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VINE VOICEon 24 May 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"A Colder War," sets the bar even higher in terms of the spy novel. I have to declare immediately that I am an avid fan of Charles Cumming's work and have eagerly read all his books from the start beginning with "A Spy by Nature." His books have increasingly developed a cohesiveness with sharp dialogue, expertly plotted, with an authentic feel to the story.

The tale is a clever one, set in a refreshingly different location, Istanbul, with a contemporary plot and seemingly unconnected events, all coming together.

Thomas Kell, the British agent, whose career was resurrected in A Foreign Country, is tasked with investigating the death of the local Head of Station. A 'mole' is suspected and the pace of narrative is relentless as Kell unravels the pieces of the jigsaw. It's not all plain sailing of course as he is obliged to work alongside a CIA agent, who had a part in his fall from grace. Kell is a rounded character with even a love interest brilliantly portrayed by the author.

A Colder War is not only a first class thriller providing a glimpse of the intelligence world but a book which is compelling and addictive.
In terms of the world of espionage stories this is gold standard.
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VINE VOICEon 8 May 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Cumming has become an excellent exponent of the spy novel. The intrigue, the deceit, the questionable trust, the exotic locations - they're all here. Fascinating for me to come to it after finishing Ben MacIntyre's excellent 'A Spy Among Friends' - a non-fiction account of Philby's treachery and how easily and casually it was done in the face of the smug and arrogant 'old school tie' brigade at the top of British Intelligence. Cumming knows his stuff and one thing I do like is the lack of patronising. If you're going to read a spy story [and the cover tells you you are] then any follower of the genre won't need an explanation of the 'cousins' or the SVR or a DLB or what Cheltenham does, and Cumming doesn't disappoint. The other thing obvious from the cover is the setting - in this case Istanbul, which in itself conjures up an image of a bustling, exciting city, full of history and close to the borders of Iraq, Iran and Russia. I can forgive him the odd lapse - you do have to tread lightly over one or two bits - but it is a novel after all and not, as with MacIntyre, a piece of meticulous research. I like Kell; I find him thoroughly believable. He's feeling his age, smokes too much, forgets to put the bins out, wonders what he wants from women to say nothing of his position in MI6.
I won't touch on the story. Actually, I'm not sure there is much of a one. There's a mole - Kell's task is to find out who. Is all.
I enjoyed it though. It's compulsive and well-written. I recommend it highly.
And the next time you're on a train to Euston or a plane going on your holidays, have a look [not too hard now!] at the person sitting in the aisle seat three rows down.......
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have read all of Charles Cumming's spy books and I thoroughly enjoy them. They are more akin to George Smiley than James Bond which is to the good, well in my opinion anyway.

In this title we meet Thomas Kell once more who featured in the previous book when he was tasked to find Amelia Levene, head of Intelligence Service, when she went off grid. This time he is sent to investigate a mysterious plane crash in which MI6's Head of Station in Turkey, met his death. It seems he was involved with a woman who may or may not be what she seems, was seen having a meeting with a Russian agent and as it appears there is a Mole somewhere in the service, suspicion is aroused by these actions.

What I like about these books is that there is no attempt to make spying a glamorous profession. OK there is a beautiful woman here for our hero, but the emphasis is on winkling out the traitor through elimination, surveillance and a lot of basic work. I find this approach fascinating, I loved Tinker Tailor by le Carre for the same reason, and so Charles Cumming finds a fan in me.

Twists and turns but I will say no more as I do not want to give anything away or spoil the ending. Do read.
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on 3 May 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I thoroughly enjoyed the previous novel featuring Tom Kell, and this one was even better. A top rank British spy, Paul Wallinger, is killed when the plane he was flying crashes. Was it an accident or was he killed? Did Russia have a hand in it, or could there be a mole in British or American intelligence? Tom Kell, officially disgraced but in favour with the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Amelia Levene, is sent to investigate.
The action moves from London to Turkey and the Greek islands as Tom pursues various leads and eventually discovers the identity of the mole while managing to fall in love with the daughter of Wallinger. Have to say I found this romance the least convincing part of the plot but the fast-moving story and the details of espionage were enthralling, convincing and often despicable as they should be.
An excellent read, and hints given that we haven't seen the last of Tom Kell.
Great news.
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on 23 February 2015
Drone warfare, collateral damage, extraordinary rendition, and illegal imprisonment: these and other exercises of US power are articulated by a CIA agent in an effort to justify his role as a mole in Western intelligence. By putting these dark acts in the mouth of the villain of "A Colder War", Charles Cumming effectively diminishes their meaning. How different from the barely veiled anger at the forms of state and corporate power in the post-Cold War novels of John Le Carré, with whom Cumming is sometimes associated, particularly when his first two novels were published. Judging by the occasional references to James Bond in this latest novel, Ian Fleming is a closer influence than Le Carré. This is hardly a colder war.

Only intermittently is an external threat (Syria) referenced and this has the effect of isolating the warring secret services and their respective obsessions: protocols (dead-letter boxes [DLB's], cut-outs etc), their own history (Kim Philby for the British, James Angleton's crusade for the Americans) and, of course, new traitors. "A Colder War" is a hunt for a mole in the CIA or SIS, Langley or Vauxhall Cross. After so many spy novels, I found myself thinking, Oh, no, not another mole, and one whose motivation is even less credible than most.

This is not to say that this latest search for a mole lacks excitement and tension. The surveillance and counter-surveillance episode in London is tautly and expertly described. And the visit to an island near Istanbul, to discover a DLB is both gripping and geographically vivid. However, the cocooning of the secret world that follows from the basic lack of political seriousness in "A Colder War" (and this in a genre that has international politics and its hidden departments as its basis), threatens to turn this novel into a piece of societal entertainment. Espionage becomes a life-style choice rather than a product of upbringing and (private) education, with their accompanying world-view and belief in Britain's destiny - as in Le Carré. Here, spying is an entrée to a life of new friends, new techno-gadgets, world travel, and consumer goods. Even novels and biographies are part of the consumption of goods: Julian Barnes's "Sense of an Ending" and Doris Kearns' "Team of Rivals", the latter "because", as "C", the head of SIS, says "everyone I know is reading it." School fees are another perk of the job or a lifestyle choice, rather than being paid because to do so is a family tradition, a tradition which destroys Le Carre's "honourable schoolboy", even as the author sees it for what it is. The espionage plot is almost a cover story for sexual encounters and love affairs: "The spy who loved me".
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on 7 July 2014
The blurb on the book said Cumming was the new le Carre, only better, so how could I resist! I'm afraid he's not - not in the same league as le Carre or other masters of the genre such as Len Deighton and Eric Ambler. The first problem is that Cumming lacks literary ability - the writing is mechanical and dull. Words are occasionally misused, the occasional simile attempted quite inept and language sometimes pointlessly crude and offensive. As regards the story, he never quite gets around to explaining why this particular agent was assassinated, who the enemy is or what they wanted. Instead we are brought on a tour of Turkey, running through alleys and up and down steps, flying back and forth between cities, beaches and islands. All frantic action and 'tradecraft' but no story. If espionage is what you enjoy, Len Deighton's cold war Berlin is the real deal. Don't waste your time on this second rate and unconvincing novel
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on 1 May 2014
After a couple of ponderous novels that I had to work to finish, A Colder War was just the type of book I needed.

I think I finished it in 3 sittings over a couple of days.

I can't wait to see what is in store for Kell next, although I may have an inkling...

This is a great book written in the best tradition of British spy authors.

Highly recommended
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on 13 September 2014
This falls between two stools for me - it neither has the atmosphere and moral depth of the literary spy novels, nor the fun and escapism of the popular ones. It often feels like a very sub-par James Bond film. There is no real sense of menace and the characters are so cardboard it is hard to care about them. Even Kell is as dull as ditchwater, and his romance with Rachel is more embarrassing than sexy. Whenever any emotion is called for the characters either start smoking or start swearing. As usual with modern spy novels, none of the difficult issues and grey areas of today's world are confronted properly.
This tries to be an updated Fleming novel but simply falls far short in every department, unfortunately.
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VINE VOICEon 29 April 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At last a top flight spy novel up there with the very best. To my mind Tinker Taylor is the yard stick of comparison when it come to spy novels. This series by Charles Cumming is very close indeed to that level of excellence. His main character is a somewhat flawed and mistreated spy. He is used (in all senses of the word) by boss of MI6 to uncover that which she does not quite trust others to do. This is a more realistic world of spies than say James Bond. Whatever technology is used, is used by experts and not directly by the spies themselves. He does not carry a gun and is not especially gifted in martial arts. Instead he has good powers of observation and deduction. The interplay and mutual suspicions of the CIA (cousins) is very well handled and makes the story line interesting. This is a moderately paced tale and will grip from start to finish. Don't expect car chases, gun battles, and high tech. Expect a well crafted story instead. Not quite 10 out of 10 for entire believability, as if I were the main character, I would be much displeased with how I had been treated. I would not expect him to even get half of the occasionally begrudging help he does get. I hope in the next story he is allowed to come in from the cold. Good stuff. More please.
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on 24 February 2015
It's a bit unfair of me to bring in other thriller writers here, as these days I ignore so many of them. (If I see another quoted review with the words "serial killer", "brutal" or "chilling"... I just never buy them.) There is a handful of absolute greats still around, and Charles Cumming really is in a class of his own, I think, authentic, human, realistic - but in an interesting, not boring way! If you are taken by the quality of, say, John Le Carre or Gerald Seymour, you'd be making a mistake to neglect Charles Cumming. Don't be taken in by those crappy comparisons with, say, James Bond or Fleming - they're great too, but take place in a quite different sort of world, and are great for quite different reasons. This is espionage for the intelligent, not just part of the widespread modern practice of have-the-film-rights-in-mind, grab-them-worry-them-frighten-them-have big chases and/or explosions, let-them-heave-a-big-sigh-of-relief-while-you-imagine-a-Hollywood-scene-where-everybody-is-clapping-and-cheering. Readers do have minds as well as emotions. Cumming knows this!
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