Charles Cummings is the primary heir to espionage legend John le Carré. And his newest novel centers around a fascinating premise: what happens when a writer of thrillers is recruited to be a real spy?
Charles Cumming’s excellent spy novels make him a contender as the primary heir to espionage legend John le Carré (who, in his 80s, is still very much active, with a new book due out this year).
Cumming’s latest is “The Moroccan Girl” (St. Martin’s, 360 pp., $27.99).
Kit Carradine, a successful thriller writer, is stopped on a London street by a strangely intense man named Robert Mantis, who says he’s a fan and soon announces that he’s actually a government agent hoping to recruit the writer.
Both thrilled and terrified at the idea of being a real spy, Carradine agrees. His mission is to carry out two tasks while attending a literary event in Morocco: delivering an envelope to a certain gentleman and searching out Lara Bartok, a bewitching woman suspected of being a terrorist.
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Perhaps not surprisingly, the writer gets far more than what he expected.
As skilled as Cumming is, he’s left a couple of gaping holes. Let’s start with the book’s title: Bartok is Hungarian, not Moroccan.
Far worse is his hero’s mind-bending naiveté. Readers will see the two big reveals coming long before Carradine does. Nonetheless, even a minor effort from Cumming is engrossing.
Stephen Mack Jones’ “Lives Laid Away” (Soho Crime, 312 pp., $26.95) is a terrific story with a sturdy and appealing central character: ex-cop August Snow, who became a multimillionaire after winning a wrongful-dismissal suit from the Detroit PD. (He was fired for exposing bad cops.)
These days, Snow is spending his time and money investing in his beloved Mexicantown, a colorful neighborhood once down at the heels (even by Detroit standards) and now slowly reviving.
But Snow also can’t stay away from righting wrongs. So when a Latina teenager in the country illegally drowns in the Detroit River while dressed, bizarrely, as Marie Antoinette, the ex-cop noses around. He finds an especially cruel human-trafficking ring that may involve dirty ICE agents.
The setup allows Jones to deliver some stinging observations about our current immigration policies, leavening his heavy themes with a judicious amount of dry humor.
On the local scene: A big tip of the fedora to local writer Mike Lawson, whose “House Witness” has been shortlisted for an Edgar, the top award in the crime fiction world. Winners will be announced in April.
An earlier version of this post contained inaccurate information about Mike Lawson’s Edgar-shortlisted book. It was “House Witness,” not “House Arrest.”
Mike Lawson is scheduled to sign and read from “House Arrest” at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at Magnolia’s Bookstore, 3206 W. McGraw St., Seattle; 206-283-1062, magnoliasbookstore.com