Review: The Man Between – Charles Cumming

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Spies
Publisher:
Harper Collins
First published: 2019
ISBN: 9780008200343
Pages: 432
Bought


From the cover:
A simple task for MI6 could cost him everything.
A simple task.
Successful novelist Kit Carradine has grown restless. So when British intelligence invites him to enter the secret world of espionage, he willingly takes a leap into the unknown.
A global threat.
Kit finds himself in Morocco on the trail of Lara Bartok – a leading figure in Resurrection, a revolutionary movement whose brutal attacks on right-wing politicians have spread violence throughout the west.
A dangerous target.
Drawn to Lara, but caught between competing intelligence services who want her dead, Kit faces an awful choice: abandon her to her fate or risk everything trying to save her.


My experiences with Charles Cumming’s work has been a little hit and miss. I remember being non-struck by one of the early books of his I read, and having a look at the back cover (it was a paperback) and seeing all the comparisons with acknowledged masters of the spy novel – John le Carre, etc – and thinking, “I must have got some sort of publishing rarity here, where they’ve put the wrong inside in the wrong outside! I wonder if it’s worth something?!” But no, it was just me who thought the people quoted on the back were talking about a different book.

Several of the more recent ones I’ve read have turned out to be really good and actually deserving of the praise heaped upon that earlier book. The Man Between falls, eventually, into this latter group.

As you might guess from the cover’s ‘a simple task’ it turns out to be nothing of the sort. And, I have never ‘found myself in Morocco,’ deliberately or accidentally, I don’t know about you. Kit Carradine comes with a lot of familial spy-trade baggage, so even though he is now a spy story writer, he knows the sort of thing he finds himself in. I could believe that he has built up knowledge of how his characters have been required to react to some of the hair-raising scrapes he finds himself in here, though I did wonder that even so, he does remain a little too calm and collected at times. Maybe it is meant that it runs in the family.

The trick with Secret Organisations in spy books of this ilk, is to make them believable and that often starts with the name. Resurrection is on the edge of eyes-to-the-ceiling, but just the right side (what was the outfit in one of the latest Mission Impossible films? The Syndicate was it? Pathetic). Secret Organisations’ aims as well, have to be such that you are torn between agreeing with their aims and disapproving of their methods for achieving these aims, mostly. That creates a kind of tension in the plot, not so much that you want them to get away with it, but you are irritated that HMG’s finest are trying to stop something that you would, in the dark, secretly think it quite ok. Here, the ‘doing away’ with of right-wing politicians. The news, well, mine anyway, is filled with candidates on either side of the pond, whom I couldn’t imagine me thinking anything more than “Meh!” from me, if Ressurection did the business there.

The characters of Kit Carradine (silly name) and Lara Bartok are believable if you don’t think too hard about them. I mean, why do secret agents and the female ‘operative’ they are supposed to be hunting, have to be attracted to each other? I’m getting fed up with it, I must say. I’m always thinking ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ when I’m at my fairest, but still, I would like to see a writer try indifference. Not the sort that you know is going to lead to lurve later, but indifference all the way through. However, the plot here is such that you don’t really have too much time to ponder such things as all the above and is generally kept pretty tight and decidedly doesn’t lose its way or its grip on the reader. Despite my misgivings, I’ll say it is actually much better than I’ve maybe made it out to be.


You can buy The Man Between from The Book Depository

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