A spy novelist turns to espionage in Charles Cumming’s excellent new novel

In The Moroccan Girl, a spy novelist turns to espionage.

In today’s volatile political climate, both in the United States and in Europe, violence might break out at any time. Certainly, there is ample evidence that nationalist and xenophobic forces on the Right are ready to take up arms. On the Left, too, antifa and other militant anti-fascist groups have demonstrated their willingness to resort to violence. Internationally, too, several states, including Russia, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, have all been engaged in assassinating their political enemies in recent years. And that very real potential for explosive violence forms the backdrop for Charles Cumming‘s excellent new novel of espionage, The Moroccan Girl.


The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming (2019) 360 pages

@@@@ (4 out of 5)


A spy novelist turns to espionage

Christopher (Kit) Carradine is a moderately successful British spy novelist who takes on a job for MI6 when he is approached on the street. He’s scheduled to speak on a panel at a literary festival in Morocco. There, he’s to pass along an envelope full of cash to one agent and deliver a sealed package to another one—if he can find her. That second agent, it turns out, is the “girl” of the title. Lara Bartok is a Hungarian-born activist associated with Resurrection, an anti-fascist network that has veered from nonviolence into kidnapping, assassination, and suicide bombing. However, before she fled the movement, Bartok was involved in a high-profile kidnapping and is now a wanted criminal. Yet Kit’s handler wants him to help her avoid capture by her pursuers.

The “opiate of secrecy” was a drug to which he became addicted

The assignment makes little sense, but Kit is blinded by the opportunity to experience the life of a spy first-hand. “The particular characteristics of espionage—the absorption in a clandestine role; the opiate of secrecy; the adrenalized fear of being caught—were drugs to which Carradine had very quickly become addicted.” And that may be his undoing. He will soon discover that nothing is as it seems. And that he can take no one at face value.

The “Moroccan Girl” is a wanted criminal

The Moroccan Girl is written in the omniscient third person. The story alternates between Bartok’s statements on the record to a pair of spies and a fast-moving account of Kit’s experience in Morocco. We know she has been on the run for years. She had fled Resurrection and her affair with its founder when the movement turned to violence. Now, as best Kit can determine, both Russian and American agents are out to kill her. The two will, of course, become close in the process—and therein lies the tale. It is, indeed, an exciting one.

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