The Spanish Game: A Novel

The Spanish Game: A Novel

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by Charles Cumming
     
 

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"The best of the new generation of British spy writers taking over where le Carre and Deighton left off." -- Observer (London) on The Spanish Game

"The serpentine twists and the unflaggingly realistic suspense leave you breathless, but spellbound." -- Daily Mail (London) on The Spanish Game

"Tautly written, cleverly plotted..

Overview

"The best of the new generation of British spy writers taking over where le Carre and Deighton left off." -- Observer (London) on The Spanish Game

"The serpentine twists and the unflaggingly realistic suspense leave you breathless, but spellbound." -- Daily Mail (London) on The Spanish Game

"Tautly written, cleverly plotted...reminded me strongly of the early books of John le Carre." -- Robert Harris, author of The Ghost, on A Spy by Nature

Six years ago, Alec Milius was released by MI6 after a disasterous operation. His world shattered, Milius has been living in Madrid, attempting to put his former life as a spy behind him, and quitely rebuild his life. But all his plans come crashing down when the head of a separatist movement goes missing, and Milius is lured back into the world of espionage, the brutal world of lies and desperation. This time, though, Milius is forced to work alone - with no back-up, no support, and no one to save him should something go wrong.

And in an operation like this, something is certain to go wrong. Horribly wrong.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Alec Milius, the protagonist of Cumming's well-received first novel, A Spy by Nature(2007), has created a new life in Madrid working as a researcher for a British private bank in this sterling sequel. His former employer, MI6, dismissed him in disgrace after a plot against the CIA went wrong. Alec lives alone, constantly watching for agents from his past who he thinks are intent on hunting him down and exacting revenge. He's having an affair with his boss's wife, drinks too much and is consumed by regret and guilt. When his boss, Julian Church, sends him to Basque country on a project, he meets Mikel Arenaza, a former member of the ETA, the Basque separatist party, who quickly turns up dead. The plot is pleasingly convoluted, the twists unexpected, the characters flawed and interesting. This is spy fiction of the highest order; Cumming deserves to be ranked with the best of the genre's practitioners. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The Basque nationalists at the heart of this thriller have passionate justifications for their cause, but the new labels of international terrorism in 2003 alter the power balance and enemies lurk everywhere. Drummed out of the MI6 corps six years earlier for a botched operation, young Alec Milius is now doing due diligence work in Madrid when odd and intriguing situations pile up, and suddenly he is at the heart of a plot that inflames his spying appetites and ambitions. Even after Alec is tortured and punished for his curiosity, he continues to pick at the clues hoping to salvage some private satisfactions for a job well done. Notable for its heightened psychological cat-and-mouse play, this second Milius title (after A Spy by Nature ) will build Cumming's reputation as a literary spymaster to reckon with-comparison with early John le CarrA© is not out of line. An added bonus is the masterly description of Madrid and Basque country complete with wine and dine notes. A well-crafted and necessary purchase for espionage fiction collections in all public libraries.-Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

From the Publisher
Praise for The Spanish Game:

 

"This is spy fiction of the highest order; Cumming deserves to be ranked with the best of the genre's practitioners."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

"A convincing character study of an imperfect spy...engrossing."

Daily Telegraph (London)

 

"A cracking good spy thriller...the serpentine twists and unflaggingly realistic suspense leave you breathless, but spellbound."

 — Daily Mail (London)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429951548
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
02/22/2010
Series:
Alec Milius , #2
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
126,124
File size:
508 KB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

The Spanish Game


By Charles Cumming

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2006 Charles Cumming
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5154-8


CHAPTER 1

Exile


The door leading into the hotel is already open and I walk through it into a low, wide lobby. Two South American teenagers are playing Gameboys on a sofa near reception, kicking back in hundred-dollar trainers while Daddy picks up the bill. The older of them swears loudly in Spanish and then catches his brother square on the knot of his shoulder with a dead arm that makes him wince in pain. A passing waiter looks down, shrugs, and empties an ashtray at their table. There's a general atmosphere of listless indifference, of time passing by to no end, the prerush lull of late afternoons.

"Buenas tardes, señor."

The receptionist is wide shouldered and artificially blond and I play the part of a tourist, making no effort to speak to her in Spanish.

"Good afternoon. I have a reservation here today."

"The name, sir?"

"Alec Milius."

"Yes, sir."

She ducks down and taps something into a computer. Then there's a smile, a little nod of recognition, and she writes down my details on a small piece of card.

"The reservation was made over the Internet?"

"That's right."

"Could I see your passport please, sir?"

Five years ago, almost to the day, I spent my first night in Madrid at this same hotel; a twenty-eight-year-old industrial spy on the run from the UK with $189,000 lodged in five separate bank accounts, using three passports and a forged British driving licence for ID. On that occasion I handed a Lithuanian passport issued to me in Paris in August 1997 to the clerk behind the desk. The hotel may have a record of this on their system, so I'm using it again.

"You are from Vilnius?" the receptionist asks.

"My grandfather was born there."

"Well, breakfast is between seven thirty and eleven o'clock and you have it included as part of your rate." It is as if she has no recollection of having asked the question. "Is it just yourself staying with us?"

"Just myself."

My luggage consists of a suitcase filled with old newspapers and a leather briefcase containing some toiletries, a laptop computer, and two of my three mobile phones. We're not planning to stay in the room for more than a few hours. A porter is summoned from across the lobby and he escorts me to the lifts at the back of the hotel. He's short and tanned and genial in the manner of low-salaried employees badly in need of a tip. His English is rudimentary, and it's tempting to break into Spanish just to make the conversation more lively.

"This is being your first time in Madrid, yes?"

"Second, actually. I visited two years ago."

"For the bullfights?"

"On business."

"You don't like the corrida?"

"It's not that. I just didn't have the time."

The room is situated halfway down a long, Barton Fink corridor on the third floor. The porter uses a credit-card-sized pass key to open the door and places my suitcase on the ground. The lights are operated by inserting the key in a narrow horizontal slot outside the bathroom door, although I know from experience that a credit card works just as well; anything narrow enough to trigger the switch will do the trick. The room is a reasonable size, perfect for our needs, but as soon as I am inside I frown and make a show of looking disappointed and the porter duly asks if everything is all right.

"It's just that I asked for a room with a view over the square. Could you see at the desk if it would be possible to change?"

Back in 1998, as an overt target conscious of being watched by both American and British intelligence, I ran basic countersurveillance measures as soon as I arrived at the hotel, searching for microphones and hidden cameras. Five years later, I am either wiser or lazier; the simple last-minute switch of room negates any need to sweep. The porter has no choice but to return to reception and within ten minutes I have been assigned a new room on the fourth floor with a clear view over Plaza de Santa Ana. After a quick shower I put on a dressing gown, turn down the air-conditioning, and try to make the room look less functional by folding up the bedspread, placing it in a cupboard, and opening the net curtains so that the decent February light can flood in. It's cold outside, but I stand briefly on the balcony looking out over the square. A neat line of denuded chestnut trees runs east toward the Teatro de España where a young African man is selling counterfeit CDs from a white sheet spread out on the pavement. In the distance I can see the edge of the Parque Retiro and the roofs of the taller buildings on Calle de Alcalá. It's a typical midwinter afternoon in Madrid: high blue skies, a brisk wind whipping across the square, sunlight on my face. Turning back into the room I pick up one of the mobiles and dial her number from memory.

"Sofía?"

"Hola, Alec."

"I'm in."

"What is the number of the room?"

"Cuatrocientos ocho. Just walk straight through the lobby. There's nobody there and they won't stop you or ask any questions. Keep to the left. The elevators are at the back. Fourth floor."

"Is everything OK?"

"Everything's OK."

"Vale," she says. Fine. "I'll be there in an hour."

CHAPTER 2

Baggage


Sofía is the wife of another man. We have been seeing each other now for over a year. She is thirty years old, has no children, and has been married, unhappily, since 1999. To meet in the Reina Victoria hotel is something that she has always wanted us to do, and with her husband due back in Madrid on an 8 A.M. flight tomorrow, we can stay here until the early hours of the morning.

Sofía knows nothing about Alec Milius, or at least nothing of any hard fact or consequence. She does not know that at the age of twenty-four I was talent-spotted by MI6 in London and placed inside a British oil company with the purpose of befriending two employees of a rival American firm and selling them doctored research data on an oilfield in the Caspian Sea. Katharine and Fortner Simms, both of whom worked for the CIA, became my close friends over a two-year period, a relationship that ended when they discovered that I was working for British intelligence. Sofía is not aware that in the aftermath of the operation, my former girlfriend, Kate Allardyce, was murdered in a car accident engineered by the CIA, alongside another man, her new boyfriend, Will Griffin. Nor does she know that in the summer of 1997, I was dismissed by MI5 and MI6 and threatened with prosecution if I revealed anything about my work for the government.

As far as Sofía is concerned, Alec Milius is a typical footloose Englishman who turned up in Madrid in the spring of 1998 after working as a financial correspondent for Reuters in London and, latterly, St. Petersburg. He has lost touch with the friends he knew from school and university, and both his parents died when he was a teenager. The money they left him allows him to live in an expensive two-bedroom flat in downtown Madrid and drive an Audi A6 for work. The fact that my mother is still alive and that the last five years of my life have been largely funded by the proceeds of industrial espionage is not something that Sofía and I have ever discussed.

What is the truth? That I have blood on my hands? That I walk the streets with knowledge of a British plot against American business concerns that would blow George and Tony's special relationship out of the water? Sofía does not need to know about that. She has her own lies, her own secrets to conceal. What did Katharine say to me all those years ago? "The first thing you should know about people is that you don't know the first thing about them." So we leave it at that. That way we keep things simple.

And yet, and yet ... five years of evasion and lies have taken their toll. At a time when my contemporaries are settling down, making their mark, breeding like locusts, I live alone in a foreign city, a man of thirty-three with no friends or roots, drifting, time-biding, waiting for something to happen. I came here exhausted by secrecy, desperate to wipe the slate clean, to be rid of all the half-truths and deceptions that had become the common currency of my life. And now what is left? An adultery. A part-time job working due diligence for a British private bank. A stained conscience. Even a young man lives with the mistakes of his past, and regret clings to me like a sweat that I cannot shift.

Above all, there is paranoia: the threat of vengeance, of payback. To escape Katharine and the CIA I have no Spanish bank accounts, no landline phone number at the apartment, two PO boxes, a Frankfurt-registered car, five e-mail addresses, timetables of every airline flying out of Madrid, the numbers of the four phone boxes thirty meters up my street, and a rented bedsit in the village of Alcalá de los Gazules within a forty-minute drive of the boat to Tangier. I have moved apartment four times in five years. When I see a tourist's camera pointed at me outside the Palacio Real, I fear that I am being photographed by an agent of SIS. And when the genial Segovian comes to my flat every three months to read the water meter, I follow him at a distance of no less than two meters to ensure that he has no opportunity to plant a bug. This is a tiring existence. It consumes me.

So there is booze, and a lot of it. Booze to alleviate the guilt, booze to soften the suspicion. Madrid is built for late nights, for bar crawling into the small hours, and four mornings out of five I wake with a hangover and then drink again to cure it. It was booze that brought Sofía and me together last year, a long evening of caipirinhas at a bar on Calle Moratín and then falling into bed together at 6 A.M. The sex we have is like the sex that everybody has, only heightened by the added frisson of adultery and ultimately rendered meaningless by an absence of love. Ours is not, in other words, a relationship to compare with the one that I had with Kate — and it is probably all the better for that. We know where we stand. We know that one of us is married, and that the other never confides. Try as she might, Sofía will never succeed in drawing me out of my shell. "You are closed, Alec," she says. "Eres muy tuyo." An amateur Freudian would say that I have had no serious relationship in eight years as a consequence of my guilt over Kate's death. We are all amateur Freudians now. And there is perhaps some truth in that. The reality is more mundane; it is simply that I have never met anyone to whom I have wanted to entrust my tawdry secrets, never met anyone whose life was worth destroying for the sake of my security and peace of mind.

Far below, in the square, a busker has started playing alto sax, a tone-deaf cover version of "Roxanne," loud enough for me to have to close the doors of the balcony and switch on the hotel TV. Here's what's on: a dubbed Brazilian soap opera starring a middle-aged actress with a bad nose job; a press conference with the government's interior minister, Félix Maldonado; a Spanish version of the British show Trisha, in which an audience of Franco-era madrileños are staring openmouthed at a quartet of transvestite strippers lined up on stools along a bright orange stage; a rerun on Eurosport of Germany winning the 1990 World Cup; Christina Aguilera saying that she "really, really" respects one of her colleagues "as an artist" and is "just waiting for the right script to come along"; a CNN reporter standing on a balcony in Kuwait City being patronizing about "ordinary Iraqis"; and BBC World, where the anchorman looks about twenty-five and never fluffs a line. I stick with that, if only for a glimpse of the old country, for low gray skies and the stiff upper lip. At the same time I boot up the laptop and download some e-mails. There are seventeen in all, spread over four accounts, but only two that are of interest.

From: julianchurch@bankendiom.es
To: alecm@bankendiom.es

Subject: Basque visit

Dear Alec

Re: our conversation the other day. If any situation encapsulates the petty small-mindedness of the Basque problem, it's the controversy surrounding poor Ainhoa Cantalapiedra, the rather pretty pizza waitress who has won Operación Triunfo. Have you been watching it? Spain's answer to Fame Academy. The wife and I were addicted.

As you may or may not know, Miss Cantalapiedra is a Basque, which has led to accusations that the result was fixed. The (ex) leader of Batasuna has accused Aznar's lot of rigging the vote so that a Basque would represent Spain at the Eurovision Song Contest. Have you ever heard such nonsense? There's a rather good piece about it in today's El Mundo.

Speaking of the Basque country, would you be available to go to San Sebastián early next week to meet officials in various guises with a view to firming up the current state of affairs? Endiom has a new client, Spanish-based, looking into viability of a car operation, but rather cold feet politically.

Will explain more when I get back this w/e.

All the very best

Julian

I click "Reply":

From: alecm@bankendiom.es
To: julianchurch@bankendiom.es

Subject: Re: Basque visit

Dear Julian

No problem. I'll give you a call about this at the weekend. I'm off to the cinema now and then to dinner with friends.

I didn't watch Operación Triunfo. Would rather cook a five-course dinner for Osama bin Laden — with wines. But your e-mail reminded me of a similar story, equally ridiculous in terms of the stand-off between Madrid and the separatists. Apparently there's a former ETA commander languishing in prison taking a degree in psychology to help pass the time. His exam results — and those of several of his former comrades — have been off the charts, prompting Aznar to suggest that they've either been cheating or that the examiners are too scared to give them anything less than 90%.

All the best

Alec


The second e-mail comes through on AOL.

From: sricken1789@hotmail.com
To: almmlalam@aol.com

Subject: Coming to Madrid

Hi —


As expected, Heloise has now kicked me out of the house. The house that I paid for. Logic?

So I'm booked on the Friday easyJet. It lands at 5:15 in Madrid and I might have to stick around for a bit. Hope that's OK. I've taken three weeks off work to clear my head. Could go to Cádiz as well to stay with a mate down there.

Don't worry about picking me up, I'll get a cab. Just tell me your address. (And don't do the seven different e-mail/dead drop/is this line secure?/smoke signal bullshit.) Just hit "Reply" and tell me where you live. NOBODY'S WATCHING, ALEC. You're not Kim Philby.

Anyway, really looking forward to seeing you.

Saul


So he's finally coming. The keeper of the secrets. After six years, my oldest friend is on his way to Spain. Saul, who married a girl he barely knew just two summers ago and already lies on the brink of divorce. Saul, who holds a signed affidavit recounting in detail my relationship with MI5 and SIS, to be released to the press in the event of any "accident." Saul, who was so angry with me in the aftermath of what happened that we did not speak to each other for three and a half years.

There's a knock at the door, a soft, rapid tap. I switch off the TV, close the computer, quickly check my reflection in the mirror, and cross the room.

Sofía is wearing her hair up and has a sly, knowing look on her face. Giving off an air of mischief as she glances over my shoulder.

"Hola," she says, touching my cheek. The tips of her fingers are soft and cold. She must have returned home after work, taken a shower, and then changed into a new set of clothes — the jeans she knows I like, a black turtleneck sweater, shoes with two-inch heels. She is holding a long winter coat in her left hand, and the smell of her as she passes me is intoxicating. "What a room," she says, dropping the coat on the bed and crossing to the balcony. "What a view." She turns and heads to the bathroom, mapping out the territory, touching the bottles of shower gel and tiny parcels of soap lining the sink. I come in behind her and kiss her neck. Both of us can see our reflections in the mirror, her eyes watching mine, my hand encircling her waist.

"You look beautiful," I tell her.

"You also."

I suppose these first heady moments are what it's all about: skin contact, reaction. She closes her eyes and turns her body into mine, kissing me, but just as soon she is breaking off. Moving back into the room she scans the bed, the armchairs, the fake Picasso prints on the wall, and seems to frown at something in the corner.

"Why have you brought a suitcase?"

The porter had put it near the window, half hidden by curtains and leaning up against the wall.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2006 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 international bestseller, A Spy by Nature. A former British Secret Service recruit, he is a contributing editor to The Week magazine and lives 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.

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The Spanish Game 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
The Spanish Game does a good job of demonstrating the intrigue and betrayal inherent in the spy game. Just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, Charles Cumming throws another wrench in the works to add to your confusion. Alex Milius (A Spy by Nature) has returned to the spy game, but instead it seems a great game is being played on him. Finding how it all works is the fun of the game for the reader.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
Following the disastrous events that went totally wrong (see A SPY BY NATURE), M-16 blames espionage agent Alec Milius for the fiasco although he was a rookie and his side failed to communicate with their American counterparts; he also blames himself. Fired by his agency and no longer seeking adventure, Alex relocates to Madrid where he works for a British owned bank. Filled with guilt and doubts, Alex hopes staying low key will keep him safe as he would not be shocked to find his former employers, the CIA sending assassins or a rogue colleague holding him responsible by taking him out.

In Spain, Alec is having an affair with the wife of his boss Julian Church while using alcohol to numb his crippling remorse. Julian assigns Alec with a special project that has him traveling into the Basque sector of Spain. There he meets Mikel Arenaza, a former Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) Basque separatist party member. Soon after their encounter someone kills Mikel. Alec is caught in the middle between ETA hardliners, Spanish cops, and apparently his former British associates and their cross Atlantic partners.

This is a superb espionage thriller as Alec, filled with remorse and uncertainty about his skills, expects his former colleagues or their peers to take him out. He lives looking over his shoulder with a hesitant step. The story line is fabulous with timely solid twists, but Alec makes the tale; as a disgraced spy in exile waiting for the cold to come to him. THE SPANISH GAME will be on most short lists as one of top three espionage thrillers of the year.

Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You want to have sex