Reviewed by M.L. McFall

British authors truly are a different breed. Charles Cumming takes us on a journey with a different agenda from the usual spy story.

Thomas Kell has been retired from SIS and not dealing with retirement or his disintegrating marriage at all. When a former colleague presses him to return to what he does best, Thomas is suspicious. Nevertheless, we are presented with unrelated events. In 1978 Tunisia, an au pair disappears with no word to the family she seemed to love. In Egypt, an old couple on a vacation trip is brutally murdered. In another city, a young man is snatched and thrown into a van. Thomas Kell is also told that Amanda Levene, the newly appointed head of the agency has gone missing and must be found.

Cumming takes Kell step-by-step back into the world of spying. This is not the world of Bond. Spying is slow business, and Thomas is wary. But he knows Amanda well and he understands the politics of the first female appointed as head of the agency just as well. He is confident he can find her. Find her he does. That is just the beginning, and it takes all his talent to figure out the true meaning of Amanda’s disappearing act.

There is nothing flashy here, no covert under-cover sex, no bad boys from the CIA or KGB, no earth-shaking violence, and certainly no car crashes. This is a thoughtful step-by-step discovery of the relationship of the seemingly unconnected events. Page by turning page the reader is pulled forward into Amanda’s past and the present begins to make sense. Since the events seem totally unrelated, a discerning reader used to ordinary spy stories will look for red herrings when there are none.

When the consequences of Amanda’s past actions are revealed, the wide-spread results that could be politically disastrous are neatly avoided by Kell with a little help from some friends who can be trusted. After all, M16 is a government agency and although British, you know treachery is possible. Plan to spend a weekend with A Foreign Country: it’s a one-of-a-kind visit to a country of spies as human beings and not-so-usual politics.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Listen to an excerpt from A Foreign Country audiobook here

Also by Charles Cumming: The Trinity Six

M.L. McFall is a retired teacher, professional massage therapist, customer service/research at Omega Books in Peachtree City, Georgia, and the author of Passports to Change, currently out of print.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.