Book Review: The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

The Trinity Six, Charles Cumming
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition: March 15, 2011
Cover Price: $24.99
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312675291
ISBN-13: 978-0312675295
First Print Run: 100,000

Goodreads rating: 3.70 stars

Cumming's fifth book, The Trinity Six, an historical Russian spy novel set in modern day Britain, has already earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly stating, "Cumming's knowledge of the spy business, his well-crafted prose, and his intensely engaging plot make this a breakthrough novel."

The story line is somewhat subdued, so those expecting a Jason Bourne-like hero may be rather disappointed. And there is little in the way of Dan Brown-like action (thankfully). Like Dan Brown, though, Cumming has created an unlikely academic hero. Sam Gaddis is selfish, insecure, and a 40-something divorced professor of Russian history. Unlike Dan Brown, Cumming's character is much more realistic. He loves wine, cigarettes, and the attention of younger women and finds his life thrown into turmoil as tax bills and alimony come due. 

He has the chance to write a book with a journalist friend and make enough money to pay off his bills, but before he can even start, his friend dies of a heart attack. At wit's end, he tries to pull together evidence and continue writing the book which proves the existence of a sixth spy associated with the Cambridge Five, a group of students "who betrayed their country to the Soviet Union during and after WWII." (PW) Not used to journalistic research, he stumbles through the evidence gathering process, unaware that anyone would be interested or aware that he's trying to uncover the biggest scoop of the decade (if not century).

When more people around him start dying he has to find the line between paranoid absurdity and mere coincidence. Rather than a decisive, omniscient hero, we're given a man who takes all his cues from spy novels and movies.  In fact, we're given a hero who, most likely would think and react much the way any normal person would.  Once he really believes that someone is out to get him, he starts acting in a manner to which he thinks spies would act, using the pay phone down the street or a disposable cell phone - not realizing that the secret service can still track him.

Some reviewers have complained that the ending is too anti-climactic, but it reminds me, somewhat, of The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris - in that, the end isn't really the end, instead the author has managed to make the story continue beyond the last sentence of the book. The choices our hero makes are, most likely, not dissimilar to the ones you and I would make - which makes this character both deeply flawed and altogether relatable.

The Trinity Six is an intelligently written espionage novel that pulls you in thread by thread, and covertly doesn't let you go.

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