A review of A Foreign Country, by Charles Cumming
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Although its pace picks up sharply about two-thirds of the way through the book and builds to a crescendo at the end, A Foreign Country is the slowest-paced and most contemplative of Charles Cumming’s spy stories.
MI6 agent Thomas Kell has been sacked because of what he believes to be political expediency by the Old Guard now running the shop. Assigned to collaborate with American operatives in Iraq interrogating prisoners, he was forced to take the rap when they turned to torture to extricate information from a British citizen. He has been out of work for months and feeling sorry for himself, “his loyalty to the newly minted high priests of SIS . . . close to nonexistent. ‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend,’ he thought, remembering the words of E. M. Forster, ‘I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.’ For the first time in his life, that notion made sense to him.”
When Kell is called up “out of the cold” by one of the Old Guard to investigate the shocking disappearance of an old friend, SIS Chief-designate Amelia Levene, he is confronted with Forster’s dilemma. He chooses friendship, pursuing Amelia’s trail and keeping his bosses in ignorance. As Kell digs more deeply into the mystery, he comes face to face with a crew of renegade agents of the French secret service (the folks who sank the Rainbow Warrior), with the future of the United Kingdom at stake.
A Foreign Country is a complex tale that interweaves threads of deadly inter-service rivalry and the secrets hidden in Kell’s and Levene’s past. Both characters are fully realized, warts and all, and their stories unfold against a thoroughly credible backdrop of intrigue in contemporary Europe and North Africa.
A Foreign Country is the sixth spy novel Charles Cumming has written since 2001. In this blog I have previously reviewed A Spy by Nature (the first of the six), The Spanish Game, The Trinity Six, and Typhoon. (Links will take you to those reviews.)