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Typhoon: A Novel by Charles Cumming

Typhoon: A Novel

by Charles Cumming

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My third Charles Cumming in as many months and his other three books are on the to-read list for the next three months. Whilst I enjoyed this one a lot, I wouldn't rate as highly as the two Alec Milius novels, oddly enough because I felt a lot less empathy with Joe Lennox, the protagonist, than I had for Milius, the non hero of earlier novels.
Cummings' writing style is simple and clear and makes you want to turn the page, albeit that he conveys a lot of intriguing background information, this time on Hong Kong, Shanghai and China' troubled relationship with its Muslim minorities.
I am most definitely a fan, but I still don't think he is the "new Le Carre". ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
Joe Lennox seems to be the perfect spy. Having graduated from Oxford with a first class degree in Mandarin in the mid 1990s he is, almost as a matter of course, recruited into MI6. Equally predictably, he finds himself posted to Hong Kong in the run up to the handover of the colony back to Chinese rule in 1997. All in all, his career seems to be developing entirely as he and MI6 might have planned.

Shortly before the handover an aging Chinese man swims across the straits to land in Hong Kong. He is found by a British soldier from the Black Watch regiment who takes him into custody. This is no ordinary refugee, however. He speaks exceptionally good, idiomatic English and recognises the Black Watch insignia.

He is removed to a safe house for questioning, which is undertaken by Lennox, who establishes a rapport him. We learn that he is Professor Wang, and he gradually spins a story about potential insurrection in Western China where the Uighur Muslim community is showing signs of rising up against decades, or even centuries, of suppression by the Han Chinese. Wang seems able to offer a wealth of detail, and Lennox thinks that he may be on to a major espionage coup.

Lennox never gets to find out. While he is taking a break for sleep, Wang is spirited away by some of Lennox's MI6 colleagues, working in association with Miles Coolidge, senior CIA operative for that area. No explanation is forthcoming, and Lennox finds himself out in the cold.

Seven years later and the world, post-911 is completely different. Lennox is back in the Far East, now based in Shanghai, as is Coolidge.
Cumming spins a complicated tale but never lets the reader's attention flag. The plot is certainly on a par with le Carre at his finest. Cumming can't quite match le Carre's unique prose style, of course, but then who can? Lennox is an engaging and likeable character, and his relations with colleagues, counterparts from other agencies and also the 'civilian' bystanders whom he deals with are all plausible.

This was a very entertaining novel, and a worthy heir to le Carre's 'The Honourable Schoolboy'. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jun 4, 2014 |
Really good thriller that gives a look into contemporary life in Hong Kong & Shanghai. Also presents a scenario for unrest in the westernmost province of China. ( )
  EctopicBrain | Dec 4, 2012 |
Typhoon is another excellent spy story from Cumming, rated 5.0 and completed 7/4. In 20 pages, Isabella is intro'd and book is a sure winner! Deals with handover of Hong Kong, 6/30/97, 2 spies but 1 woman, Brit vs USA in China, Shanghai. ( )
  maneekuhi | Jul 28, 2011 |
I am a little disappointed of this book. The premise sounded interesting, reviews are great, and it starts as a nicely done spy thriller in the tradition of Len Deighton, but the story develops very slowly, especially in the middle. So it took me quite some effort to go through with it. At the end, it gains again some pace, but kind of anti-climactic as it is not so complicated as it pretends to be during the whole set-up which takes up most of the first 300 pages. ( )
  stembrook | Nov 3, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Cummingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gudmundsen, Per KristianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Hong Kong 1997 - only a few short months of British rule remain before the territory returns to Chinese rule. It's a febrile place. And in that claustrophobic environment of uncertainty and fear the spooks are hard at work, jostling for position and influence.… (more)

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