Friday, March 25, 2011

Espionage Surprise: Charles Cumming, THE TRINITY SIX

American cover design
The publisher description of THE TRINITY SIX, fourth book from British Secret Service recruit-turned-novelist Charles Cumming, gave me the impression of something along the lines of John LeCarré or Charles McCarry -- a sixth member of the infamous Cambridge spy ring that included Kim Philby is discovered, long after the fact, and Sam Gaddis is out to reveal the truth.

But I was mistaken: Sam Gaddis is an academic, a struggling professor of history whose books on Russian politics haven't earned him enough to meet the mortgage payments and child support. And THE TRINITY SIX is the all-too-believable tale of how his need for "funds" pushes him into research based on the leftover files of two women: his long-time journalist friend Charlotte Berg, abruptly dead of a heart attack after attempting to enlist Sam in her project, and wacky eccentric Katye Levette, whose daughter Holly, a lovely actress, for some odd reason adopts Sam romantically while endowing him with boxes of her deceased mother's apparently insignificant papers.

Soon Sam finds himself struggling to pry some truth out of an aging man in a nursing home who claims to have know the sixth double agent. But while he's stumbling along the academic trail, other people connected to the old man's story are being killed, and by the time Sam realizes he's digging up dangerous material, the threat level for his own life -- and that of his distant little daughter -- has risen way above orange, blazing into red.

Rather than an classic espionage novel, Cumming provides a highly believable example of what could happen to any one of us if we pushed just a bit too hard to find out the truth about a political past maneuver. And if Sam's a hair too easily accepting of women who admire and assist him (a James Bond who lives in the next apartment building, without the special car?), he's entirely real in terms of his terror, grief, shock, and rabbit-like running, while insisting that people tell him what really happened -- and is happening now.

I found the book's start to be slow, but more believable because of it; Sam Gaddis faces the frustrations of any researcher, and anyone trying to get a cunning and attention-seeking elder to quit playing around and 'fess up. THE TRINITY SIX is a delicious read, confirming a growing reputation for Cumming, whose third book, Typhoon, also won acclaim.

British cover
I'm posting both the US and British cover designs here; this is one of the rare occasions when I think the American version came through at least as well. Thanks also to St. Martin's Press, you can read an excerpt from the book at the publisher's website. The author's site is also worth a visit.

1 comment:

Kit Minden, katepoet said...

You've definitely piqued my curiosity. The mysteries of what really happened in the USSR are slowly seeping out as women, men and children escape to the West even now. The oppression continues in so many Soviet bloc countries, and with Russia, the economy continues to struggle to support those made poor by the communist regime. It seems a timely novel, and I look forward to exploring Cumming's take on the past as it percolates into the present, occasionally spilling over into flood stage.