Book Review: The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

Note: I’ve previously read and reviewed two other books by Charles Cumming here.

Charles Cumming is an interesting author, someone I happened to find recommended to me via Amazon.com’s engine, probably because I’ve bought books about Spain and China where two of his other books are set.  I read both these books while traveling in Europe and enjoyed his style of equally focusing on setting and story.  You really live in the environment with those books, and I had The Trinity Six on preorder after that experience.

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The Trinity Six, I’ll admit, was a little hard for me to get into.  Being an American, I just wasn’t as familiar with the Cambridge Five incident from the UK, and I often felt like you needed to really have a better grasp of the weight of that event to fully appreciate the idea that there may have been a sixth agent involved in the ring.

Cumming seems to be a student of the John le Carré school of spy fiction writing, and having never read le Carré before, he got me to download one of his books on the Kindle, which I slogged through and although I tried valiantly, I eventually lost interest.  The idea is to provide a realistic counterweight to the over-the-top James Bond tendencies you see in movies and focus more on plausible espionage plots.  In this, Cumming betters his hero (at least as far as I can tell from my admittedly small sample size).

The plot of the book is interesting – an academic finds himself hurtling along an investigation that involves Russian interest and geopolitical consequences, and the gritty scenes do the job well.  Still, I felt that Cumming almost tried to focus less on the descriptions of the scenes for the books – again perhaps because his readers in the UK would know what London is like and probably have visited Budapest and Vienna.  As a sheltered American, I need more.

All in all, I think this is a book that has merit, but hopefully the next will incorporate the setting more, something Cumming is a master at.  My last major criticism of his previous books (of using the verb “to sink” a drink) was rectified in this outing, and I like to think I had something to do with it.  Regardless, I’ll preorder his next work sight unseen.  If you like spy novels that don’t involve lunatic unrealism, The Trinity Six is a good outing and a quick read.

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