Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reviewing "A Foreign Country" by Charles Cumming

     I usually write about design, innovation and many things green but I'd like a timeout for this short post about a spy thriller I read recently.  It's named Foreign Country by Charles Cumming, a youngish UK author with a reputation comparing him to a John LeCarre or Grahmn Greene. My advance copy came to me via Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont as a thank you for helping them consider some design options for their children's area help desk.  They shared a thank you book in the spy thriller genre with me from their advance copy stack and Foreign Country the one I selected from it didn't disappoint.
     The fast pacing, twisted filled plot, middle age ennui of Kell, the protagonist and ultimately the design of the book with its flashbacks and disconnected happenings at first all added up at the end to a superlative redemptive finish.  Visually the books design and structure echoed spiraling strands at the outer ends of happenings to the major characters intertwining tighter and tighter closer to the heart of story and its heart-pumping ending.

     Here's an excerpt from Cumming's book website which sets the stage:

.....from Chapter 4, A Foreign Country

"Six weeks before she is due to take up her position as the first female head of MI6, Amelia Levene vanishes without a trace. "

 "Her disappearance is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced for more than a decade. There has been no ransom demand, no word from foreign intelligence services, no hint of a defection.

Should news of Levene’s disappearance leak out, the consequences would be catastrophic.  But for disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell, the crisis offers a chance for redemption.  He is approached by his former employers and ordered to find her.

Kell’s search takes him first to France, then North Africa, where he discovers an extraordinary secret hidden deep in Levene's past.  It is a secret that could fatally compromise Britain’s national security – and for which Kell himself could pay with his life."

      The first chapter opens with a vicious double murder in Tunis of a vacationing just retired French couple.     It moves on to establish the situation of Thomas Kell, how he was ousted from the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) better known as the British M16, taking the fall for a joint intelligence operation with the Americans gone bad eight months earlier.  Adding to Kell's middle aged angst was his crumbling sexless marriage.  This sets the tone for the lonely double life of a spy who knows no true identity, only cynical allegiance to long ago ideals and long time friends in the service who at any moment are capable of turning on him.  But in the end, Kell misses the action of a life of spy craft and would do anything to return to it while seeking to redeem himself in the eyes of his peers and get back in the 'game'. 
     A Foreign Country is about Kell's journey searching for his friend Amelia Levene the new soon to be first ever female Chief of M16, while ultimately leading to him rediscovering his courage, faithfulness and true character.  My advance copy said it was going onsale August 2012 but apparently it's already for sale in the UK.  If you're looking for summer read to take to the beach or on a plane do be careful.  Once you pick it up you won't want to put it down.  Look for it in August in US booksellers near you! 
     Let me know what you think?  I think this story could easily be made into film.  James Bond watch out! Thomas Kell is the seasoned hero of our age for readers like me to identify with and champion.  I know I always wanted to be a spy down deep inside and with A Foreign Country I find myself a little closer.