Initially, The Trinity Six dodders along somewhat like an old-fashioned 1960s spy story, and seems hardly relevant to the modern world. A history professor inherits a project from a journo friend which goes back to the days of Philby, Burgess and Maclean. The title of the book and the first third of the story seem rooted in the days gone by at Cambridge. The protagonist learns more from an elderly chap, who we suspect is an ex-spook. The story is dribbled out at an infuriatingly slow pace, cluttered with domestic and romantic interludes. I very nearly gave up – and I normally enjoy espionage stories from all eras. This one just took a very long time to get going.
And then suddenly Things Started Happening and the relevance to the modern world was revealed. The plot is actually very adroit and plausible enough to have actually happened. After the midway point I was drawn into the novel and fairly scampered through it.
However, the plot does suffer from a familiar problem which occurs throughout thriller-conspiracy fiction, and it’s this: if an amateur was drawn into the world of international spookdom then he’s likely to be utterly outclassed. Trained and experienced spooks should run rings around an academic, no matter how smart he is. And indeed, the hero in The Trinity Six blunders around making all manner of mistakes which the professionals have to redress – it’s tricky to keep suspending disbelief when it’s seems likely that he’d have been shot back in Chapter Five…
I think it’s safe to say that if the Russian premier wanted you dead, then you wouldn’t be gambolling around Germany avoiding trained assassins.
So The Trinity Six for me was quite uneven and not entirely rewarding. Nice idea, but it felt neither fantastical (like a Bourne thriller) nor gritty and realistic. It fell between the extremes, although I did appreciate the overall storyline. Once you get past the extended set-up in the opening chapters, the writing is easy and accessible; much more modern in style than the older generation of espionage authors. So it flows rather faster and leads the reader by the nose – while with the grand masters of the genre the reader has to do rather more work in figuring out what goes on in the gaps where deeds are left unsaid and actions implied rather than described.
However, while The Trinity Six wasn’t strong enough to inspire me to read the author’s earlier works, I have delved into the books he’s published since. ‘A Foreign Country’ and ‘A Colder War’, both featuring MI6 agent Tom Kell, are far stronger. They avoid the weaknesses displayed in ‘Trinity’ and are far more engaging. So if you want to try a Charles Cumming spy novel, I’d suggest starting with ‘A Foreign Country’
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming is available as an ebook or paperback
But our preferred Charles Cumming book is A Foreign Country, also available as an ebook or paperback