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on 17 July 2017
The first of Charles Cumming's two stories in this series, 'A Spy By Nature', introduced us to Alec Millius, a young intelligence officer working for MI6. It was a book which started slowly, but gathered pace, and was sufficiently well-written to persuade me to buy Mr Cumming's sequel, 'The Spanish Game'. Several years have passed and Millius is now based in Madrid, working for a private bank, but still convinced that his past will catch up with him. By nature he is self-centred, paranoid and devious, and while these can be useful attributes in intelligence work, they are also character flaws which can be exploited by his enemies. Just because he's paranoid doesn't mean that there isn't someone out to get him!
'The Spanish Game' is well-written and an enjoyable read, notwithstanding the twists and turns of its complicated plot.
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on 3 October 2017
Rather dull with two sections containing dramatic events and revelations. And rather tedious characters I couldn't wait to leave the page (Saul, I'm looking at you).
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on 27 June 2017
Good read
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on 29 May 2017
Good buy
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on 4 May 2017
The action and intrigue goes on until the very end. A good read in a very realistic Spanish setting. I couldn't put it down!
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on 29 August 2017
Tense, with more twists than a coiled snake.
Totally gripping
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on 6 April 2017
very good
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on 28 September 2014
I read this after reading the later "A Foreign Country" and didn't like it quite as much. It's difficult to discuss , because one doesn't want to give away too much of a very clever plot, so perhaps I should say upfront that if very clever plotting is what you look for in a thriller, then Cumming's your man, and you might rate this a bit higher than I did. I felt, though, that he was trying just a bit too hard to keep us (readers) off balance, and the fact that his protagonist is an unpleasant, almost paranoid character doesn't help matters, though it might be reckoned a bold choice to have an "anti-hero" as the center of consciousness. Alec Milius is a disgraced spy, hiding out under false names in Spain, whose fear is that his old employers in MI6 will find out where he is and call him to account for botching the operation that led to his leaving the Service. In Spain, however, working for an entrepreneur called Julian Church (whose wife is Milius's lover), Milius is sent up to the Basque country to evaluate investment opportunities and gets drawn in to acquaintance with the Basque separatist movement and with Mikel Arenaza, one of its leaders, in particular. When Arenaza disappears under odd circumstances, Milius sets out to find out what happened, only to find that he himself is under surveillance. Milius has made it clear from the start that he would like nothing better than to re-enter the world of spying and be accepted again in that milieu, and he sees an opportunity here to make a good impression on those who are watching him. They decide to use him to explore corruption at the highest levels of the Spanish government, and it seems that his Basque experiences might make him useful for that. At the same time, Milius is determined to solve the case of Arenaza's disappearance -- something that the spies he makes common cause with are not as interested in as he is. In a sense, Milius and his fellow spies get what they want, But things aren't quite what they seem . . .

Reviewers who see Cumming as the successor to Le Carre in the spy thriller genre perhaps see his treatment of the politics of the Basque separatist movement as being equivalent to Le Carre's treatment of the places in the world in which MI6, the CIA, and the KGB carry on their clandestine battles. Cumming gives us quite a bit of information about Spain and the Basque separatist movement, some of it a bit awkwardly delivered in the course of conversations between Milius and Arenaza during their brief acquaintance. What Le Carre provides that Cumming doesn't, however, is a sense of values and traditions being at stake, and Cumming has no vehicle like George Smiley for bringing to the reader's attention a sense of the tragic potential in lives that are lived through betrayals of one kind or another. Milius, by contrast -- and he narrates in the first person -- seems too much concerned with his own fears and feelings to give readers a sense that much more is at stake beyond his career and his life. We're in Daniel Silva territory here, rather than Le Carre's. Still . . . there are plenty of thrills and surprises to keep us on our toes.
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on 23 October 2007
I think this is the strongest novel Charles Cumming has produced to date. He has matured quite a bit since his first novel, A Spy By Nature. It was a good decision to re-visit the main character from the first novel, Alec Milius, who is now in exile in Madrid, working for a British finance company. He fills his time having an affair with his boss's wife, and being paranoid that enemies from his previous life in Britain working for MI5 are still out to get him. His counter-surveillance measures he carries out partly out of necessity, but also partly because he enjoys the secret life, and hasn't been able to let go of it.

The setting in Madrid is good, a refreshing break from the previous two novels set in London. Alec Milius is asked to explore the possibility of his finance company investing in Basque country, and in the course of various meetings, he spends an evening with a former Basque activist and politician. They get on, and agree to meet up at a later date. But on his way to meet Alec, the politician disappears. Suspecting foul play, Alec cannot help himself but investigate, and in doing so, he gets drawn into Basque politics, ETA, and back into the murky world of espionage.

It's not a perfect thriller, but it's an improvement on his first two novels. The plotting is smoother and more effective. Unlike other reviewers, I would argue that ending is not that good - for me it was a contrivance too far. I couldn't fault anything up to that point. This is mostly because Alex Milius is such a convincing, fascinating creation. Charles Cumming makes a passing reference in the novel to The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, which is a fair comparison. Both Ripley and Milius have tremendous talents, but also the seeds of their own destruction within their character flaws. The espionage theme suggests more Le Carre than Highsmith, and again, I don't think it's an unfair comparison to Le Carre. Good espionage writers understand that the interest is not as much in the plot as in the characters - the kind of people who can carry out ethically dubious activities for a perceived higher cause are by their nature, flawed. This is what fascinates the reader, not which country is plotting against who, how and with what fancy gadgetry.

I can only hope that Alec Milius returns in a new novel, but I think that Charles Cumming was right to let him have a break between novels. Aside from the ending, this is a near perfect espionage thriller.
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on 19 March 2006
There is a line late on in this book where our hero muses that "my life has become a Rubik's cube which is simply impossible to solve" and certainly there are enough twists and turns in The Spanish Game to make even Dan Brown blink, but this is such an intelligent book that the plot never feels false. And Alec Milius is a great protagonist. He has enough natural talents to get into and out of hair-raising situations in a believable fashion but is suffiently hapless for the reader to identify.
Charles Cumming seems to have a "voice" all of his own (so my reference to Dan Brown wasn't ment to imply any comparison) and if this is what he is writing in just his third book he should have a terrific future. He certainly has the feel of a star in the making.
I believe that Spanish Game marks the end of the "trilogy" and that the author's next book is a stand-alone set in China. I am already eagerly waiting for that one.
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