Typhoon: A Novel Review

Typhoon: A Novel
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Typhoon: A Novel ReviewCharles Cumming's spies are engaged in an endless game of lying. All of them lie to everyone all the time, while they attempt to discern the lies in each other's statements.
Typhoon occurs in two sections, eight years apart. In the first section Joe Lennox, a junior MI6 agent living in Hong Kong just before the handover of that city to China, tries to figure out why a Chinese defector whom he was the first to interview subsequently disappeared. Although his superiors in MI6 and colleagues in the CIA tell him that the defector was a plant, and was sent back to China, Joe believes they are all lying to him.
The second section of the story picks up 8 years later, when Joe is sent by MI6 to Shanghai to spy on his old CIA frenemy, Miles Coolidge. Joe is pleased to do this because, among other things, Miles stole the Love of His (Joe's) Life, aided by some sneaky tricks.
As compared with his earlier novels, Cumming is here working with a larger canvas and at a greater distance from his characters. His focus is politics within China and between China and the West, with emphasis on the dark side of the Chinese economic miracle and the utter pointlessness of the spy game.
The story is narrated, not by Joe Lennox, but by a journalist who works part time for MI6. I think this distance dulled my concern for the characters, especially compared with Alex Milius, the hero of two other Cumming novels. While Joe is a "better" person than Alex, I didn't get close enough to Joe to develop for him the affection I have for Alex. And let's face it -- there's something "off" about a guy who still isn't over a former girlfriend after eight years.
As for the girlfriend, Isabella, being myself a woman who grew up after the '50s, I find her aimlessness annoying rather than endearing. She seems to have no interior life, no interests, and no goals. Really, I thought Joe was well rid of her.
In sum, I always look forward to the next Charles Cumming novel, but I hope it is about Alex.Typhoon: A Novel Overview

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