The Man Between
PublisherHarperCollins
Date Published05 June 2018
 
 
ISBN-100008200319
ISBN-13978-0008200312
Formathardcover
Pages368
Price£ 14.99

The Man Between

by Charles Cumming

Successful espionage novelist Kit Carradine finds himself dissatisfied with the life he leads and jumps at an opportunity to undertake what appears to be a spying mission on behalf of the UK government.


Review


Although he’s a successful espionage novelist, Kit Carradine finds himself dissatisfied with the life he leads and when he is offered an opportunity to undertake what appears to be a spying mission on behalf of the UK government he jumps at it.

The Man Between is an unusual book because it is by a writer of spy novels and has as its main protagonist a writer of spy novels who becomes involved in real espionage. Reference is frequently made to spy literature and to characters who have appeared in spy movies – Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart – and, of course, James Bond. There is also the inevitable femme fatale. The list of characters encountered by Carradine during his adventures in Morocco is very long and the reader is invited – it seems almost playfully – to decide whether or not each is somehow involved in espionage or merely a simple tourist. Carradine himself has also to make these decisions and explains his rationale to the reader as he does so. Over and over again we are told that he lacks the experience to decide who can be trusted and who cannot. Since he is completely without training, he has to fall back on the research he has undertaken for his writing and the mere fact of his telling us this is what he is doing has the effect of making his activities something of an academic exercise. However, as the story unfolds, it is apparent that he is becoming much more intuitive and able to distinguish between lies and falsehood.

This does not mean that the writing is without interest. The story invites the reader to assume Carradine's role and decide what, in the given circumstances, he himself would do. Great care is taken over the depiction of the various characters that he comes across and their behaviour can be viewed as both completely innocent and highly suspicious. During the first half of the book, there is what seems to be almost a light-hearted guessing game, though with the introduction of the mysterious Lara Bartok the tone changes and becomes a little more sinister. Throughout, there are what appear to be chapters concerned with her ongoing interrogation, though we are left to guess until the very end of the novel what she has either to disclose or conceal.

The first part of the book, as Carradine cautiously feels his way into his new life, is inevitably rather slow, though the characters introduced and his reaction to them ensure the reader's attention. The question arises whether Ramón is anything more than an opinionated loud-mouth forcing his attention on Carradine. And then there is the rather inquisitive Karel whom he meets on a train.  Gradually, however – and particularly after the entry of Bartok into the story – the pace picks up and the book begins to acquire more of those characteristic features of the spy novel. The action moves along quickly and unpredictably, the chapters become shorter and the thrills and surprises more frequent.

Two questions arise. Firstly, whether this a life that Carradine will decide to pursue after the current case comes to an end or whether he will be content with simply writing about espionage rather than being part of it. Secondly, there’s the issue of what will become of his love affair with Bartok. The answers to those questions appear fixed and final and there is no suggestion of another outing for Kit Carradine.

Reviewed 13 October 2018 by Arnold Taylor