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Guest Review: The Trinity Six, Charles Cumming

Today I’d like to welcome one of my friends, Josh, who blogs at Fortress of Solitude, with a review of The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming.

In The Trinity Six, Charles Cummings picks up on the tradition of authors such as John le Carre in the genre of Cold War British spy novel. The prime innovation is that rather than using a spy as the main character, Cummings uses a professor of Russian history named Sam Gaddis. Gaddis is an academic trope of sorts in that he is an excellent historian, but down on his luck and in his attempt to extricate himself stumbles upon a quarter century old story that could collapse a government.

But I am getting ahead of myself. One of the most famous spy rings in history was the Magnificent Five. Maclean, Burgess, Blunt, Philby and Cairncross were students at Cambridge in the 1930’s when they were recruited by a professor as spies for Russia. At the time of recruitment they were soldiers in the war against fascism in Europe. Each excelled and took posts in the British government, working against fascism, but also passing information to their Russian masters. In the 1950’s when the Americans began to break encryption patterns from World War II, they caught on to Maclean and Burgess and the ring began to collapse. The last of the Magnificent Five, Blunt was not exposed until 1979. But perhaps these five were not alone; perhaps there was a sixth, and that is the discovery from which all of Gaddis’ adventures stem. One revelation leads to another and Gaddis finds himself unravelling one Cold War mystery after another.

Despite the traditional qualifier that all characters are used fictitiously and the story is a product of the author’s imagination, the situation presented of an immensely popular Russian President who was a mid-ranking officer in the last years of the Cold War, but through brutal suppression of opponents of his reign had transformed into a dictator in all but name, smacks of reality. Perhaps incidental, but Cummings reveals a commentary on the Russian state. All the while The Trinity Six is compelling and an easy read. My only critique is that at one or two points the supposedly coincidental events seem to be a stretch. As such they make the story seem somewhat railroaded, rather than a narrative that actually could happen. But it is not the characters or anything that they do, or even the scenario that is unconvincing. Simply put, there was just one too many coincidences.

Anyone who likes thrillers or spy novels ought to give The Trinity Six a read. Cummings is not yet to the level of le Carre, however the best is yet to come and this is a good place to start.

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