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on 2 March 2017
It's always a pleasure to discover an author I enjoy. I had not previously read anything by Charles Cumming, but very much liked 'A Foreign Country', Cumming's first novel about recently disgraced MI6 agent Thomas Kell. Kell has been dismissed from a relatively senior position in the agency following a incident in Afghanistan, when a suspect's human rights were abused by CIA operatives. However, he is brought back on a temporary, freelance basis when the new head of MI6, Amelia Levene disappears whilst on holiday in France.
'A Foreign Country' is well-written and exciting. Although the plot is relatively straightforward, with few twists and turns, Cumming is excellent at maintaining a high pace throughout, and then accelerating the action towards the end. The main characters are well-drawn and the minor characters aren't stereotypes. Kell himself is an interesting character - he is clearly wedded to his job, which he is very good at, but also suffers doubts about the extent to which this requires deceit, and the effect of this on his personal relationships.
I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent book and look forward to reading the next two in the Thomas Kell series.
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on 18 October 2014
The opening chapter is to nicely written that my hopes were bounding. Sadly, I was a little disappointed. I have always found Cummings a good read, but never breathtaking; never utterly compelling. A Foreign Country was a decent thriller, but felt contrived – the background to the lead protagonist, Thomas Kell, never really feels fully realised and the extra matter in the back of the book speaks to an author who didn't want to write a story about the events he details (well known to anyone who has any knowledge of Human Rights law and/or the UK intelligence apparatus), but needed to weave it into his character somehow in order to make a point. The plot, the reason Amelia Levine (the new head of SIS) has disappeared, is a curious one. A little too much like Robert Harris's far superior Ghost for my tastes. The final sequence is far too bland for a book which one the Ian Fleming CWA Steel Dagger for Best Thriller. Kell never really feels in danger – never really feels under threat. A Spy By Nature conversely features a character way out of his depth and so much is held back, Cummings keeps us glued to the edge of our seats. Here, Kell seems to saunter through everything thrown at him, totally comfortable except for the uncomfortable past which seems to be a tacked-on contrivance. Cummings has written better.
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on 5 April 2017
Suspended from duty at MI6 for his part in the interrogation of a British citizen by the CIA in Afghanistan, Thomas Kell is hired as a freelance to find the missing boss of the organisation. He does. And there is something dodgy going on. It is of course Britain's traditional enemy, up to no good.

It's hard to say more without revealing spoilers. It's not James Bond. There are no exotic beauties in leopardskin lycra, more's the pity, and Kell is a middle aged bloke who gets himself mugged in an alley while trying to remember his self defence class.

But every word rings true.
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on 17 April 2016
The story was OK. I would give it 4 out of 10.

The author seems to bring in some of his own prejudices: he obviously is snobbish about certain aspects of British life and sneers at tourists and holidaymakers. Bit of a cheap shot really. Above all, he appears to be young(ish) and thinks it is clever to sneer ( a recurring theme) at and about old people. I am not old and do not play tennis but why bother to sneer ( yes, that word again) at "geriatrics" playing tennis on holiday? Would he prefer old people to stay at home and not exercise? I look forward to the author getting old, by which time he may have grown up a bit.
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on 13 December 2016
I feel as if I should read it all the way through, but really this book is so turgid. This is a classic case of being fooled by all these positive reviews on Amazon whilst looking for a new writer (to me, at least) in the genre I enjoy. The book is so padded, the story so thin and predictable, the characters so absolutely unbelievable. Just not good at all, and certainly not recommended. For a gallop through the world of spying I'll stick to Stella Rimington, and for more in depth I'll just go back to dear old Le Carre!
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on 20 June 2017
This is a spy novel set in England and France. It is similar in vein to John le Carre's novels and highly readable. The territory is familiar - disgraced spy brought in from the cold to solve a problem but with enough twists and turns to make an interesting story. I highly recommend this book.
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on 2 September 2015
It took me a few reads to take in what was happening at the start of this novel but once I had absorbed it, as with 'A Colder War' (the only other Cumming novel that I have read - thus far), it becomes compelling reading. However, there are a lot of characters and I do get a little confused with so many of them - often with aliases and foreign names. Unfortunately, in a way, I am reading his books in reverse sequence and the books do reference earlier 'Thomas Kell' situations so perhaps not the best way to do justice to these clever and complicated story lines. As with A Colder War, I do find the endings a bit too open ended although I appreciate they leave the door open for another in the Thomas Kell/Amelia Levene series so really shouldn't be complaining! So far neither has been true 5 star reads for me but 4.5 is a better reflection on the quality and enjoyment of this offering.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 June 2013
So Hannah and Kate of Killer Reads/Harper Collins fame have been subtlety and well, not so much, nagging me to read this book for a while. Its a spy thriller. I wouldnt normally read one because although I adore "Spooks" as a tv show, I've never really had the inclination to read that type of story - I've always felt the action for spies is so much better in visual format. But those girls have never sent me down the wrong path so with a lot of trust I opened the pages. And well. They still have a 100% record as far as telling me what I will enjoy. It was terrific! Thomas Kell, disgraced operative, is asked to track down Britain's chief spy who has vanished just prior to taking up her new position. All is not as it seems however, and what follows is a stonking good story and a terrific tale of, well, life. Spies have them as well you know - they don't spend all their lives clandestinely following mysterious foreign characters down darkened streets. Some of them even read. Thomas Kell does - hey, so do I. Perhaps I should join MI6.

The characters are all wonderful - the background is interesting and well described and you have your "good guys" and "bad guys" and of course those in between. That grey area. Good? Bad? You decide. Thomas Kell has just knocked Charlie Parker (John Connolly's Charlie Parker series) off my no 1 spot for "literary figures I would marry". He's great. Flawed and yet brilliant. Backing him up are some great peripheral characters. The scene setting is nigh on perfect - at one point I almost got seasick. So there is a lot to love here. I can't elaborate on the plot because anything I say will spoil it. But know - you won't want to put it down, its easy to read and involving. Uncomplicated yet clever. If you havent read in this genre before make this your first. If you have then be reassured this is good - very very good. Happy Reading folks!
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on 23 August 2014
This is the third of Cumming's books that I have read. Touting him as the new Le Carre seemed to be over-egging previously but he has definitely grown into Le Carre's shoes with this book. This is in the classic Le Carre spy groove, updated to give the reader new enemies to replace the Communists (and I'll tell you right now it's not the Americans ...). The shades of grey are many and various. Who is right, who is wrong? Whose operation is this? Who knows about it? Who is innocent, who is guilty? What is the crime? What the charge?

I liked this a lot. But not quite enough for 5*s. A 4.5* book.
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on 21 February 2014
This is a tale about espionage against the British Secret Service by a renegade faction in another country's intelligent agency. However the foreign country to which the title refers could well be the past, which comes back to haunt those in high places.

A retired French couple are brutally murdered on a beach in Egypt. The new chief-elect of MI6 mysteriously goes missing. An agent called Kell, discredited in Afghanistan, is brought in from the cold (unofficially) to down the missing chief spy. These are the unlikely elements which make for a surprisingly good read. Although the context is one of espionage this is not in the genre of coldwar chicanery. It is an enjoyable and gripping thriller set in the very, very recent past. Post the Arab Spring. It's the sort of book I looked forward to picking up again and had difficulty setting down. The end comes suddenly and is quite explosive.

Just ordered another of Charles Cumming's books 'The Trinity Six'.The Trinity Six
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