A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming

I have a soft spot for the risk-seeking but loyal spy, especially when on the run from other spies. One of my favorite modern espionage writers is Charles Cumming who has just published his third in the Thomas Kell/ Amelia Levene series. And while I may be biased in favor of almost any espionage novel over most fiction, Cummings has once again given us a smart novel to stay up late reading.divided spy

This time there is a high-profile terrorist plot unfolding, while Kell jousts with a Russian intelligence agent. But Amelia Levene once again appears in her character of the first female Chief of MI6, and in fact, this book continues the story line of the first two books. So I am going to suggest if you haven’t read Cumming’s Kell series before (he has written quite a few other espionage stand-alone books), you should start with number one, A Foreign Country.

In A Foreign Country Levene has disappeared without a trace, just six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. Kell is off across Europe to find her. In the second book, A Colder War, Kell comes in from the cold (why is he in the cold? Read book one!) to investigate a mole in MI6 who is sabotaging joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

I love these books for their introspection on the subjects of deceit and living a life defined by lies. These are not the novels for those who want action on every page with car chases and bombs going off every chapter. Cumming has been compared often to John le Carre and I understand that — Cumming’s prose about the creation of false identities and elaborate mirages does remind me of le Carre, the greatest spy novelist of all time.

A Divided Spy is not my favorite of the trilogy, as it is somewhat predicable and perhaps tells us too much and shows us too little, but I recommend it still — afforeignter you have read the others. One fear I have is that this is the end of the Kell story line since Kell has finally been smothered by the deceit in his life.

In a release for this novel, it was mentioned that Colin First has purchased the rights to The Foreign Country. I certainly hope so as I would love to revisit the story on the big screen. But you should hurry and read the Kell books before the movie hype takes over!

My rating: 4 of 5

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The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty

Having read Gun Street Girl by McKinty last fall, I decided to go back and read the first in his Irish historical series on The Troubles. And I am certainly glad I did. I am a big fan of Irish Noir (Ken Bruen, Tana French, Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes, Alex Barclay, Declan Burke) but only tolerate the routine violence to enjoy the prose. Here with McKinty, I have finthe-cold-cold-ground-adrian-mckinty1ally found a great noir writer who gives the Irish experience without detailing all the gore.

It is 1981 in Northern Ireland, and Belfast is on the verge of outright civil war. Soldiers, riots, bombings. And in the midst of it all, a serial killer of gay men. Poor Sean Duffy, a young and Catholic detective in a Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, is trying to personally survive as he uncovers a smart plot of deceit and false clues.

The setting and the characters are written superbly. You know you have a winner when you like the protagonist and cheer him/her on – even when they do foolish things like drink to excess when the killer is headed his way or forget to check for bombs under his car! You will really enjoy this series. Start with this one if you haven’t read any before

My rating 5 of 5

Asian Mysteries — The Ville Rat / Tokyo Kill

Though we have an abundance of Asian American focused mysteries today, that has not always been the case, of course. One of the first detectives I read (I loved the movies, too!) was the Charlie Chan character established in 1925 by Earl derr Biggers. Biggers went on vacation in Hawaii and came up with one of the most popular detectives of all time. To Biggers, the Chan character was a major step away from the “yellow peril” stereotypes of Chinese characterization in popular literature of the time as exemplified by Fu Manchu, among others. After all Chan was quite Americanized and displayed wisdom and benevolence.

The Chan films and books today are typically seen in a negative light –the series did use a white actor in “yellowface” to portray Chan and the books are full of racist stereotyping. The reaction is so strong that the four-dozen Charlie Chan films are rarely shown, even on classic movie channels.

Fortunately, we have very intelligent and culturally savvy mysteries on Asian to choose from today. The door to Asian mysteries was opened by Biggers and has been kicked off its hinges by authors such as S.J. Rozan (P.I. novels featuring Lydia Chin in NY City), Lisa See (a trilogy of detective novels exploring US/China relations with her cop heroine, Liu Hulan) and John Burdett (Police detective/ Buddhist Sonchai Jitpleecheep in Bangkok, Thailand), among many others.

Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet takes us to modern Japan where art dealer turned private investigator Jim Brodie tackles a case for a 96-year-old WWII veteran, worried because two of his former comrades were recently murdered. This is the second in the Jim Brodie series, after Japantown. Lancet is American and has lived in Japan for over 25 years and thus conveys well the culture, the country and the people. Chinese Triads, spies, WWII atrocities and expatriates! It is all packaged in a fast paced, mesmerizing novel – if you want to learn about Japan while enjoying a good story, this is your book.

One of my favorite series is Korean and takes place in the 1970’s. Martin Limon just released his 10th book called The Ville Rat. Limón retired from military service after twenty years in the US Army, including ten years in Korea, and with his knowledge, Limon writes a treasure-trove of Korean history and army life. A young Korean woman dressed in a traditional chima-jeogori is found strangled to death on the frozen banks of the Sonyu River with only a calligraphed poem in her sleeve. CID Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom are called in by the KNP to investigate since their job is to liaise with Korean law enforcement on matters that may implicate 8th Army American servicemen.

Limon writes about a time and place which I had no prior experiences with – one of the most pleasing features of a mystery to me is to travel where I have not been before though the pages of the books. Like Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet, this procedural mystery excels at that. Neither of these two books are literary masterpieces, but they do tell a good, realistic story with characters you like and believe in. I have read all of Limon’s Korean series and loved all but one or two in the middle where he veered into too much mysticism for my mystery-loving heart. For a cheap trip to Japan or South Korea, give them a try. My Rating – 4 out of 5 for both Tokyo Kill and The Ville Rat.

 

 

 

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

For some reason I usually avoid mysteries set in Ireland. I guess I feel that they are too dark and foreboding and that there is just too much violence and too few realistic women. I have read Benjamin Black, Tana French and Stuart Neville — all with heavy drinking and heavy soul searching but not eFeatured imagenough thoughtful detecting by likable characters.

I am glad to find a series set in Ireland which I thoroughly enjoyed — Adrian McKinty’s Detective Sean Duffy is my kind of cop. Clever, funny, thoughtful and believable. McKinty is a fine writer who makes the writing seem readable while at the same time uniquely profound. He gives us complex female characters as well as male characters which we admire and want to follow! How daring!

It is Belfast 1985, so the plot does involve “the troubles.” Also gun runners, arms dealers, MI5 and a rogue American agent with a fake identity. McKinty gives us a genuine mystery with twists and turns while teaching us about those times in Ireland. Detective Duffy isn’t at all innocence with his drugs and self-loathing tenancies, but he’s a loyal boss and friend. And he is a good cop.

I am definitely going back to read the first three in this Sean Duffy series, the first being The Cold, Cold Ground from 2012. There is another expected out in 2016 as well, called Rain Dogs. My rating — 4 of 5.