cover image A Foreign Country

A Foreign Country

Charles Cumming. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-312-59133-5

Bestseller Cumming follows 2011’s The Trinity Six with another superb stand-alone, which opens in 1978 Tunisia, where Amelia Weldon, a 20-year-old British au pair, is having an affair with her expatriate French employer. Fast forward to the present, to the brutal, apparently random murder of a retired French couple on an Egyptian beach; the abduction of a target referred to as HOLST on the streets of Paris; and the disappearance of the much older Weldon on the eve of her becoming chief of the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. The agency taps Thomas Kell, a former MI6 operative “turfed out in disgrace,” to find out what’s become of her. Starting out in Nice, Kell trails Weldon to Tunisia, where she turns up with a much younger man in tow. Cumming is particularly skilled at sketching his characters, most notably Kell (a classically reluctant spy) and Weldon, who’s haunted by personal demons central to the elaborate puzzle of a story. The elegant prose will appeal to those who don’t usually read spy fiction. 100,000 first printing. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (Aug.)