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A Colder War

by Charles Cumming

A Colder War by Charles Cumming X
A Colder War by Charles Cumming
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 400 pages
    Jun 2015, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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Print Excerpt


The American stepped away from the open window, passed Wallinger the binoculars, and said: "I'm going for cigarettes."

"Take your time," Wallinger replied.

It was just before six o'clock on a quiet, dusty evening in March, no more than an hour until nightfall. Wallinger trained the binoculars on the mountains and brought the abandoned palace at Ishak Pasa into focus. Squeezing the glasses together with a tiny adjustment of his hands, he found the mountain road and traced it west to the outskirts of Dogubayazit. The road was deserted. The last of the tourist taxis had returned to town. There were no tanks patrolling the plain, no dolmus bearing passengers back from the mountains.

Wallinger heard the door clunk shut behind him and looked back into the room. Landau had left his sunglasses on the farthest of the three beds. Wallinger crossed to the chest of drawers and checked the screen on his BlackBerry. Still no word from Istanbul; still no word from London. Where the hell was HITCHCOCK? The Mercedes was supposed to have crossed into Turkey no later than two o'clock; the three of them should have been in Van by now. Wallinger went back to the window and squinted over the telegraph poles, the pylons, and the crumbling apartment blocks of Dogubayazit. High above the mountains, an airplane was moving west to east in a cloudless sky, a silent white star skimming toward Iran.

Wallinger checked his watch. Five minutes past six. Landau had pushed the wooden table and the chair in front of the window; the last of his cigarettes was snuffed out in a scarred Efes Pilsen ashtray now bulging with yellowed filters. Wallinger tipped the contents out of the window and hoped that Landau would bring back some food. He was hungry and tired of waiting.

The BlackBerry rumbled on top of the chest of drawers; Wallinger's only means of contact with the outside world. He read the message.


It was the news he had been waiting for. HITCHCOCK and the courier had made it through the border at Gurbulak, on the Turkish side, at ten to six. If everything went according to plan, within half an hour Wallinger would have sight of the vehicle on the mountain road. From the chest of drawers he pulled out the British passport, sent by diplomatic bag to Ankara a week earlier. It would get HITCHCOCK through the military checkpoints on the road to Van; it would get him onto a plane to Ankara.

Wallinger sat on the middle of the three beds. The mattress was so soft it felt as though the frame was giving way beneath him. He had to steady himself by sitting farther back on the bed and was taken suddenly by a memory of Cecilia, his mind carried forward to the prospect of a few precious days in her company. He planned to fly the Cessna to Greece on Wednesday, to attend the Directorate meeting in Athens, then over to Chios in time to meet Cecilia for supper on Thursday evening.

The tickle of a key in the door. Landau came back into the room with two packets of Prestige filters and a plate of pide.

"Got us something to eat," he said. "Anything new?"

The pide was giving off a tart smell of warm curdled cheese. Wallinger took the chipped white plate and rested it on the bed.

"They made it through Gurbulak just before six."

"No trouble?" It didn't sound as though Landau cared much about the answer. Wallinger took a bite of the soft, warm dough. "Love this stuff," the American said, doing the same. "Kinda like a boat of pizza, you know?"

"Yes," said Wallinger.

He didn't like Landau. He didn't trust the operation. He no longer trusted the Cousins. He wondered if Amelia had been at the other end of the text, worrying about Shakhouri. The perils of a joint operation. Wallinger was a purist and, when it came to interagency cooperation, wished that they could all just keep themselves to themselves.

Excerpted from A Colder War by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2014 by 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.

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