Top positive review
47 people found this helpful
Blows the bloody doors off
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.