30 December 2007

Book Review: The Hidden Man by Charles Cumming

The Hidden Man Christopher Keen gave up a lot for his career - including his family, walking out on his two young sons. Years later they are two very different men; Mark a workaholic for a nightclub in the vein of Ministry of Sound, Ben an artist supported largely by his journalist wife. The one thing they have in common is their newly-returned father, who has barely begun telling them about his life with MI6 when he is murdered. Soon they’re both drawn into continuing the family business, thanks to a bureaucrat named Taploe and some shady dealings involving some new business contacts of Mark’s club. It looks like a simple task, but the spying game is rarely simple - and nor is it always safe.

It was serendipity that brought me this book. After finishing The Deathly Hallows I went straight into post-Potter syndrome, unable to settle to reading anything else. Anything in the magical line would have been fantasy overload, but anything too mundane would seem dull; a downbeat book would take the edge off the warm fuzzies but a cheerful book wouldn’t fit after such a sad book . . . so I spent two and a half days quite disconsolate, with random fragments of the series still spinning though my head. Then my mother arrived home from the supermarket with The Hidden Man, given to her by a stranger on the train. And it turned out to be just the fillip I need to get me reading again; I finished it in almost a single sitting.

And it was an entertaining read. Quite reminiscent of le CarrĂ©, with espionage carried out by ordinary people in ordinary places; no wonder a couple of amateurs thought they could handle it. The plot’s twists and turns intrigued without confusing; and the characters, in their ordinariness and general lack of heroic qualities, fitted the rather grubby nature of the work. I just wish that Ben could have had his eyes opened to the activities of his wife; it didn’t seem fair to leave him in ignorance. And though I enjoyed it at the time, when I wrote this review I had to refer back to the book to remember much more than a few names and a vague outline. Very readable but ultimately forgettable.

Rating: C+

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776