Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review of The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming (2011, Harper)

Dr Sam Gaddis is a senior lecturer in Russian history at UCL, an expert on Sergei Platov, ex-KGB member turned politician, who has become the most powerful person in post-Soviet Russia.  Recently divorced with child maintenance bills, and being chased by the tax man for payments Gaddis can’t meet, he desperately needs an advance for a book that could be a bestseller.  With good timing, a young woman turns up at the launch of his latest book and offers him her mother’s collection of material about Platov and the KBG; she was working on an book, but has recently died and the daughter would like the project finished.  In addition, his friend, journalist Charlotte Berg, might also have a lead for such a book - she’s been contacted by Thomas Neane, who claims to be friends with the long rumoured but unnamed sixth Cambridge Russian spy.  Edward Crane ‘died’ in the early 1990s, only to be spirited away to a new life by British intelligence, worried about how his exposure would further tarnish their reputation as a compromised organisation.  It’s a potential explosive story and would solve Gaddis’ money problems.  Before he can start work on the new book though, Charlotte dies suddenly.  Gaddis resolves to continue her investigation, but it soon becomes clear that there are forces at work who would much prefer he let the matter drop.  However, with the bit between his teeth, Gaddis needs to uncover the truth.

At the heart of The Trinity Six are two compelling premises: that there was a sixth Cambridge-recruited Russian spy working at the heart of British intelligence, and that Platov (a thinly disguised Putin) has a dark secret that would topple him and which needs protecting at any cost.  The plot cleverly twists these in and around each other, providing a compelling reason for the danger in Gaddis’ investigation.  The novel unfolds as a pretty conventional spy thriller (including Gaddis bedding a much younger woman that seems to be a staple trope of the genre), told in fairly workmanlike prose, unlike the more understated and literary spy stories of Le Carre or Furst.  The result is a page-turner, with a number of feints, twists and turns, and a nice building of intrigue and tension.  The characterization is nicely observed, if a little clichéd, and Gaddis makes a decent lead as man increasingly out of his depth, trying to use spy tricks picked up from research and popular culture to take on professional spooks.  Overall, an entertaining read, with a well constructed plot.


1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - I'm glad you liked this one. I've heard several good things about it actually and your post just kicked me in the pants to read it. Soon.