Author of the Month

Name: Charles Cumming

First Novel: A Spy by Nature

Most Recent Book: The Trinity Six

' exceptional thriller with more layers than the proverbial onion!'

In 1992, Edward Crane is declared dead at a London hospital. Fifteen years later information comes to light that maybe Crane’s obituary was a little previous and that Crane is still alive, if elderly. After a sticky separation from his unfaithful wife and needing school fees for his daughter, Sam Gaddis desperately needs money. During a dinner with a journalist friend, Sam hears about her research about Crane and the offer of co-writing a book together. The next day Gaddis hears news of his friend’s sudden and unexpected death. As Gaddis takes over her investigation, he soon discovers that maybe her death wasn’t natural causes after all and that a lot of people will go to any lengths to keep Crane and his legacy a secret.

At the same time, Sam comes into the possession of boxes from a woman whose mother gathered together information about conspiracies from years back. Looking through them he can’t find anything of any importance – but is he looking for the wrong lead? As Sam is pulled into a world of espionage and lies, he uncovers a man who is determined to tell a story that has its roots in Cambridge – a tale that involves five famous spies, namely Blunt, Burgess, Philby, Maclean and Cairncross. Now he has to prove that there was indeed a ‘sixth man’. But some would rather the truth was not known to the public. Soon, Sam is fighting for his very survival and not sure who is friend or foe.

From the opening pages of ‘The Trinity Six’ I was captivated. The supposed death of a mystery man opens the book and soon you are treading though a quagmire of lies and half truths. The most marvellous aspect of this book is the way Cumming embeds his novel in fact. From the famous case of the ‘Cambridge Five’ to the ending of the Cold War, the author shows with confidence that he knows what he is talking about.

Cumming has plenty of experience about what he writes having himself been approached by the Secret Intelligence Service. You get the feel that he has got information from the horse’s mouth. Cumming is also extremely good at keeping the tension mounting so that the pages appear to turn themselves. So intense is the plot that you keep promising yourself that it will be the last chapter until you find yourself at two o, clock in the morning, still reading.

I have to admit I am not a great one for the ‘spy thriller’. However, with all the shenanigans with phone tapping lately filling the broadsheets, I felt I would give this a try. And I was very pleased I did. I will certainly be going back to Cumming’s back list and trying his other novels. I have been ‘converted’ and I am sure that once you have read ‘The Trinity Six’ you will be too! This is an exceptional thriller with more layers than the proverbial onion!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
It’s a combination of things. I think most readers, above all, are looking for a really great story, a plot that hooks you from the very first page. Then there’s character: if you look at the most popular crime and thriller authors – from Lee Child to Stieg Larsson, from Conan Doyle to Ian Rankin – they all have an idiosyncratic protagonist who comes back time and again and with whom readers build up an extraordinarily close relationship. Literary style is probably not as important as I used to think it was, but there’s no questioning the pleasure a great style can give – think of early Len Deighton or Raymond Chandler, for example. Those books have an incredible ‘voice’.
2) What was it that attracted you to writing the ‘spy espionage thriller’?
In 1995 I was approached for a job by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). I wrote a novel, A Spy by Nature, inspired by my brief encounter with MI6.
3) ‘The Trinity Six’ deals with a sixth member of the infamous ‘Cambridge Five’. Is this based on any real fact, myth or simply your imagination?
All three. As soon as Burgess and Maclean fled to Moscow in the early 1950s, British Intelligence became obsessed with finding the other members of the Cambridge spy ring. Cairncross confessed at about the same time, but Philby wasn’t exposed for another 10 years. By then it was too late – he defected on a ship from Beirut to Russia. Blunt’s involvement was covered up until Margaret Thatcher came to power, but throughout that period any number of people were accused of being Soviet agents. The most famous example would be Roger Hollis, the former head of MI5, whom Chapman Pincher ‘outed’ as a Russian mole. Pincher’s case has never been proven, but the case feeds into a general atmosphere of paranoia, on both sides of the Atlantic, during that time.
4) There is a lot about Russian history in ‘The Trinity Six’. Is this an area that fascinates you? Do you do your own research?
Like a lot of people, I was appalled by the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2007. It seemed morally and politically outrageous, not to mention reckless, that Russian intelligence agents could come to this country and assassinate somebody using a radioactive isotope. I began to follow more closely the Putin’s government’s ruthless silencing of its enemies both at home and abroad. It’s unfathomable to me – and to Sam Gaddis in The Trinity Six – that journalists and opposition figures can be murdered, beaten up and imprisoned for their beliefs simply to maintain a corrupt kleptocracy in power.
5) With certain recent events that have been in the newspapers do you believe that espionage is alive and well in the world today?
Spying will never stop. It’s in our blood. We provoke, we lie, we steal, we manipulate, both at a personal level and at the level of politics. I think this partly accounts for the popularity of spy stories. They offer a reflection of our darker selves, as well, of course, as an escapist outlet for tales of heroism and derring-do. From industrial espionage to long term ‘sleeper’ agents, spying will be around for centuries to come.
6) Do you have ‘insider’ information from MI6, etc with which to form your books? Are you not worried that you may one day stumble over something that could ignite like the events that involve Sam Gaddis?
It’s odd. The bombings at Atocha station took place when I was living in Madrid writing The Spanish Game. When Typhoon came out, there were riots in Xinjiang, China, a key element of the plot. The book I am working on at the moment is set in Tunisia and Egypt. So I seem to have some weird sixth sense for trouble. It wouldn’t surprise me if a sixth Cambridge spy crawled out of the woodwork next month.
7) Would you make a good spy? All these lies people tell – can you tell when someone is lying to you?
I am hopeless at telling when someone is lying to me or manipulating me – so that probably answers the first question!
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
Hard to name one. I loved The Ipcress File, the Constant Gardener, the Tailor of Panama and the Smiley series on British television. I’ve also got high hopes for the Working Title movie of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I visited the set and it looked sensational. My desert island spy movie would probably be The Bourne Supremacy.
9) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
No question about it. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Graham Greene said it was the greatest spy novel he had ever read – and I’m not going to disagree with Graham Greene. Nobody has come close to matching it – not even le Carre himself.