Fiction, Spies

Novel: The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

January 31, 2012

Charles Cumming mines British espionage history in The Trinity Six (2011), a smart but subdued spy tale.  Cumming’s previous thriller, Typhoon, lifted him to a new level; The Trinity Six doesn’t quite fire on as many cylinders for me, but it certainly does nothing to sully his reputation.  It’s a swift, engaging read, although a modicum of historical preparation might be needed for the uninitiated.

British intelligence was marred for years by the uncovering of notorious Trinity College spies Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald MacLean, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross, who were recruited young by the KGB and rose through the ranks to become infamous traitors to the crown.  Cumming’s premise is simple, but loaded:  what if there were a sixth man?  That’s the question that presents itself to academic historian Sam Gaddis, a fortyish professor who lectures at a London university and writes  small-press history books – vocations that aren’t quite keeping up with the expenses of his broken marriage, child’s schooling, and unmanageable house payments.  Gaddis sees a way out of debt when his close friend, gadfly journalist Charlotte Berg, invites him to collaborate on a potential bestseller – about a possible sixth Trinity mole.  The partnership is cut short by Berg’s untimely death, presumably from natural causes, but with the blessing of Berg’s husband, Gaddis stays on the story, digging ever closer to a dangerous truth which, if it doesn’t get him killed, could well spark a world-shaking international incident.

The Trinity Six progresses rather slowly in its first half, very much in keeping with Gaddis’ cultured, academic lifestyle, and unless one is at least slightly familiar with the background story, his methodical, bookish research may be a tough sell.  (You could do worse than to watch the 4-episode BBC miniseries Cambridge Spies, which entertainingly provides the brushstrokes.)   Eventually, though, Gaddis’ deeper involvement in the affair culminates in explosive events, and the pace accelerates, particularly during a frantic, paranoia-filled journey across Europe.  The puzzle plot didn’t quite sing for me from start to finish, but there was plenty to hold interest, and Gaddis’ drastic transformation from a run-of-the-mill academic to desperate amateur spy is deftly accomplished.  I find Cumming’s work highly addictive, and by and large this one delivers the goods  — a slight step down from Typhoon, perhaps, but still compelling and enjoyable.

Related Posts:

You Might Also Like