Typhoon by Charles Cumming
|Typhoon by Charles Cumming|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw|
|Summary: A real page turner featuring, spies, lies, action and adventure and of course the love of a good woman.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: June 2008|
|Publisher: Michael Joseph Ltd|
It is now almost 20 years since the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the KGB and the Stasi. Many of the bogeymen central to the old school spy novel no longer even exist. Historian Francis Fukuyama even went as far as to say that the fall of Soviet Communism marked 'the end of history'. Thankfully, in terms of literary espionage at least, Fukuyama was a little premature in his pronouncement of death. As John Le Carre's recent African adventures and now Charles Cumming's new Chinese based thriller show, the spy novel is still very much alive and kicking.
Typhoon centres on Joe Lennox, a public school educated Englishman with an eye and an ear for all things Sino. Recruited by MI6 at Oxford he ends up on his ideal placement in Hong Kong just prior to the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule. The arrival of a mysterious, middle aged professor on the Hong Kong seashore, claiming to have secrets only fit for the ear of Governor Patten soon piques his interest. The professor's subsequent disappearance at the hands of a senior British official and the CIA reveals that Lennox is up against more than just Chinese secret police in his search for the truth. The more he digs, the more disturbing his findings become. Throw in a terror plot, nationalist uprisings, inter agency competition, an obnoxious, loud and supremely charismatic CIA agent and a stunning Anglo French beauty and you have all the ingredients for a tasty Chinese banquet. Thankfully, with these juicy ingredients Typhoon doesn't disappoint.
Despite China's new found economic pre-eminence, it still remains a mystery to many in the West. Cumming obviously knows the country well and is an excellent guide in explaining the political background to the events outlined in the novel. The descriptions of the latter days of British rule in Hong Kong are evocatively handled and his accounts of the breakneck pace of development in Shanghai and Beijing are exhilarating. Having spoken to friends who have lived in the Far East his descriptions of the experiences and contradictions of expat life ring true as well.
All this background is all well and good but it only hangs together if the story itself rings true. Cumming hits the target here as well. It is fast paced with plenty of twists and excitement. That's not to say that it is just an old yarn. It's a novel about big ideas. Freedom, self determination, the right to bear arms, globalisation. In Joe Lennox, Cumming has created much more than a James Bond style cardboard cut out. Of course Lennox is capable of all manner of impressive feats but he's also conflicted, lonely and full of human contradictions. Lennox's CIA counterpart, Miles Coolidge lives up to all the Yank abroad stereotypes you could imagine but is no less entertaining for that.
Typhoon is a fine novel. It's well researched, pacily written and deals with big ideas. Oh and it's a fine page turner too. Reviews for Cumming's previous novels have led some crtitics to dub him 'the new Le Carre'. Having read Typhoon it's hard to disagree.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If you've enjoyed this book then you might also enjoy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.