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Spy author Charles Cumming discusses his new title 'A Foreign Country'

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(Read caption) Author Charles Cumming brings his protagonist, Kell, across Europe and into North Africa in his new book 'A Foreign Country.'

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Just before Amelia Levene takes over the British foreign spy service, she disappears in the south of France. No one knows where she is and British authorities scramble to locate her before word leaks to other countries or, worse, the media.

Panicked executives at MI6 summon disgraced agent Thomas Kell, a longtime friend and colleague of Amelia, to figure out what’s happened and why. The personal and the political soon collide, with forays into North Africa and across Europe.

Welcome to the brainy spy world of Charles Cumming, a young British author who, with the publication of “The Trinity Six” in 2011, drew comparisons to renowned thriller masters Alan Furst, John le Carré and Olen Steinhauer, among others. He returns this month with the story of Thomas Kell in A Foreign Country.

Readers first meet Kell seven months after the spy service coerced him to retire at the ripe old age of 42. Childless and on the verge of divorce, Kell awakes in a strange bed, nursing a “hangover comparable in range and intensity to the reproduction Jackson Pollock hanging on the wall of his temporary bedroom.”

Kell isn’t a man of derring-do like James Bond or Jack Reacher. Instead he relies on a mixture of smarts and intuition to solve problems of international intrigue.

Cumming keeps things moving with plenty of surveillance and tricks of the trade, but retains enough plausibility to make his hero relatable. Like George Smiley and other literary spies, Thomas Kell fascinates because of the constant tension between his ideals and the pragmatic reality of his trade.

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