Books Read in 2015 19. The Swimmer – Joakim Zander (contains spoilers.)

Genre: Spy Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from various perspectives interspersed with a first person narrative which details the past.

Rating: 3/520660867

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Klara Walden doesn’t suspect what she might be getting into when her ex boyfriend, Mahmoud Shammosh, gets in touch with her. Suddenly, she is in the depth of a political scandal that people are willing to do murder over and she is fighting for her life. On the other side of the world, a retired spy tells his story, hoping that he will never have to involve himself in Klara’s life. 

I enjoyed the start of this book quite a lot. It was pacy and the chapters from different points of view kept me guessing as to what was happening. There were hints about torture, terrorism and government cover ups, all of which seemed interesting. I couldn’t quite work out how the first person narrative would join with the present day scenario but it was clear that they would link up.

For me, the narrative started to disappoint when Mahmoud was shot. Not that this didn’t fit with the type of story but he was one of the more interesting characters in the novel and I felt that the story struggled a bit without him. (He had just revealed to Klara that he was actually homosexual. He was then killed off almost immediately as if there was no longer any space in the narrative for him now that he didn’t comply with the masculine presumption of such a genre.) Klara then had to continue on her own and she suddenly becomes this amazing super spy, following leads and avoiding the authorities. This is especially unlikely as it is her stupidity in trusting another ex that brings the authorities down on them and causes Mahmoud’s murder.

I haven’t read much spy fiction but what I have read always seem to have these moments of naivety that bring the authorities and those on the run into conflict. I can see why this is necessary but find it a little irritating as it means the characters swing between naivety and guile in a way that is less than convincing.

The end of this novel was also unconvincing. I felt that the storylines were building up to an almighty climax but in the end it was more of a damp squib. The spy – Klara’s father – saves her life and so is no longer useful in narrative terms so he is killed off. George – who has been kidnapped by the bad guys as he is able to speak Swedish – suddenly manages to escape and is also involved in saving Klara. I was never particularly convinced by this narrative strand but his steering of a boat in a terrible storm to just the right island stretched my disbelief to the very limit. After all this, Klara decides not to reveal the information but to keep it secret. Again, I understand the reasons for this but it still seemed desperately disappointing.

All in all, I think this is a genre I am going to avoid in the future for much the same reasons that I don’t watch these sort of films. The action moves the story and I have to admit, I prefer things that are character driven. I have trouble suspending my disbelief and I felt I would have liked more psychological investigation. It was’t a terrible book just ultimately not for me.


Books Read in 2015. 1. The Trinity Six – Charles Cumming

Genre: Spy Thriller

Narrative Style: Third Person, Largely chronologicalUnknown

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2011

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Sam Gaddis is an academic desperately in need of some cash. When his old friend, Charlotte says she may be about to break a story on the sixth Cambridge spy, he is immediately interested. It could be the scoop of both their careers and bring in some much needed money. When Charlotte dies of a heart attack, it is left to Sam to continue the investigation that she has begun. 

This was a new genre for me. Apart from James Bond, I’ve not even seen many spy films. So I was unsure what to expect. I thought it would be an interesting subject and a thrilling one. If such a sixth member was suddenly revealed to the public, the scandal would be huge as would the rewards of any journalist brave enough to do it.

It certainly hits the ground running. Cumming drops the reader into the middle of Charlotte’s story as Gaddis is told the story of a 76 year old, Edward Crane, whose death was faked in 1992 – all members of the hospital team were paid off by MI6. Crane it transpires is the sixth member that the government so want to keep quiet. Gaddis immediately starts to do some research unaware that by merely entering the name into a search engine he is alerting the Government to what he is doing.

It isn’t long before Gaddis is in over his head. Although he isn’t the sort of man to let that stop him. His curiosity and need for money drive him on even when the bodies start to pile up. Gaddis swings from painful naivety to incredible intelligence and back again in a way that wasn’t always successful. Above all, his arrogance and his determination to break the story at all costs alienated me from him. He was a hard man to empathise with.

I’m not an expert on the Cambridge spies but the facts given seemed right and the history and conspiracies certainly were plausible. Cumming slid between fact and fiction very easily and I never doubted the likelihood of events. It is certainly true that some governments will go to great lengths to keep the secrets of the past just that.

Finally, I enjoyed the thriller elements the most but found a lot of the characters, particularly the men, difficult to relate to. This may be a feature of the genre – if men weren’t arrogant and greedy, stories like this wouldn’t get very far – but it was a little alienating. That said, I would certainly not rule out reading more of this genre in the future. A spy story is always intriguing because it plays to our suspicion that we aren’t being told the whole story and perhaps we’d all quite like to be the person to blow it all apart.