Skip to main content

A Divided Spy


A Divided Spy

British spy Thomas Kell vowed that he was through with espionage after the assassination in Istanbul of Rachel, the woman he loved. Her memory haunts him, and he blames his career choice with MI6. Most of all, he resents his immediate supervisor, Amelia, for the actions leading up to her murder. His self-imposed hiatus leads him to question whether he was used by his own superiors in London, or cruelly deceived by his Russian counterpart, Russian intelligence agent Alexander Minasian. So certain is he that Minasian was personally responsible for Rachel’s death that he is obsessed with dreams of revenge.

"This tightly woven novel digs deep into the psyche of each of the principal characters as the story plays out against a ticking clock."

Through a casual conversation with a former colleague, he learns that the elusive Minasian has resurfaced in London with his wife. There exists an incriminating photo of Minasian, whose father-in-law is a high-ranking Russian oligarch, in a tryst with a gay man. Because homosexuality is considered a crime in Russia, especially when it involves an agent of the Russian spy network, FSB, Kell seizes the opportunity to contact Minasian. If he could blackmail him with this information and turn him into a highly placed mole for MI6, this could restore him to his original status with the agency. When he spells out his plan to Amelia, she rules that expending human and monetary resources based on Kell’s thin evidence is a mistake. She dismisses it as a personal vendetta on Kell’s part, so he decides to undertake the operation on his own. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game to entrap Minasian with his lover.

Charles Cumming has created two main characters whose lives depend on a precarious balance of respect, fear and deceit. As Kell and Minasian deepen their complex relationship, they explore their reasons for why they do what they do for a living. They bond in a guarded relationship that broaches on a dubious reliance between truth and deceit. Each would like to trust the other, but circumstances keep them just beyond confidence, like sparring partners with a wary, invisible net between them.

During this tenuous psychological jousting match, Minasian discloses that he has learned through his FSB sources of a young jihadist who has been tapped by ISIS to commit a mass killing in a popular English amusement park in the immediate future. He promises Kell that he will provide absolute identification and details of the mass killing in return for freedom from becoming a double agent. Another mass killing by ISIS is not in the interest of either Russia or the West, so Kell, again rebuffed by MI6 due to lack of specific evidence, proceeds on his own based solely on Minasian’s information. Cumming also portrays the conflicted young killer as the true believer of the jihadist ISIS movement who is committed to avenging the Prophet, yet tempted by Western values.

This tightly woven novel digs deep into the psyche of each of the principal characters as the story plays out against a ticking clock.

I’ll leave you on this happy note: Oscar winner Colin Firth is adapting the Thomas Kell books to television with a six-episode series scheduled to air this year. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting project!

Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 24, 2017

A Divided Spy
by Charles Cumming

  • Publication Date: February 13, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250025559
  • ISBN-13: 9781250025555