Summary and book reviews of The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming

The Spanish Game

A Novel

By Charles Cumming

The Spanish Game
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Nov 2008,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2009,
    352 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Six years ago, Alec Milius got out of the spy game after unbearably great personal cost and being drummed out by MI5. Now living in exile in Madrid, quietly and as far under the radar as possible, Milius keeps a constant eye out for the enemies he made, hoping to avoid any future involvement. Yet when a prominent politician goes missing, the urge that drove Milius to originally enter the spy game comes roaring back, and soon Alec finds himself in the midst of another international conspiracy in which he finds himself in the middle of a brutal power struggle. A compelling, modern espionage novel from a writer who, from his debut novel on, has been widely acclaimed as a modern master of the for

1 E x i l e

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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Did you like Alec Milius as a central character? If not, did your opinion of Alec affect your enjoyment of the book?

  2. Did the setting of the story - Spain, particularly Madrid - affect your enjoyment of the novel? What did you like about it? Dislike?

  3. The Spanish Game is written in the first person. What are the advantages and disadvantages of telling the story this way?

  4. Charles Cumming is a British author. Do you think American authors take a different approach to writing spy fiction?

  5. The issue of Basque separatism is central to the novel. Does this issue feel more, or less, relevant to you given the current state of international affairs?

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Spanish Game does have idiosyncrasies that may lessen its appeal for some readers. Cumming's attention to the set-up in the first half may frustrate readers looking for an action-adventure novel ... In addition, the history of the Basque separatists is complex, and at times the way Cumming chooses to relate it comes off as clumsy -- too forced and too much like an encyclopedia entry ... Nevertheless, this is an exceptionally well-written addition to the genre. Readers who appreciate high-quality spy fiction will want to put this one high on their list.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1332 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

A well-crafted and necessary purchase for espionage fiction collections in all public libraries.

Publishers Weekly

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

The Observer (UK)

Charles Cumming is probably the best of the new generation of British spy writers who are taking over where Le Carré and Deighton left off.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

The Spanish Game shows why Charles Cumming has won so much praise for his contemporary spy stories…Cumming has woven an intricate web from a combination of fact - Spanish history and politics, terrorism and the links between them - and a fictional story about a secret dirty war involving America's allies at a crucial stage of their war in Iraq. It's impressive and convincing, with a stunning twist at the end.

The Times (UK)

The factual background is detailed and accurate, the first-person narration edgy and direct, the plot a suitably messy, just plausible reflection of the muddled reality of a dirty game in a dirty world. If Cumming keeps up this standard he deserves to become an institution in his own right.

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Beyond the Book

Like many spy thrillers, The Spanish Game is awash in an alphabet soup of acronyms. Below is a brief translation for the uninitiated.

MI5: "Military Intelligence, Section 5." Formed in 1909, MI5 is a UK counter-intelligence and security agency which concentrates its efforts mainly on security issues within the UK (approximately equivalent to the FBI). For more about the Military Intelligence Units & MI5 see the sidebar to At Risk by Stella Rimmington.

SIS: "Secret Intelligence Service" (sometimes incorrectly known as MI6). Formed in 1909 as the Secret Service Bureau, the SIS is the UK's external intelligence-gathering agency (approximately equivalent to the CIA). ...

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