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Charles Cumming

Sixty seconds with Charles Cumming...

Charles Cumming graduated with a First in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, following which he was approached for recruitment by MI6, an event that ultimately led to the first of his spy novels, A SPY BY NATURE. This would be followed by a number of further explorations of modern spying, including two series, one featuring Alec Milius and the other, Thomas Kell. His most recent novel is a standalone, THE MOROCCAN GIRL. He lives in London.

RTE: Describe yourself in a sentence?

Cumming: Very tall, father of two, insomniac devotee of chess, cricket and Manchester United

RTE: What's the one record you'd take to a desert island?

Cumming: Since I’ve Been Loving You by Led Zeppelin

RTE: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Cumming: A film director.

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March 9, 2019

Like his protagonist in THE MOROCCAN GIRL, Charles Cumming has made a literary career out of the spy at work. Happily for the reader, Cumming seems content to write about the life, not live it. I thought this most recent account an intriguing look at an apprentice spy loose in a shifting, dangerous world.

Canada is most often seen as a relatively peaceful and undangerous place and for the most part, it is. However, bad things happen there as well. Ausma Zehanat Khan takes the murderous assault on men praying in a Quebec City mosque that occurred a couple of years ago as the centre of A DEADLY DIVIDE. Barbara Fister applauds the author's unwillingness to employ easy answers to explain the currents of suspicion and hatred that result in violence of this kind. Jeffrey Round's SHADOW PUPPET also has its origins in recent events, in this case the discovery that a series of disappearances of men from Toronto's gay community was the result of the activities of a serial killer. Anne Corey reports that this is at once a suspenseful mystery and a nuanced view of the lives of ordinary gay people.

Ruth Castleberry has remarked that THE PERFECT ALIBI is an excellent reminder of just how good a writer Phillip Margolin is. She found it a compelling read.

Two books in translation are a reminder of just how unusual and provocative crime fiction from abroad can be. Takis Würger's THE CLUB, translated from the German but set at Cambridge University, England is a case in point. Cathy Downs says that it is "a haunting first novel with an undertow of primal violence that the ending cannot resolve or make OK." THE PLOTTERS, by Un-Su Kim is, I believe, the first book we've reviewed that is translated from the Korean. Meg Westley says this noir satire is a "stylish and exciting debut" that the reader will not soon forget.

Readers often become attached to series and many are to Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series. But THE STRANGER DIARIES is a standalone, one which Jim Napier says is a clear departure from everything she has previously done and a "delightfully written and assured work that succeeds brilliantly."

Two very different historical mysteries: RUN COLD, by Ed Ifkovic, marks the conclusion of this series centred on Edna Ferber. Susan Hoover will miss her but calls this "a lovely testament to a real-life novelist who chronicled some of the turning points" in 20th Century American history. Kate Quinn's THE HUNTRESS has a broad scope, dealing as it does with post-war Nazi hunters, Russian wartime women pilots, the Soviet Union in World War II and Boston during and after the war. Anne Corey says that the book provides a chance for the reader to relive past history and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Closer to home is a police procedural set in Buffalo, NY, THE MURDER BOOK, by Lissa Marie Redmond, who is a recently retired Buffalo homicide detective. Phyllis Onstad enjoyed its crisp plotting and authenticity, but warned that this second in the series reveals too much about the first one, so that readers should either read them in order or forgo the first altogether.

Print journalism may be on the ropes in many places in the country, but is alive, if not altogether well in the small town traditional mystery. Darryl Wimberley's protagonist in POST FACTO does it all on her small-town Florida paper, even if she does have occasionally to deal with a whiff of the paranormal. PJ Coldren praises the author's sensitivity to small-town life and his clear-eyed comprehension of the currents and relationships that inform it. Heading a little further north, to Savannah, GA, in A BEAUTIFUL CORPSE, by Lissa Marie Redmond, we find Heather McClain struggling to do her job as crime reporter for the local rag while dealing with the animosity of the local police force. While Keshena Hanson thought she would have enjoyed the book more had she first read the first book in the series, in the end she thought it all came good. There are no newspaper people in Laura Childs' BROKEN BONE CHINA, set even further north, in Charleston, NC. Diana Borse reports that while this is something of the mixture as before, it's a delightful mixture all the same, with much charm in the setting, the tea, and the yummy food and the story is imaginative and well-paced.

The secretary may be "the most dangerous woman in the room"; certainly she knows where the bodies are buried. Renée Knight's secretary decidedly does. The suspense mounts as she reveals the revenge she takes as her loyalty is disregarded, says Keshena Hanson, resulting in thriller that will leave you breathless.

Finally, a nice paranormal cosy. Clea Simon's A SPELL OF MURDER, complete with talking cats, involves witchcraft both historical and contemporary, and, says PJ Coldren, is well-executed and amusing.

Our guest this week in the Sixty Seconds With..." spot is Charles Cumming and you will find him over in the box to your left.

Our friends at CRIMEREVIEW can let you know what's been going on in the field of crime fiction on their side of the Atlantic and you should check them out.

We'll be back in the vicinity of April Fool's Day, assuming the snow has melted by then. If not, all bets are off. Do come back and see us then. And please, if you have anything you'd like to tell us, do drop us a line.



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Our mascot and masthead is Smokey the Cat. Smokey the cat went to the great playground in the sky on April 29, 2008, at 3:30 p.m. He was about 13 years old, had diabetes and only 11 teeth left. He is much happier now. He will remain as our masthead and mascot.

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