Box 88 by Charles Cumming [5/10]

Charles Cumming always writes enjoyable spy thrillers that reek of sophistication and rattle along. “Box 88” is no exception. We have grown accustomed to shadowy, super-secret espionage organizations, and BOX 88 is exactly that, so shadowy that Britain’s MI5 begins stalking one of its most capable operatives, Lachlan Kite. Kite is portrayed as a human but perfect spy, and soon after the novel kicks off, he finds himself captured and under torture. His history from recruitment days three decades earlier seems to be the pivot point. Cumming’s forte is plot control and Box 88 grips attention, a well realized tale of capture and escape. Yet my one-sitting enjoyment grew frayed. As an entity, BOX 88 is sprung onto the reader, with plenty of explanatory material, but it never establishes a mood or character. Kite himself is resourceful and likeable enough, but again, his inner life never grew upon this reader amidst the frenetic plot. And the overall story bursts at the seams, always holding together but never generating enough tension beyond the “torture room” ambience (which is done well). Box 88 ends up a fluid read but with little heft beyond the final pages.

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