A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming | NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
A Foreign Country

A Foreign Country

4.5 14
by Charles Cumming
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

From the internationally acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of The Trinity Six, comes a compelling tale of deceit and betrayal, conspiracy and redemption


On the vacation of a lifetime in Egypt, an elderly French couple are brutally murdered. Days later, a meticulously-planned kidnapping takes place on the streets of Paris. Amelia

Overview

From the internationally acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of The Trinity Six, comes a compelling tale of deceit and betrayal, conspiracy and redemption


On the vacation of a lifetime in Egypt, an elderly French couple are brutally murdered. Days later, a meticulously-planned kidnapping takes place on the streets of Paris. Amelia Levene, the first female Chief of MI6, has disappeared without a trace, six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. It is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced in more than a decade. Desperate not only to find her, but to keep her disappearance a secret, Britain's top intelligence agents turn to one of their own: disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell. Tossed out of the Service only months before, Kell is given one final chance to redeem himself - find Amelia Levene at any cost. The trail leads Kell to France and Tunisia, where he uncovers a shocking secret and a conspiracy that could have unimaginable repercussions for Britain and its allies. Only Kell stands in the way of personal and political catastrophe.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
A Foreign Country is silkily written, and more cool than hot. Cumming…describes exotic locales with detail and affection, and is relatively sparing in his use of bang-bang…While this novel nods to the past, it's rooted firmly in the mess of our present. A Foreign Country describes today's wars and morally ambiguous tactics…with an acerbity that might make le Carré proud.
—John Schwartz
Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Cumming follows 2011’s The Trinity Six with another superb stand-alone, which opens in 1978 Tunisia, where Amelia Weldon, a 20-year-old British au pair, is having an affair with her expatriate French employer. Fast forward to the present, to the brutal, apparently random murder of a retired French couple on an Egyptian beach; the abduction of a target referred to as HOLST on the streets of Paris; and the disappearance of the much older Weldon on the eve of her becoming chief of the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. The agency taps Thomas Kell, a former MI6 operative “turfed out in disgrace,” to find out what’s become of her. Starting out in Nice, Kell trails Weldon to Tunisia, where she turns up with a much younger man in tow. Cumming is particularly skilled at sketching his characters, most notably Kell (a classically reluctant spy) and Weldon, who’s haunted by personal demons central to the elaborate puzzle of a story. The elegant prose will appeal to those who don’t usually read spy fiction. 100,000 first printing. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“Bestseller Cumming follows 2011's The Trinity Six with another superb stand-alone…Cumming is particularly skilled at sketching his characters…The elegant prose will appeal to those who don't usually read spy fiction.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Library Journal
Amelia Levene is about to become the first woman to run the British intelligence agency MI6 when she mysteriously disappears. Disgraced former officer Thomas Kell is recruited to find her. He quickly learns that she has not been kidnapped; she's hiding on purpose. What would motivate someone at the height of their career to give it all up? What he uncovers, with Levene's help, unveils a dark conspiracy that goes back years. VERDICT Cumming's sixth thriller (after The Trinity Six) simmers and crackles until the explosive finale. Where in other novels Kell would need the entire narrative to find Levene, he discovers her whereabouts almost immediately. That plot twist along with the surprises that follow make this a worthwhile read that will appeal especially to readers who appreciate John le Carré, Olen Steinhauer, and David Ignatius. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/12; 100,000-copy first printing.]
Kirkus Reviews
A deadly long-shot mission gives a disgraced secret agent a chance at redemption. Isolated pieces--the dissolution, in Tunisia a generation ago, of the marriage of Jean-Marc Daumal and wife Celine over his affair with nanny Amelia Weldon; the present-day murder of elderly Parisians Philippe and Jeannine Malot on a Cairo street; the kidnapping of a target nicknamed HOLST by one Akim Errachidi and his team--precede the introduction of dissolute Thomas Kell, waking up in a hotel room with another hangover eight months after his surgical dismissal, after two decades of service, from Britain's MI6. A call from his old pal, Jimmy Marquand, sobers Kell immediately. The new MI6 chief-designate, Amelia Levine, has gone missing before even assuming the job. Kell knew Amelia well, and he leaps at the chance to be back in the game. He checks files, Amelia's car and her room, noting that the signs indicate abduction. He questions veteran agents Bill and Barbara Knight, pictures of concern and cooperation with Kell...until he leaves, and their manner turns conspiratorial, and they hint at allegiances other than MI6. Using Amelia's Blackberry as a guide, Kell follows her movements over the previous two weeks. Cumming flashes back to Amelia for the same period; when she's found by Kell, it's just the beginning of a complicated cat-and-mouse game stretching back to the trio of prologue events and weaving together personal and political tangles. Cumming's sixth thriller (The Trinity Six, 2011, etc.) is smart and intricate, with a large cast of cool characters and an authentic feel.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250015013
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
08/07/2012
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
104,218
File size:
749 KB

Read an Excerpt

A Foreign Country


By Charles Cumming

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Charles Cumming
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01501-3



CHAPTER 1

Jean-Marc Daumal awoke to the din of the call to prayer and to the sound of his children weeping. It was just after seven o'clock on an airless Tunisian morning. For an instant, as he adjusted his eyes to the sunlight, Daumal was oblivious to the wretchedness of his situation; then the memory of it took him like a shortness of breath. He almost cried out in despair, staring up at the cracked, whitewashed ceiling, a married man of forty-one at the mercy of a broken heart.

Amelia Weldon had been gone for six days. Gone without warning, gone without reason, gone without leaving a note. One moment she had been caring for his children at the villa — preparing their supper, reading them a bedtime story — the next she had disappeared. At dawn on Saturday, Jean-Marc's wife, Celine, had found the au pair's bedroom stripped of its belongings, Amelia's suitcases taken from the cupboard, her photographs and posters removed from the walls. The family safe in the utility room was locked, but Amelia's passport and a necklace she had placed there for safekeeping were both missing. There was no record at Port de la Goulette of a twenty-year-old British woman matching Amelia's description boarding a ferry for Europe, nor any airline out of Tunis with a passenger listing for "Amelia Weldon." No hotel or hostel in the city had a guest registered under her name, and the few fresh-faced students and expats with whom she had socialized in Tunis appeared to know nothing of her whereabouts. Presenting himself as a concerned employer, Jean-Marc had made inquiries at the British embassy, telexed the agency in Paris that had arranged Amelia's employment, and telephoned her brother in Oxford. Nobody, it seemed, could unravel the enigma of her disappearance. Jean-Marc's only solace lay in the fact that her body had not been discovered in some back alley of Tunis or Carthage; that she had not been admitted to hospital suffering from an illness, which might have taken her from him forever. He was otherwise utterly bereft. The woman who had brought upon him the exquisite torture of infatuation had vanished as completely as an echo in the night.

The children's crying continued. Jean-Marc pulled back the single white sheet covering his body and sat up on the bed, massaging an ache in the small of his back. He heard Celine saying, "I am telling you for the last time, Thibaud, you are not watching cartoons until you finish your breakfast," and it took all of his strength not to rise from the bed, to stride into the kitchen, and, in his fury, to smack his son through the thin shorts of his Asterix pajamas. Instead, Daumal drank from a half-empty glass of water on the bedside table, opened the curtains, and stood on the first-floor balcony, gazing out over the rooftops of La Marsa. A tanker was moving west to east across the horizon, two days from Suez. Had Amelia left by private boat? Guttmann, he knew, kept a yacht out at Hammamet. The rich American Jew with his contacts and his privilege, the rumors of links to the Mossad. Daumal had seen how Guttmann had looked at Amelia; a man who had never wanted for anything in his life desired her as his prize. Had he taken her from him? There was no evidence to support his baseless jealousy, only the cuckold's fear of humiliation. Numb from lack of sleep, Daumal settled on a plastic chair on the balcony, the smell of baking bread rising up from a neighboring garden. Two meters away, close to the window, he spotted a half-finished packet of Mars Légère and lit one with a steady hand, coughing on the first lungful of smoke.

Footsteps in the bedroom. The children had stopped crying. Celine appeared at the balcony door and said, "You're awake," in a tone of voice that managed to harden his heart against her still further. He knew that his wife blamed him for what had happened. But she did not know the truth. Had she guessed, she might even have comforted him; her own father, after all, had consorted with dozens of women during his married life. He wondered why Celine had not simply fired Amelia. That, at least, would have saved him from this season of pain. It was as though she wanted to torment him by keeping her in the house.

"I'm awake," he replied, although Celine was long gone, locked in the bathroom under her ritual cold shower, scrubbing the child-altered body that was now repulsive to him. Jean-Marc stubbed out his cigarette, returned to the bedroom, found his dressing gown discarded on the floor, and walked downstairs to the kitchen.

Fatima, one of two maids assigned to the Daumal residence as part of the expat package offered by his employers in France, was putting on an apron. Jean-Marc ignored her and, finding a percolator of coffee on the stove, prepared himself a café au lait. Thibaud and Lola were giggling with one another in an adjoining room, but he did not wish to see them. Instead he sat in his office, the door closed, sipping from the bowl of coffee. Every room, every smell, every idiosyncrasy of the villa, held for him a memory of Amelia. It was in this office that they had first kissed. It was at the base of those oleander trees at the rear of the property, visible now through the window, that they had first made love in the dead of night, while Celine slept obliviously indoors. Later, Jean- Marc would take appalling risks, slipping away from his bedroom at two or three o'clock in the morning to be with Amelia, to hold her, to swallow her, to touch and manipulate a body that was so intoxicating to him that he actually laughed now at the memory of it. And then he heard himself entertaining such thoughts and knew that he was little more than a romantic, self-pitying fool. So many times he had been on the brink of confessing, of telling Celine every secret of the affair: the rooms that he and Amelia had taken in hotels in Tunis; the five April days that they had spent together in Sfax while his wife had been in Beaune with the children. Jean-Marc knew, as he had always known, that he enjoyed deceiving Celine; it was a form of revenge for all the stillness and ennui of their marriage. The lying kept him sane. Amelia had understood that. Perhaps that was what had bound them together — a shared aptitude for deceit. He had been astonished at her ability to finesse their indiscretions, to cover her tracks so that Celine had no suspicion of what was going on. There were the mischievous lies at breakfast — "Thank you, yes, I slept very well" — combined with a studied indifference toward Jean-Marc whenever the two lovers found themselves in Celine's company. It was Amelia who had suggested that he pay for their hotel rooms in cash, to avoid any dubious transactions appearing on Jean-Marc's bank statements. It was Amelia who had stopped wearing perfume, so that the scent of Hermès Calèche would not be carried back to the marital bed. There was no question in Jean-Marc's mind that she had derived a deep satisfaction from these clandestine games.

The telephone rang. It was rare for anybody to call the house before eight o'clock in the morning; Jean-Marc was certain that Amelia was trying to contact him. He picked up the receiver and said, "Oui?" in near desperation.

A woman with an American accent replied: "John Mark?"

It was Guttmann's wife. The WASP heiress, her father a senator, family money stinking all the way back to the Mayflower.

"Joan?"

"That's right. Have I called at a bad moment?"

He had no time to lament her blithe assumption that all conversations between them should be conducted in English. Neither Joan nor her husband had made any attempt to learn even rudimentary French, only Arabic.

"No, it is not a bad time. I was just on my way to work." He assumed that Joan wanted to arrange to spend the day at the beach with his children. "Do you want to speak to Celine?"

A pause. Some of the customary energy went out of Joan's voice and her mood became businesslike, even somber.

"Actually, John Mark, I wanted to speak with you."

"With me?"

"It's about Amelia."

Joan knew. She had found out about the affair. Was she going to expose him?

"What about her?" His tone of voice had become hostile.

"She has asked me to convey a message to you."

"You've seen her?"

It was like hearing that a relative, assumed dead, was alive and well. He was certain now that she would come back to him.

"I have seen her," Joan replied. "She's worried about you."

Daumal would have fallen on this expression of devotion like a dog snatching at a bone, had it not been necessary to sustain the lie.

"Well, yes, Celine and the children have been very concerned. One moment Amelia was here with them, the next she was gone...."

"No. Not Celine. Not the children. She's worried about you."

He felt the hope rushing out of him, a door slammed by a sudden wind.

"About me? I don't understand."

Another careful pause. Joan and Amelia had always been close. As Guttmann had entrapped her in charm and money, Joan had played the caring older sister, a role model of elegance and sophistication to which Amelia might one day aspire.

"I think you do understand, John Mark."

The game was up. The affair had been revealed. Everybody knew that Jean-Marc Daumal had fallen hopelessly and ridiculously in love with a twenty-year-old au pair. He would be a laughingstock in the expatriate community.

"I wanted to catch you before you went to work. I wanted to reassure you that nobody knows anything about this. I have not spoken to David, nor do I intend to say anything to Celine."

"Thank you," Jean-Marc replied quietly.

"Amelia has left Tunisia. Last night, as a matter of fact. She's going to go traveling for a while. She wanted me to tell you how sorry she is for the way things worked out. She never intended to hurt you or to abandon your family in the way that she did. She cares for you very deeply. It all just got too much for her, you know? Her heart was confused. Am I making sense, John Mark?"

"You are making sense."

"So perhaps you might tell Celine that this was Amelia on the phone. Calling from the airport. Tell your children that she won't be coming back."

"I will do that."

"I think it's best, don't you? I think it's best if you forget all about her."

CHAPTER 2

Philippe and Jeannine Malot, of 79, rue Pelleport, Paris, had been planning their dream holiday in Egypt for more than a year. Philippe, who had recently retired, had set aside a budget of three thousand euros and found an airline that was prepared to fly them to Cairo (albeit at six o'clock in the morning) for less than the price of a return taxi to Charles de Gaulle Airport. They had researched the best hotels in Cairo and Luxor on the Internet and secured an over-sixties discount at a luxury resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, where they planned to relax for the final five days of their journey.

The Malots had arrived in Cairo on a humid summer afternoon, making love almost as soon as they had closed the door of their hotel room. Jeannine had then set about unpacking while Philippe remained in bed reading Naguib Mahfouz's Akhénaton le renégat, a novel that he was not altogether enjoying. After a short walk around the local neighborhood, they had eaten dinner in one of the hotel's three restaurants and fallen asleep before midnight to the muffled sounds of Cairene traffic.

Three enjoyable, if exhausting, days followed. Though she had developed a minor stomach complaint, Jeannine managed five hours of wide-eyed browsing in the Egyptian Museum, where she declared herself "awestruck" by the treasures of Tutankhamun. On the second morning of their trip, the Malots had set off by taxi shortly after breakfast and were astonished — as all first-time visitors were — to find the Pyramids looming into view no more than a few hundred meters from a nondescript residential suburb at the edge of the city. Hounded by trinket sellers and underqualified guides, they had completed a full circuit of the area within two hours and asked a shaven-headed German tourist to take their photograph in front of the Sphinx. Jeannine was keen to enter the Pyramid at Cheops but went alone, because Philippe suffered from a mild claustrophobia and had been warned by a colleague at work that the interior was both cramped and stiflingly hot. In a mood of jubilation at having finally witnessed a phenomenon that had enthralled her since childhood, Jeannine paid an Egyptian man the equivalent of fifteen euros for a brief ride on a camel. It had moaned throughout and smelled strongly of diesel. She had then accidentally deleted the picture of her husband astride the beast while attempting to organize the pictures on their digital camera at lunch the following day.

On the recommendation of an article in a French style magazine, they had traveled to Luxor by overnight train and booked a room at the Winter Palace, albeit in the Pavilion, a four-star annexed development added to the original colonial hotel. An enterprising tourism company offered donkey rides to the Valley of the Kings that left Luxor at five o'clock in the morning. The Malots had duly signed up, witnessing a dramatic sunrise over the Temple of Hatshepsut just after six A.M. They had then spent what they later agreed had been the best day of their holiday traveling out to the temples at Dendera and Abydos. On their final afternoon in Luxor, Philippe and Jeannine had taken a taxi to the Karnak Temple and stayed until the evening to witness the famous Sound and Light Show. Philippe had fallen asleep within ten minutes.

By Tuesday they were in Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Sinai Peninsula. Their hotel boasted three swimming pools, a hairdressing salon, two cocktail bars, nine tennis courts, and enough security to deter an army of Islamist fanatics. On that first evening, the Malots had decided to go for a short walk along the beach. Though their hotel was at full occupancy, no other tourists were visible in the moonlight as they made their way from the concrete walkway at the perimeter of the hotel down onto the still-warm sand.

It was afterward estimated that they had been attacked by at least three men, each armed with knives and metal poles. Jeannine's necklace had been torn away, scattering pearls onto the sand, and her gold wedding ring removed from her finger. Philippe had had a noose placed around his neck and been jerked upright as a second assailant sliced through his throat and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest and legs. He had bled to death within a few minutes. A torn bedsheet that had been stuffed into her mouth had muffled Jeannine's screams. Her own throat was also slashed, her arms heavily bruised, her stomach and hips struck repeatedly by a metal pole.

A young Canadian couple honeymooning at a neighboring hotel had noticed the commotion and heard Madame Malot's stifled cries, but they could not see what was happening in the light of the waning moon. By the time they got there, the men who had attacked and murdered the elderly French couple had vanished into the night, leaving a scene of devastation that the Egyptian authorities quickly dismissed as a random act of violence, perpetrated by outsiders, which was "highly unlikely ever to happen again."

CHAPTER 3

Taking someone in the street is as easy as lighting a cigarette, they had told him, and as Akim Errachidi waited in the van, he knew that he had the balls to pull it off.

It was a Monday night in late July. The target had been given a nickname — HOLST — and its movements monitored for fourteen days. Phone, e-mail, bedroom, car: The team had everything covered. Akim had to hand it to the guys in charge — they were thorough and determined; they had thought through every detail. He was dealing with pros now and, yes, you really could tell the difference.

Beside him, in the driver's seat of the van, Slimane Nassah was tapping his fingers in time to some R & B on RFM and talking, in vivid detail, about what he wanted to do to Beyoncé Knowles.

"What an ass, man. Just give me five minutes with that sweet ass." He made the shape of it with his hands, brought it down toward his circling groin. Akim laughed.

"Turn that shit off," said the boss, crouched by the side door and ready to spring. Slimane switched off the radio. "HOLST in sight. Thirty seconds."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2012 Charles Cumming. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

CHARLES CUMMING is the author of The New York Times bestselling thriller The Trinity Six, as well as others including A Spy by Nature and Typhoon. He lives with his family in London.


CHARLES CUMMING is the author of the first Thomas Kell book, A Foreign Country, as well as the New York Times bestselling thriller The Trinity Six, and others including A Spy by Nature and Typhoon. He lives with his family in London.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >