locations are credibly described. The book excels in matters of contemporary spy tradecraft, which is both scary and reassuring.
The plot is little short of ludicrous. There may be rivalry, suspicion, even mutual loathing between the intelligence services of France and Great Britain, but this plot is over the top. Surely, GB has made some inroads in France’s traditional sphere of influence in Africa, notably in Rwanda. But CC took a gamble on the outcome of the Arab Spring, which he may now regret because his triumphant ending now looks ridiculous.
What about characterisation? Antihero Thomas Kell’s childless marriage was on the rocks even before he was dismissed from MI 6 eight months before being recalled again as a consultant. To do what? To find out why the next, not yet-confirmed C of MI 6, a woman, has gone off the radar while in France. CC is not (yet) a formidable author able to put a character stamp on someone with a single damning remark, sentence or paragraph.
Finally, why such a vague book title? Then a rarity, a mistake in the opening sentence. Surely, the call to dawn prayers in Tunis is earlier than 7:00 am? Otherwise, writing about expats is ok, calling them ex-patriots (p. 8 ) is a howler. Hope CC digs deeper politically and strategically, becomes more cunning and less descriptive, focusing on more dangerous and destructive targets than France.