sábado, maio 17, 2014

"A Colder War" by Charles Cumming

A Colder War - Charles Cumming
"A Colder War" is Charles Cumming’s sequel to his first Thomas Kell novel, "A Foreign Country" (reviewed here).

I love Gentleman-thief's novels.

I don't usually do book or author comparisons, but this time I'm going down that path.
Is it possible to write successful spy fiction in Le Carrés Milieu? Yes, it is. Charles Cumming proves it.

In my teenage years I fell in love with spy novels. I devoured everything Le Carre, Len Deighton and Graham Greene ever wrote.

And then I started to get bored. Spy Fiction is full of writers who prefer to “tell” what is happening, what someone does, what happened when they went to the loo, what they had for dinner three days ago, instead of dramatizing the event and “showing”. It’s all about keeping the narrative active. I don’t need the writer to tell me that someone is constipated, miserable, and fed up with life. Show me! A slightly more sophisticated version of this is when a writer tells you all there is to know about a set of events or a character’s backstory. It translates to the reader as “pay attention. I’m about to tell you something important”. This kind of thing can and will rapidly lead me into snooze time. Le Carré, Cumming, and Deighton, to name just a few, don’t fall into this trap. I’m particularly fond of the way they use the spy genre to explore the human condition. That’s the name of the game as far as I’m concerned.

On top of that, what makes this book stand out among the spy genre are the characters Rachel, Amelia, Paul and the mole. If they were two-dimensional plot devices, it wouldn't have worked. That's the reason why I discard a lot of spy fiction nowadays. In the first book of this trilogy, Cumming scrutinizes the moral problems Cumming himself might have faced had he made it into MI6 himself (see link for the review above). In "A Colder War" we are taken into the personal quandaries of suffering betrayal. And here resides the books emotional power and allure. 

Another strong point is Cumming’s writing skills. By using the cloak-and-dagger devices, derived not from the mole’s identity, but from Kell’s pursuit, against the backdrop of the secrecy of CIA and SVR motifs, he makes a detour from Le Carré. This is where Cummings mastery clearly shows and keeps him apart from what's being written today in terms of Spy Fiction.

Cumming’s prose doesn’t yet match the elegance of Le Carré but he is improving.  The plot in this particular instance may not be as convoluted as le Carré, but there is a similar attention to detail and location.

Spying might not be the oldest profession, but it probably comes a close second...

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