Delighted that the word has spread that Random likes a murder or two and the odd spy thriller thrown into the mix as evidenced by a wonderful collection of books that have hit my door step in the last few weeks.
One of these was A Foreign Country by Charles Cummings. I have read several of of Charles Cumming's books and have enjoyed every single one. I think this is his best one yet and he seems to improve with each title published. I have felt in some of his previous stories that sometimes they lag and slow down, but this one starts slowly and builds up to a really tight exciting finish.
The tagline is 'Britain's chief spy vanishes. One week will make or break M16'. Amelia Levene is due to take up her position as the first female head of M16 when she vanishes. There is no sign of possible defection, no ransom has been demanded and yet she has vanished without a trace. Thomas Kell, a disgraced M16 officer, is pressed back into service and tasked with tracking her down. So off he goes and this is where I love spy thrillers. The intricate details of the 'legend', the back up, the drop zones, the aliases, the tricks of the trade - all totally fascinating.
Kell finds her but all is not as it seems and behind an innocent acquaintance with a handsome companion with whom she appears to be enjoying a holiday, lurks a plot, a possible rogue operation to discredit Amelia and wreck her career. But who could be behind it? A disgruntled person in her past or is it closer to home? OK so not saying any more or else I will give it all away and I certainly don't want to do that. As I said, A Foreign Country is a slow burner, it builds and builds, layer upon layer of intrigue, double bluff and double cross culminating in an extremely exciting climax which I could not help but think would make a terrific film.
Tight and pacy narrative and I thoroughly enoyed it. Already looking forward to the next one.
Next up, the latest Bill Slider mystery from Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Kill my Darling. As well as the wonderful Morland Saga which, thank heavens seems to have been reprieved for the moment, this author writes the most excellent, amusing and pacy thrillers with her two main protagonists, Bill Slider and his elegant side kick Atherton. Since reading these books, which I have been doing for several years now, I started watching Lewis and now because of the similarities in description and characteristics, I find it difficult now to separate Atherton from Hathaway who is, of course, Lewis's bagman. Not complaining about that but I wondered if the writers of the Lewis series had read thse books and perhaps subconsciously adopted the two personas. Just a thought...
No matter, this one is terrific, as always. Melanie Hunter, a charming, attractive and intellligent paleantologist is reported missing by a neighbour in the house where they both rent a flat. At first the report is down played by the police until it is discovered that the neighbour who reported her disappearance is a convicted murderer, now out of prison and living quietly on his own. He and Melanie appear to have struck up a friendship and, naturally, suspicion falls on him. But, as we all know, this is merely a red herring and though Slider and Atherton have to investigate him, it is clear that Melanie has dark family secrets that just may have something to do with her death and the police are going up the wrong path.
So there you go - not giving any more info away as I want you to get hold of this book and read. I am full of admiration for Cynthia Harrod-Eagle's versatility; her simply stunning series of historical novels, the Morland Saga, display not only her brilliant writing but a depth of knowledge and research which always blows me away and this series of detective novels also benefit from this expertise. Not only is the police procedure sharp and to the point, but the book is people with such great characters: Norma Swilley of the CID, blonde and glamorous with great legs who has survived all the sexism and banter from her male colleagues; Maclaren never seen without a bacon sarnie in his hand or feeding his face with a Mars Bar but in Kill my Darling, strangely quiet and we discover he is in love; Atherton, tall, elegant, fighting shy of commitment, more happy with his cats and his cooking and Bill himself who I simply adore. In the first of these detective novels Bill is married but fairly unhappily to Irene and then investigating a case, he meets Joanna who plays in an orchestra. It is a coup de foudre and throughout the series we have the running thread of his relationship with her and the ups and downs it entails, as well as his friendship with Atherton. As with the Simon Serrailer novels of Susan HIll, the personal runs alongside the professional and we come to care about Slider and Atherton and what happens to them.
And as well as all the above, CHE has a wonderfully witty and amusing style which will make you grin as well as admire the police work:
Chief Inspector Porson who mangles the English language and is really Mrs Malaprop:
"It's the early boss that gathers the moss" Porson retorted "If it goes bad, the press'll be all over us for not jumping to it right away...they love a damson in distress"
Slider barely blinked. He was used to Porson's hit or miss use of language and the old boy was sharp as a tack and a good boss. A bit of Bush in the boss was worth bearing for the sake of the strand in hand"
and then a description of another officer "....whose tact, sensitivity and sweetness of nature made him about as popular as Hitler at a bar mitzvah"
Wonderful stuff and another terrific story with a twist at the end, though this time I had an inkling of what it would be, which isn't always the case.
I have a further pile of crimfic awaiting me and will write further about those tomorrow. I am reading like a demon at the moment to try and reduce this heap, have done three in two days so hoping to have another crack at them tomorrow. Am also in the middle of a Michael Donnelly blitz which I think I mentioned before and will post about those shortly.
Have a good weekend everyone.