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Showing posts by: Dorothy Hayes click to see Dorothy Hayes's profile
Feb 13 2017 2:00pm

Review: A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming

A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming is the 3rd book in the Thomas Kell series (available February 14, 2017).

Charles Cumming, a British writer of spy fiction that's been called an heir to John le Carré, has written his 3rd Thomas Kell spy thriller, A Divided Spy. Cumming, once employed by MI6, writes from his own experience in the Secret Intelligence Service. His polished prose reflects his education at Eton College and the University of Edinburgh.

In A Divided Spy, which takes place mostly in London, Cumming introduces us to spycraft through his protagonist Thomas Kell, who is a former MI6 agent. Kell resigned four years earlier after the assassination of his lover Rachel Wallinger, also an MI6 agent.

Kell’s thirst for revenge and his emotional life are at the heart of this engaging story. No one in spy stories seems happy, and Kell is no exception. Besides his grief over the death of his lover, Kell questions the life of an agent—which he describes as one of lying, deception, and the sacrificing of relationships. He’s lost his marriage, he has no children, and he feels isolated and alone. So why become a spy at all? Kell reveals his motives for joining SIS as a young man:

More than twenty years earlier, Kell had joined SIS in a spirit of undiluted patriotism. To save lives, to defend and protect the kingdom, had seemed to him both a noble and an exhilarating pursuit for a young man with adventure in his blood. Now that London was a city of Africans and Americans, of Hollande-fleeing French, of Eastern Europeans too young to have known the impediments of communism, he felt no different. The landscape had changed, yet Kell still felt wedded to an idea ofEngland as the country evolved, even as that idea shifted and slipped beneath his feet. There were days when he longed to return to active duty, to stand once again at Amelia’s side. But he had allowed the personal to overcome the political.

Kell knows that an Alexander Minasian—a Russian spy working for SVR, Russia’s external intelligence agency—killed Rachel. He’s lived uncomfortably with this knowledge for four years.

Kell stepped off the train and registered the familiar acid taste of his implacable resentment. It was the one thing he had been unable to control. He had come to terms with the end of his marriage, he had mastered his grief, reasoned that his professional future lay beyond the walls of Vauxhall Cross. Yet Kell could not still a yearning for vengeance. He wanted to seek out those in Moscow who had given the order for Rachel’s assassination. He wanted justice.

Through happenstance, Kell is offered information and an opportunity to actually snare Minasian and avenge the death of his lover. Harold Mowbray—Kell’s once seemingly loyal SIS underling—discovered condemning information on Manasian that will ruin his career in the SVR. This information plays a key role in the story and drives Kell back into the spy game. But when he attempts to gain assistance from MI6, they turn him down and question his judgement.

Another assassination occurs, also related to Minasian, and Kell approaches MI6 again, but they continue to question his judgment and refuse involvement. So he continues on his own.

Kell, however, even questions himself at one point. With more exposure to Minasian, he questions whether his own conclusions about Rachel’s assassination are true.

Kell was beginning to doubt his longheld belief that Minasian had encouraged Rachel’s murder. He felt that the decision had come from Moscow and that Minasian had been overruled when he tried to stop it. He had no evidence for this other than a sense that the man sitting in front of him was too canny, too cautious and all-seeing, to have made such a rash move. Rachel’s death had been a senseless act, not only morally indefensible but strategically pointless. Minasian was surely far too subtle to sink to such depths or to sully his reputation so needlessly.

“I know that the order to kill Rachel came from Moscow,” he repeated, “just as I know that my Service had nothing to do with what happened today.... I believe you were betrayed by your own people.”

Minasian looked toward the lens of the iPhone, longing to switch it off so that he could speak with total openness.

“Believe what you want,” he said. “I know my own people. I know my own side.”

“You can do better than this, surely?” Minasian replied, revealing an unsurprising gift for withering condescension. Kell was not deterred.

Cumming develops Minasian’s deviousness so well that we don’t know—and neither does Kell—if Minasian is being honest with him or using tradecraft, telling him what he wants to hear. Nothing is out of reach in this world, it appears, and no treachery is forbidden.

While most spy thrillers throw so many characters and plots at you that you just get lost after a while, this highly readable tale keeps you abreast with easily digestible facts.

A smaller plot, but no less intriguing, is the threat of a terrorist attack by a suicide bomber on an English town. If you have a healthy curiosity, you may wonder how terrorists obtain legitimate papers, passports, and alternative identities. Cumming offers one highly believable scenario, which you’ll have to read the book to discover, and there’s also a peek into the thinking of a suicide bomber:

As soon as he saw Rosie Maguire for the first time, Shahid Khan knew that she was going to change everything. He had not taken any of the girls who had been offered to him in Syria. Women came to the Caliphate to serve as brides to the warriors fighting against the forces of Assad. Shahid had felt no desire for their company, for the arrangement of marriage, for the physical benefits of a shared bed. He had felt that a woman would distract him from his commitment to the cause. In this respect he was unlike many of the other soldiers who were fighting inside Iraq and Syria. He knew that Jalal had sensed this and recognized that there was something different about him, something special. Jalal had seen the discipline and the focus in Shahid’s personality. This was one of the reasons why he had been chosen for the important operation in England.

Later we are told more about Shahid’s ultimate desire:

It was the destiny of Shahid Khan to avenge the Prophet. Shahid knew that his act of martyrdom would take him from Rosie, but that he would be rewarded in paradise with pleasures far greater than those he had known on this earth.

Again, Kell turns to MI6 with the information about the potential terrorist attack. Again, they doubt his facts and judgment and think he’s being played. Again, Kell is on his own.

Will Thomas Kell actually satisfy his desire to find justice for Rachel? Was Minasian actually responsible for Rachel’s senseless death? Or was it Moscow? Will Kell stop Shahid from killing? Will MI6 finally get on board? What about Rosie?

As this spy story twists and turns, we learn that we can’t even trust our own judgment. You have to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Read an excerpt from A Divided Spy or take a visual tour with GIFnotes!


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Dorothy H. Hayes is the author of Murder at the P&Z and Broken Window from Mainly Murder Press. She’s been known to blog at Women of Mystery. 

Read all posts by Dorothy H. Hayes for Criminal Element.

Jan 15 2017 10:00am

Keys to Nowhere: New Excerpt

Dorothy Hayes

Keys to Nowhere by Dorothy H. Hayes is the 3rd volume in the Carol Rossi Mystery series.

A Tucson vacation morphs into terror when two teenage girls and their aunt vanish. When the girls’ desperate parents beg their friend and Connecticut investigative journalist Carol Rossi for help, Rossi can’t refuse. She leaves her infant daughter, police detective husband, and treasured farm and animal sanctuary to lead the hunt through the desert. It’s 1985, and Rossi is chasing down a new kind of danger: the serial killer. When the Tucson police aren’t interested in her theories, Rossi acts alone before the killer can strike again.

Chapter One

He knew he looked the part when he stepped into the local diner on Speedway Boulevard. 

The hours of practice before a mirror had paid off. 

He wore the uniform of an Arizona Ranger: black pants and boots. White shirt. The white showed off the American flag patch on the left pocket and the five-point brass sheriff’s star on the right. On each shoulder was a patch with the outline of the state of Arizona and a silhouette of a cowboy on a rearing horse. His holstered firearm finished the picture. 

[Read the full excerpt from Keys to Nowhere...]

May 19 2015 10:15am

Fresh Meat: Skies of Ash by Rachel Howzell Hall

Skies of Ash by Rachel Howzell Hall is the 2nd police procedural in the Detective Elouise Norton series set in Los Angeles where a deadly house fire looks a lot like murder (available May 19, 2015).

The luscious and wise cracking Detective Elouise Norton is in a personal quandary when this LAPD police procedural Skies of Ash opens. She’s trying to solve the murder of a mother, Juliet Chatman, as well as her daughter and son, nine and thirteen, who died in a fire in their home. But meanwhile, the detective is haunted with doubts about her husband and is carrying surveillance equipment to spy on him.

Her husband, Greg, is a serial adulterer, caught and forgiven at least three times by Lou, as Elouise is called by her friends. Despite all her suspicions, she’s still dreaming of having a child with him. It makes you wonder what else is going on in Lou’s personal life that she’s still clinging to this loser. An example of their relationship is demonstrated in the following sad conversation about decorating their Christmas tree:

“Maybe we can decorate the tree tonight,” I suggested. 

“Probably have to work late,” Greg said. “You can start, though.”

 I froze—who decorates a tree alone...

[We know who we won't be rooting for...]

Nov 2 2014 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Black Karma by Thatcher Robinson

Black Karma by Thatcher Robinson is the second in the White Ginger series, featuring San Francisco’s souxun, or “people-finder,” Bai Jiang, assisting the police to locate a man whose track leads her to intelligence agencies and war merchants (available November 4, 2014).

Who is this thirty-year-old beauty, this mother and wealthy Chinese-American woman who stashes a knife up her sleeve and can karate kick her way out of a circle of underworld thugs? Her name is Bai Jiang.

Bai Jiang is also the detective the SFPD hires when a sting goes wrong, which is exactly what happens when one million dollars of the department’s money disappears along with heroin also worth that amount. Three people, including a police officer were killed, and it all went down in the SOMA, a section of San Francisco.

[Someone didn't do their job...]

Mar 5 2014 10:00am

Fresh Meat: Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva

Providence Rag, the third book in the Liam Mulligan series by Bruce DeSilva, forces a journalist to dig through his town's archives in order to keep a convicted serial killer in jail (available March 11, 2014).

Bruce DeSilva, 2011 Edgar winner for Best First Novel, reflects his 41 years as a journalist in his new novel, Providence Rag, a crime novel inspired by a true story.

The captivating beginning of Providence Rag describes the thoughts of a convicted serial slasher, Kwame Diggs, who is at the heart of this novel. Here, Diggs is a child torturing a grasshopper.

“The grasshopper struggles, its six legs making a faint scratching sound as they rake the stone. The boy burns the legs off one by one, and the scratching stops. Carefully, he amputates each antenna. A brown, unblinking eye stares up at him, pleading for an end to this…”

In the end of the scene, Diggs is amazed at his power:

 “With a start, he feels a swelling in his jeans. He wonders: Am I God?”

Many chapters are introduced with Diggs’s twisted thoughts as he grows into full adolescence driven by sexual needs and the physical power to fulfill those needs.

He lingered under the tree, giving her time to fall asleep. Then he laid his binoculars in the pine needles, crawled out from under the branches, vaulted her white picket fence, and crossed the wet grass to the rear door. There, an overhead lamp was burning. He reached up and gave the bulb a twist, extinguishing the light.
He tried the door. It was locked. He considered breaking a pane of glass to reach the inside latch, but that would make too much noise. Instead, he edged along the back of the house, looking for another way inside.

[Hold on while I go make sure my door is locked...]

Oct 17 2013 4:30pm

Fresh Meat: Ask Not by Max Allan Collins

Ask Not by Max Allan Collins, a Nathan Heller P.I. historical novel Ask Not by Max Allan Collins is historical fiction, the third novel in the Nathan Heller JFK Trilogy preceded by Bye Bye, Baby, and Target Lancer (available October 22, 2013).  

It’s September 1964, in Chicago, and Nathan Heller, a P.I. to the stars, and his 20 year-old son, Sam, have just gone to a Beatles concert where they also obtained the signatures of the four superstars. The good times end abruptly, however, when they barely escape being hit-and-run victims of a driver who targets them.

Heller recognizes the driver as a Cuban connected to Project Mongoose, a 1960 secret terror plan to assassinate Castro, which he was involved in while working with the CIA. A rash of suspicious deaths have occurred in Dallas, such as questionable suicides, murders, and accidents similar to Heller’s near hit-and-run death. Most victims have been witnesses, or connected in some way to the assassination of President Kennedy.

The Warren Commission has yet to announce its finding. Heller soon discovers that the Dallas deaths are also viewed as attempts to clean up “loose ends” to the assassination. So he embarks on a journey to convince the CIA and the Mafia that he is not a “loose end.”

Like Sam Spade, Heller walks a fine line between two worlds. His A-1 Detective Agency that originated in Chicago had expanded to LA and Manhattan. Heller has had such clients as Marilyn Monroe. And Jimmy Hoffa has hired him to infiltrate the so-called Rackets Committee, which he did with the full knowledge of Robert Kennedy, chief counsel of the Rackets Committee.

[Down, down the rabbit hole we go...]

Dec 9 2012 10:00am

The Assassination of Anna Karenina

Is it any wonder that so many of us who have read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina at various stages of our lives feared seeing it depicted in less classical terms? Tolstoy’s novel is considered one of the best books ever written, it is included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It’s sacrosanct. But obviously not to screenwriter Tom Stoppard and film director Joe Wright.

It was the casting of Keira Knightley to play the role of the motherly, full bosomed, much loved Anna Karenina that caused me doubt about the longevity of Tolstoy’s famous characters on screen before I even decided to see it.

After viewing the film, I think the casting of Knightley, which I am sure was meant to attract a young audience, was the first step towards character assassination. Stoppard became a serial killer with the casting of Jude Law as Anna’s husband, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her lover.

But there was also serious damage to the story itself.

[Unhappy audiences are unhappy in their own way...]

Sep 9 2012 10:00am

The Troubled... Fan?: For the Love of Wallander

The Troubled Man by Henning MankellHenning Mankell had every right to end his Kurt Wallander series when and how he wanted to. But couldn’t he have thought of Wallander’s loyal and long time fans, just a little? Thrown us a Scandinavian bone? We’ve had to accept that The Troubled Man was the last Wallander novel instead of expecting three or four more.

Wasn’t that enough?

Mankell wrote in his final book of the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man, published in English last year:

“Wallander suddenly felt terrified. His memory had deserted him again. He didn’t know who the girl running toward him was. He knew he’d seen her before, but what her name was or what she was doing in his house he had no idea.

“It was as if everything had fallen silent. As if all colors had faded away and all he was left with was black and white.

“The shadow grew more intense. And Kurt Wallander slowly descended into darkness that some years later transported him into the empty universe known as Alzheimer’s disease.

“After that there is nothing more . . .”

The little girl he couldn’t recognize was his cherished granddaughter, Klara.

[A sad ending to a great detective . . .]