Saturday, 6 August 2011

Holy Trinity

It's almost Stasi-like, the way watches my buying habits and knows what I like. I shouldn't listen to it, but it frequently - too frequently, judging by the amount of times I read its name on my bank statement - knows what I'll like to read.

Take Charles Cumming's The Trinity Six. This was recommended to me on Amazon and I took a punt and purchased it. I'm glad I did. This is a thriller that ties together old-school Cold War skulduggery and a modern-day conspiracy trope in a tense drama with many levels which, chapter by chapter, illuminates a twisting plot which delivers handsomely.

The plot centres around the discovery of the identity of the possible Sixth Man linked to the Cambridge Spy ring by Dr Sam Gaddis, Russian expert and biographer of the current Russian leader who sounds, and appears, libellously like Vladimir Putin. Gaddis is an academic, not a spy - think AC Grayling with a gun - and when given box after box of files with a 'story' in them by a journalist friend, who subsequently mysteriously dies, Gaddis slips out of academic mode and becomes a hunter of some very deeply buried secrets. The plot is as thick as a well-stirred béchamel sauce, as a conspiracy is uncovered which binds MI:6 and the Kremlin together in an unholy - and murderous - embrace.

The books reads easily, the dialogue is realistic and the descriptions and the procedure suitably authentic to give the reader the impression that they're at the heart of something big. It is written cleverly enough that when new plot lines are revealed, more are added so that you never know exactly what's been going on until the last few chapters.

It's positive that the novel has three strong female characters who rightly reflect the modern world of espionage and counter-intelligence - Tanya Acocella is the young agent who's given a task by C that she thinks is the path to fast career progression but instead - as she finds out how she's being hoodwinked - is a fast track to the murderous heart of British intelligence and the risk of being killed by President Platov's merciless agents. She is written with a lot of vim and vigour, Cumming cleverly plotting a slow realisation of the truth over the story that sees her move from watcher to partner of Gaddis, keeping him alive long enough to bring the truth to bear.

I like Cummings' style, and this was a worthwhile read, keeping me entertained on every chapter. At no stage did I contemplate not finishing the book; each chapter asked enough new questions to make me skip right on. His inside knowledge of British security services is obvious - he was recruited by MI:6, working for them for a year before turning to writing.

On the back of the hardback edition, the praise for Charles Cumming includes the following:

"The best of a new generation of British spy writers taking over where Le Carré and Deighton left off."

I wouldn't disagree. An enjoyable book and, at only £12 for the hardback edition by Harper Collins, good value for money in these austere times.

The only downside? The cover. Ach! Readers of Private Eye will know that the magazine is great at pointing out the lack of creativity in book covers these days, with publishing houses spotting a trend ..... and flogging it to death. This book is added to that little list of dishonour. A mournful, shadowy figure walking away into the middle distance makes its appearance on the cover of this novel, just like many other thriller novels. It's supposed, you know, to illustrate the life of the spy, always alone, on the run, being watched, having to ... ah, you know the rest. Subtle, it ain't.

Where are the Ray Hawkey's in publishing nowadays? You despair, sometimes.

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