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A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming

A Foreign Country (edition 2012)

by Charles Cumming

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2372848,722 (3.79)15
Title:A Foreign Country
Authors:Charles Cumming
Info:St. Martin's Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, thriller, espionage

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A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming


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When the woman who is about to take over as head of SIS, formerly known as MI6, goes missing from her vacation in France, Tom Kell, a former agent who recently left the service under a cloud of allegations, is unofficially assigned to find her quietly, without anyone learning that she is gone.
Well constructed, with a lot of humorous turns of phrase. “Nice was an antiseptic playground for rich foreigners who didn't have the imagination to spend their money properly.” Not that this is a funny book, but it at times has an attitude that I appreciate. I would have liked more of this. ( )
  BillPilgrim | Jul 14, 2015 |
Very good spy thriller. With this book, which won the Bloody Scotland award 2012, Cumming has established himself as the proper heir of John le Carre, though the reason he clinched the prize may have a lot to do with the happy end he provided, a sin never committed by le Carre.

(MIND! SPOILERS AHEAD!) The story in a nutshell involves the first female C of MI6 who has a hidden history (a foreign country) that suddenly becomes crucial. She gave birth to an illicit child that was adopted by French foster parents who get cruelly murdered in Egypt. The latter triggers a search for the legitimate mother of the sole heir. Hence she gets to see her 30 plus son finally. Only he is not her son, but a DGRI (French secret service) spook controlled by a French agent seeking revenge on her. Thomas Kell, a disgraced ex MI6 spy, is called back to monitor the whereabouts of the MI6 C in waiting, who has suddenly disappeared (for a short trip to Tunisia with her new found son). Thomas soon locates his former boss, initially confusing her interactions with the younger French man as a love affair, but at some stage realising he is her illicit son. Everything seems fine, until something strange happens on the way back to France on the ferry. Thomas notes that the ‘son’ studiously avoids an older man in the dining room. Meanwhile Thomas’ own approach to the son triggers a search of his room. So then his suspicions are raised and soon enough something dirty crops up – Thomas finds out at long length that two funerals have been held for the real Francois who is being kept somewhere in southern France. He breaks the news to the new C and jointly they decide to trap the French without the rest of MI6 knowing. The fake Francois gets invited to England for another e-union with his mom. The house is completely wired. A whole team sitting next door – hoping for a trail back to the real Francois who’s held hostage. The last 100 pages are more or less fluent and the action is dense and unstoppable. Fake Francois gets called back to France, his ploy being foiled with the French knowing, but the English spy team manages to postpone this news for Francois the fake. Once he finds out the hunt is on. The team follows him on his improvised escape by taxi, train, plane. They only lose track of him in the Paris metro, but then they have gotten hold of fake identity and credit card details and trace him back to a hotel in Paris, where he gets killed in cold blood (I love that scene - raw, violent, yet icy) by a Algerian thug (part of the French hostage team). This young tug is recognised by Thomas, caught, and blackmailed into a confession and witness protection programme. Next a hired team of British ex special forces breaks into the rural country house where the real Francois is held, with plenty of killing (nice, terrible deaths, especially of the guy in the swimming pool who gets up again, is clearly lethally afflicted, droning on, trying to escape while bleeding profusely, having lost his mind, who gets shot on the go by one of the British mercenary types just before he reaches the edge of the field, while Thomas can’t quiet pull the trigger himself). Happy end. I quite like the totally unexpected sex scene as well. Nicely written, real, and yet subdued. ( )
  alexbolding | May 21, 2015 |
A solid spy thriller, A Foreign Country by Charles Cummings is the first in his Amelie Levene series. I read the books out of order, with A Colder War being his second in the series and the first I read. I highly recommend reading these in order, it makes the characters and plots that more thrilling. ( )
  knittingmomof3 | Nov 12, 2014 |
An excellent and clever plot which keeps you turning the pages and wanting to read more. ( )
  edwardsgt | Apr 22, 2014 |
There's no doubt this is better, much better than the last one of his I read (A Spy By Nature). More coherent, more interesting and without a middle section that sagged like...well, my middle section.

But…there's a but. Well, it's labeled a thriller, but it most certainly isn't. A thriller. Not what I'd call a thriller anyway. It is mostly mildly, to quite interesting and there are a couple of incidents which do come within binocular distance of thrilling. Though when the main man's attempt to have a hotel night porter distracted by some retired, bit-part spy helpers, long enough so he can check the hotel's computer register is the most thrilling part of the first 176 pages, you begin to wonder if I haven't been working from a different dictionary definition for 'thriller' all these years. Maybe I'm calling for a new way of determining if a book is a thriller or not, the thrill percentage in a Charles Cumming book is far to low for it to be labeled a thriller, in my book. The interest evel is ok, but not more than mildly diverting.

And another area where the PR people could once again probably be described as being a little too over enthusiastic, is in the comparisons appearing on the book jacket. Sticking John Le Carre's name on there somewhere will always sell books. Even if it isn't written by the great man. And even, as here, you’re sticking the name of perhaps his most well known/loved character on the back, it probably still works. Which is why they’ve done it. And I suppose you can't blame Harper Collins for highlighting the reviews that bandy Le Carre about. But, and as I noted in my review for his previous one, I think they must have read a different book to the one I read. And le Carre fans, of whatever era, are going to be disappointed and wondering if the ‘Smiley’ mentioned, isn’t actually the name of the neighbours’ dog (as ours’ is).

The thrills, such as they are, are in the first half, and based on the anticipation that comes with the feeling that ‘now...this is going somewhere…’ But are ultimately they’re not there - the thrills - because the book doesn’t get there. Either where you want it to, or where it should. But I'm not wanting to be too negative, as - amazingly enough - there are good parts.

The book actually delivers in part on its reviewers promise mostly in the second half. It is almost tense and mostly exciting, it is about an operation carried out maybe in a more modern style than Le Carre and Smiley's heyday, but in the same ballpark. It doesn't include any giant explosions and international incidents - even though it involves the old enemies of official UK secret services and their French counterparts, it's all stuff that could be swept under the carpet, officially denied and life got on with in an air of mutual distrust even hatred (if you want to look at it as reflecting the real world). So no change there then. The final action is good enough and is well-handled. Maybe it all goes a little too smoothly, and I thought it could have been, if not should have been, expanded by 50 or so pages. It felt a little like 'ok, we'll do this and that, they'll obviously do that and this', let's go - and it all happened the way it had been explained as a plan so there wasn't the need to go into the detail that an Eric Van Lustbader would have. It all felt like Cumming had had the idea for his next book and wanted to get this one done with and out of the way so he could get on with that.

The main man, Kell, despite the daft name, is an interesting character. Cumming has hinted at some baggage there and I'd like to see him in other stories. He reminds me a little of Jeremy Dunns' 'Paul Dark', maybe a little more ordinary (he's never going to be in charge at SIS for example, is our Kell), though as I don't know where A Foreign Country fits in Cummings' great scheme of things, I don't know if I'll meet him again.

All in all an ok to good read and I can recommend it more than the last one. Still not up with where the reviewers seem to have been with it, but getting there. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
“A Foreign Country” is silkily written, and more cool than hot. Cumming, whose earlier novels include the enthusiastically received “Trinity Six,” describes exotic locales with detail and affection, and is relatively sparing in his use of bang-bang, at least until a big, gory ­Hollywood-ready finish.
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When Amelie Levene, who in six weeks is due to take over as the first female Chief of MI6, disappears without a trace while in the south of France, it is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced in more than a decade. Britain's top intelligence agents turn to one of their own: disgraced former MI6 officer Thomas Kell. The trail leads Kell to France and Tunisia, where he uncovers a shocking secret and a conspiracy that could have unimaginable repercussions for Britain and its allies.… (more)

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