on 22 November 2010
From the opening pages of Typhoon, Charles Cumming captures his audience with his best novel so far. Typhoon is set in Hong Kong in the final months of British rule with politics and espionage at the forefront of this brilliantly written novel. Cumming has a unique way of combining clever character profiles with his familiarly well researched plot and a sexy love triangle thrown into the mix. A thoroughly excellent book which can only be recommended and I look forward to more great things from a fine author.
I find that I only review books that I really like, probably because there are too many that I think that are mediocre or even truly awful. So for the few books I have reviewed I have given 5 or on the odd occasion, 4 stars. Now I find myself more than just a bit constrained by the scoring system. I need more stars !!
Because Charles Cumming is exceptional. His Alec Milius trilogy were also very fine spy novels but now with Typhoon he has produced something quite different. Typhoon is a big novel with big characters and big issues. It meets the first requirement of a thriller; it is truly gripping, often not because of breath-taking action scenes, although there are plenty of those, but simply because of the way the dialogue crackles and fizzes off the page, or the way he captures the excitement of a particular scene. Even if you have never been to Hong Kong or China you are going to feel as if you are right there.
But this is more that just a top class thriller. The author is demonstrating that he can populate a wide canvas with multiple and fascinating characters, move around the world and between decades, take on political and cultural issues, and, from this potentially complex mix, produce that most rare of things; a great novel which is also a great adventure.
We are seeing a young author just getting into his stride and, seeing the jump he has made between his third and fourth novels, well, anything is possible. So hold those comparisons ! As another reviewer says, in Charles Cumming we may have a true original.
on 1 June 2009
I found out about Charles Cumming via a friend at Facebook, and having read his first novel, subsequently went through Typhoon in a matter of a few days. It is consistently excellent. He captures the chaos, nervousness and exhuberance of Hong Kong leading up to the 1997 handover, and fast-forwards deftly into the quasi-capitalist China of our own time. One can really feel what it is like to work there.
There are no clever gadgets, no silly car chases, or gimmicks. But I reckon that even Ian Fleming himself would have loved this book for its mixture of realism and excellent characterisations. And the twist at the end is worth waiting for.
The central character, Joe Lennox, is likeable but not sanctimonious. It is totally believable that a man like that works in the SIS.
We want more!
on 11 March 2009
Once more Charles Cumming does not disappoint. Typhoon is a fast moving and fascinating insight into a side of China that is for the most part unknown. Few had heard of the Uighur minority in the North Western part of this vast country. Strangely life imitated art in that some months after the launch of the book there were indeed troubles in the region. This serves to confirm the detailed research which Cumming always exhibits in his novels and which, combined with his considerable powers of description confirm his position as one of our leading young writers of today. A fascinating story.
on 31 July 2008
TERRORISM THREATS NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE
How Charles Cumming is able to write a novel encasing a dramatically complicated plot in China, Washington and Hong Kong without having spent a lifetime in situ is beyond the ken of most readers What we have to remember is that Cumming at the tender age of 37 has already got three outstandingly well written spy thrillers under his belt, the last of which revealed an in depth knowledge of the Basque Separatist movement and ETA.
It may also help to know that Cumming openly admits that at the age of 25 he was recruited by the Foreign Office and experienced some realities of what makes a `Spook'. His enormous skill as a writer comes not it would seem from his brief relationship with MI6, but from a brilliant brain and a first class education.
With TYPHOON, we are initially taken back eleven years to the handover by Governor Chris Patten of Hong Kong to China. A relatively elderly man is discovered by a British soldier on the Hong Kong shore of Starling Inlet, well into Dapeng Bay at the East of Hong Kong`s New Territories. It was fortunate that Professor Wang was unaware that in the past British Army Air Corp helicopters had routinely searched the bay for body parts of the multitude of refugees who had failed to make the swim thanks to crocodiles.
Joe Lennox of the SIS is comfortably at ease with himself concealed amongst the money seeking male dominated society of Hong Kong where he can be seen coming and going from the House of the Thousand Asseholes, in politer words Jardine House. Joe is aware of a CIA plot to destabilise China or at least a part of it - Xin Jiang the autonomous Muslim dominated region of North West China. At a Washington conference of senior CIA planners one American heavyweight former politician reveals his ignorance by commenting that he didn't think there were any Muslims in China. His assistant coughed discretely and pointed out that at the last count there were about 20 million.
As the story skips eight years and Joe is seen trolling every bar and restaurant in Shanghai and Beijing his possible would be wife, the lovely Isabella is parted from him under slightly inexplicable circumstances. Cumming displays a sensitivity in his description of a semi tragedy in the making, which had the effect of bringing this reviewer near to tears. Combining the complexities of global espionage with heart tearing romance binds the reader in such an intimate manner that it compels page turning at a hitherto unknown speed.
Cumming, the English language master, is capable of writing in the present tense, that most difficult of techniques. In TYPHOON he doesn't use it, but introduces an exceptionally cunning ploy by the super-imposition of a narrator using first person narrative and dialogue. It is mysteriously enjoyable.
A glossary of acronyms and persona would maybe make this thriller even more gripping. With the Beijing Olympics actually on the starting blocks, a huge success awaits this terrific novel.
on 2 June 2008
If John Le Carré modernized the image of the seedier image of the British Secret Service, then Cumming's new book Typhoon combines the traditional with the contemporary of the spying game. It also signifies Cumming as perhaps the most noteworthy writer to arrive since, say, Le Carré or Frederick Forsyth.
With the end of the Cold War, writers have had to look for other political arenas for their character to perform in. Some naturally led to confrontations with Al Qaeda or other terrorist but many have focused on the glamorous (if it can be called that) side. In Typhoon, Cumming's approaches an old "enemy" from a new angle with great sensitivity. Basically Typhoon is a political thriller about a CIA plot to destabilize China on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. British SIS are involved from the start as the novel begins at the time of the handing over sovereignty of Hong Kong and spans a decade. The novel also focuses on the plight of the Muslim inhabitants of the Xinhiang region of the People's Republic of China, and it is used as a pawn by the CIA to bring about this destablization. The question is: how can the SIS prevent this?
It is also a story of three main characters whose lives are inextricably entwined, making for a novel that's poignant without ever giving into outright happiness. You get the feeling from the outset that SIS agent Joe Lennox's relationship with Isabella is doomed from the start. Basically because if something is coveted so much, there is a price to pay. And the thorn in his side is CIA agent Miles Coolidge. It is the dynamics of these characters that drives the novel.
Cumming has a knack of description that brings the novel alive, capturing Shanghai or Hong Kong so visually you actually feel you are there. If the spy novel and the characters that people them have to change with the times to appeal to an audience with ever increasing access to information, then Charles Cumming has managed to recall why people read Greene, Ambler, Forysth, Le Carré et al. The tag-line "master of the modern spy thriller" is a deserved one.
on 18 April 2009
This is not your run-of-the-mill pap. It's thoughtful, informative literature. A love story, a potted history, and an out-and-out thriller, all rolled into one. The research and attention to detail are mindblowing. But the real pleasure of Typhoon is knowing that you are reading something entirely authentic. This is how the dirty work gets done. Espionage has little to do with gadgetry and weapons. It's exhausting and devoid of glamour. Down on the ground, it's about money, manipulation, and deceit. It's about lying to your wife, and selling your best friend down the river. And this is where Cumming excels. His characterisation and dialogue are utterly convincing, as is the wholly satisfying conclusion. Cumming is right up there with Gerald Seymour: a writer who can draw you in and keep you gripped, without ever having to resort to sensational nonsense. This is a beautifully crafted book, unreseverdly recommended, and thoroughly deserving of its rave reviews from the national press. Oh, and if you've never been to Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, you will have by the time you've finished Typhoon.
on 29 November 2014
The best of modern day thriller writers. Outlining the Uighur struggle in north west China and set largely in Hong Kong and other major Chinese cities this book provides a revealing insight into modern China. It works as a gripping thriller but it informs too. I suspect this will be come to be seen as prescient. The Uighur struggle will not be going away; it will gain much more vocal support from the Muslim world as their mistreatment becomes more apparent; and even an ever more powerful China won't find that so easy to deal with. China's other Tibet. Another Charles Cumming classic.
But at its heart is the story of a young MI6 agent in deep cover who becomes entwined with a CIA maverick with both of them wanting the same girl. Throw in a dissident Chinese professor, radicalised Uighurs and Pentagon hawks and it's an incredible mix. Shows how intelligence services can work for both good and bed and retains plausibility. What I like about Cumming's work is that the characters take understandable actions, spycraft is explained marvellously and there's no rising body count just for the sake of it.
Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai are all marvellously depicted and the nuances of expat life effortlessly depicted. Can't think of any other writer in this genre who is as talented. This is Le Carre plus.
on 4 November 2009
I really enjoyed this book despite the rear cover once again providing a rather inaccurate description of its contents.
The protagonist (Joe Lennox) is a British spy in Hong Kong in 1997 and then later in mainland China. He is not the narrator, however. (Strangely, the book is written in the first person by Joe's journalist friend, with a third person perspective, if that makes sense. The issue I had with that is that the writer could not have known about the things he was writing about. Still, the story flows well.)
Joe's fear is of an Uighur terrorist attack within China, making the novel rather topical. It is thoughtful and well-written. The spy world plays a big part but this is not a complex or multi-layered spy tale with heroics, dead bodies and non-stop action. It is a story of relationships, betrayal, cultural tensions, modern day China and even love to a small extent. And the scene-setting in modern day China is superb - the reader can really feel the place.
It was very easy to turn the pages of this book which kept my interest up for its entire 500 pages. This was a very impressive effort, which thankfully did not use a Jeff Abbott style of delivery. 9/10
Having just read 'A Colder War' by this author and now finished this one, it's easy to compare the progress the author has made over th last few yars in the way he sets out his storyline and develops his characters.
I struggled with 'Typhoon'. It's not that it's a bad book, it's just difficult to really get into it. I had no empathy with any of the characters whatsoever and the way the story is related, it would seem the author felt the same.
Still, if you do read on, the writing is clever. The way SIS and our Cousins work together (or not) is well shown for what it really is, a case of complete mistrust. It portrays the ruthlessness of the Chinese heirachy in quelling anything they don't like, to the tune of probably millions bumped off over the recent years, including, it seems, Western people who cross the line just once too often.
I like this author andmost certainly will buy his nextelease; just as long as it's not a sort of follow to 'Tyohoon'.