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3.5 out of 5 stars
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3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 12 June 2003
There was a famous review of an early Bruce Springsteen concert that ran along the lines of "I've seen the future of rock'n'roll - and his name is Bruce Springsteen". Well, I've just read the future of spy fiction, and if there's any justice it will be Charles Cumming. This is as immaculately plotted a thriller as you could want, with the added bonus - rare in the genre - of plausibility, literacy, and an understanding of how people tick.
The storyline is simple, and none the worse for it. Patrician M16 officer comes in from the cold to try to patch up relations with the sons he walked out on 30 years before, but just as the thaw begins he is murdered. Brother 1 - thrusting executive for a Ministry of Sound-style club - joins forces with Brother 2 - layabout artist with a flirtatious journalist wife - to find out who bumped off their old man, but are soon out of their depth as Russian gangsters and MI5 muscle in and the safety catches come off.
What distinguishes the book is partly Cumming's deft observation of contemporary London - though there is no shortage of characters meeting sticky ends, the mood in general is much more "bling-bling" than "bang-bang" - and also his grasp of human relations and motivations. It is this, rather than standard gung-ho action, that drives the book, and so renders the characters credible. The Hidden Man is thus much more of a spy novel in the tradition of Maugham or Le Carre than your average, thick-eared beach read, although Cumming's own time as an MI6 trainee (which he drew on in his previous book, A Spy By Nature) means that, as in Maugham and Greene's work, there is also no shortage of inside information on how the intelligence game is really played. Strongly recommended.
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on 31 May 2007
Why has nobody told me about Charles Cumming? I bought The Spanish Game in 06 and thought it was superb so worked my way through his other books, A Spy By Nature and this one - The Hidden Man. It's a dense read, but a fascinating insight into what happens to families when one of their members (or more...) gets wrapped up in the world of espionage. It's not Ludlum-light. You need to keep concentrating and to remember who all the characters are, but it's extremely well written and very tense. Highly recommended if you want something with a bit more meat on it than Andy McNab or Stella Rimington.
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on 13 April 2013
Having read all of Cumming's books had pre-ordered The Hidden Man and looked forward to its arrival on my Kindle. However, I am half-way through the book and have set it aside as I cannot summon the interest to continue. The story starts well, interest is building in the characters and then, well, nothing happens. The idea of the 2 brothers and their relationship with their estranged father being a centre-piece is flawed as it goes into so much detail and, really, who gives a ----? None of these characters - the father and 2 sons - is interesting enough to me to care about how they feel. I bought the book as a thriller/spy novel - it certainly isn't thrilling to me and the intrigue angle is wedged between the angst of the brothers. Groan. Oh dear, let's hope Cumming's next book is better than this one. For me, this one's a dead loss.
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on 30 May 2003
It can take a long time for so-called 'genre authors' to get the respect that their literary skills deserve. With his second book, Charles Cumming should win that battle. Espionage fans can relax, The Hidden Man' is a thriller - and a fine one - but the quality of the writing makes it much more than that. He has a real talent for bringing a scene or human face to life with one telling detail. The dialogue has both the natural swing and the uneasy depth of real speech. The storytelling is taut and gripping but never sacrifices truthfulness for plot. Readers of the first novel will notice themes re-appearing and being developed; the ever-shifting gap between appearance and reality, the way lies are woven into our most intimate relationships. It's great to read a writer who doesn't use these ideas as the jump-off point for pages of 'high-prose' but clearly sees that they are the stuff of life. With the hip young authors of the US + UK disappearing up their own neuroses, I believe that Genre is the last refuge of uncluttered writing that features real people. Graham Greene and John Le Carre set the worldwide standard for stories that combine intrigue with thoughtful investigations of the human character. Charles Cumming is one of the inheritors of that legacy.
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on 21 September 2003
What on earth is "Ranald from Nr. Alresford, Hampshire" talking about? I couldn't disagree more with his reading of "The Hidden Man" which I found to be exciting both in terms of plot and writing style. In fact I wonder if he has actually read the novel as there is not one scene set in Paris and I cannot work out for the life of me to what he is referring when he writes, "his succint and surprisingly sex free stories of fragrant infidelity." I became a fan of Charles Cumming's writing after reading his impressive debut, "A Spy By Nature" and I found "The Hidden Man" more than lived up to its predecessor's example. Cumming continues to write about human relationships and internal conflict with incredible insight. Furthermore, the plot is superbly constructed and kept me on the edge of my seat right up until the last page. I highly recommend you ignore "Ranald" and buy a copy immediately.
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on 7 June 2003
If you want a book to keep you up in the small hours of the morning this is it. The suspense and intrigue of Cumming's second book is intelligently created and well written. The book deals cleverly with international espionage giving the reader an interesting behind the scenes look at what really goes on in the big bad world. Cumming's characters are colourful and familiar and yet unpredictable. A suspenseful thriller you have to add to your collection - it certainly won't sit on the shelf for long.
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on 15 July 2003
I enjoyed Charles Cumming's first book, A Spy By Nature, enormously, but The Hidden Man is even better. The complex plot revolves around two brothers whose father abandoned them when they were children to join MI6. Elegantly written and gripping from the first page to the last, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes "intelligent" thrillers.
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on 17 July 2015
I'm glad this wasn't the first book I read by this author; I wouldn't have gone any further. I enjoyed some of his other books very much, so this was a real disappointment; a turgid story that only comes to life in the last fifty pages. In fact, like another reviewer on here, I almost gave up after the first few chapters - dull characters with nothing going on and a tepid story about a fractured family I cared little or nothing about. Quite unlike the Alec milius books, which I enjoyed so much I bought all the others to read on holiday, including this one, where I shouldn't have bothered.
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on 30 November 2014
I have all his books but this is poor to the point of painful. I had to abandon it in the end as it was not living up to the hope that it would get better soon.

It drags on and on while the characters examine their navals and the plot was never strong in the first place.
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on 30 May 2003
It can take a long time for so-called genre authors to get the wider respect their literary skills deserve. With his second book, Charles Cumming will win that battle. Espionage fans can relax, The Hidden Man is a thriller - and a fine one - but the quality of the writing makes it more than that. He has a real talent for picking out the telling detail of a scene or of a human face. The dialogue has both the easy rhythm and the depths of real speech. The storytelling is taut and gripping but never sacrifices truthfulness for the sake of plot. Readers of the first novel will notice themes re-appearing and being developed: the ever-shifting gap between appearance and reality, the way lies are woven into our most intimate relationships. It's great to read a a writer who doesn't use these things as the jump off point for pages of self-obsessed 'high prose', but clearly sees that they are the stuff of life. With the hip young authors of the US + UK disappearing up their own neuroses, I believe that genre is the last refuge of uncluttered writing that is about people. Graham Greene and John Le Carre set the worldwide standard for stories that combined intrigue with thoughtful investigations of the human character. Charles Cumming is the inheritor of that legacy.
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