Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading chosen by the Journal's Book Review Editor
A Foreign Country
Charles Cumming (Harper: £7.99; e-book £4.99)
This book is released on 28 March in paperback format and is the perfect thriller for your next break. Amelia Leveine has been appointed Director General-designate of MI6, her colleagues assuming she’s taken a short, albeit unexpected break before the pressure of the top job with all its trappings takes over her ability to travel freely. There is more than a hint of professional disappointment and bitter rivalry from senior colleagues with the foreign service.
The book opens with a short back-story, and we set off at a pace as we follow the “off book” efforts of Leveine’s disgraced former colleague, ex-agent Thomas Kell, who has been unfairly held responsible for the torture of an insurgent, to bring her quickly and quietly back to London. In a cinematic approach, the story slightly and smoothly eases its way across locations, characters with the back-story ever present. All becomes clear two thirds of the way through the book, providing a gripping culmination and closure to the story. Cumming's writing and story craft is on a par with Le Carré. This book is an utterly absorbing read.
Spies of the Balkans
Alan Furst (Phoenix: £7.99; e-book £4.99)
Alan Furst’s Spies of Warsaw has just recently aired on BBC Four with David Tennant in the lead role. That was a good story of French spies working in Warsaw in the buildup to war, trying to identify German preparation for war towards France. In this fast paced, Le Carré-esque story, Furst moves the action to the Balkans, and in particular Salonika in Greece, in 1940, as Italy seizes Albania and Germany ultimately enters Yugoslavia.
Costas Zannis is with the Greek police as well as being a reservist. Through him, Furst tells with precision and pace of the buildup of war and the tension. Zannis works with the wife of a German officer in Berlin to secure safe passage for Jews fleeing Germany for Turkey. The British become aware of his escape routes, and the adventure develops as the spies vie with each other, never trusting the other, before concluding with the German expansion into the Balkans. A riveting read.
Rachel Johnson (Penguin/Fig Tree: £14.99; e-book £4.99)
Rachel Johnson has clearly undertaken considerable historical research on life in Germany in 1936, in the relative infancy of the full horror yet to be unleashed domestically by the NSDAP on the German people. She writes clearly, accurately and knowingly of the period, weaving her two middle class English girls into the narrative with ease. The writing too reflects the change in period, from the japery of the middle class English girls in the world of Diana Mitford and the perceived attraction by certain of the English aristocracy of what they had been exposed to by Hitler, to the journalist Francie in 2006 visiting a sleek modern hotel in the shadow of Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. The girls get into a pickle and this is revealed in unison with Francie’s uncovering of her father’s birth and background. A delightful light read, with a subtle dark and historical setting that is beguiling.
The Jackal’s Share
Chris Morgan Jones (Mantle: £12.99; e-book £2.19)
I recently listened to a programme on Radio 4 about the publishing industry and the debate around the merits of the pricing of e-books. Lots of good and valid business reasons were advanced, some of which the author (the recipient of the lowest cut) may benefit. Whatever your view of the merits or otherwise of e-books, the bottom line is that this book is a must-have at this price.
Jones spent some years in the investigations business before finding his métier in writing. His is a classic tale of write what you know about, and in this book he tells the tale of Darius Qazai, a significantly wealthy individual who requests the investigative services of Ben Webster to investigate himself, Qazai. Why? In a brilliantly told story of intrigue, cloak and dagger, half truths and false avenues, the story slowly reveals itself, but not in a way where the ending can be foreseen: rather the reader is hooked and slowly drawn in. The journey takes us through Hampstead, London, to Dubai, Lake Como, Marrakech and Iran. Go on; if that’s not enough then just think, your coffee just cost you more!