International intrigue and suspense abound in a pair of new novels from British novelists Jeffrey Archer and Charles Cumming.
In Heads You Win, Archer boldly weaves two parallel tales in the life of Russian refugee Alexander Karpenko, imagining in one storyline what if he escaped to London and what if he escaped to America in the other. The concept unravels in alternating chapters after the initial setup in which Alex and his mother, Elena, must escape Communist persecution by the KGB in 1968 Leningrad following the “accidental” death of his father, Konstantin. The only way out is aboard one of two cargo ships, with their destination coming at the flip of a coin.
In both stories, the pair must build new lives for themselves in their newly adopted countries against considerable odds. But Alex’s mathematical prowess and sharp mind, coupled with Elena’s expert cooking skills, give them the edge they need to excel and ultimately flourish. In America, Alex’s expertise helps position himself as a successful entrepreneur. In London, Sasha (as Alex is called), rises to a position of power in Britain’s Parliament while Elena becomes a restauranteur. “Both” men successfully navigate minor challenges along the way, but it is not until each decides to make a fateful return to Russia three decades later that things take a drastic and surprising turn – one which can’t be divulged here or it would ruin the entire reading experience.
The alternating stories may initially frustrate readers who are used to more traditional novels. But Archer’s skilled prose ensures that those who stick with this sprawling epic and its dual protagonists will be in for a stunning, and politically timely, conclusion.
In The Moroccan Girl by Cumming, bestselling author Christopher “Kit” Carradine is recruited by mysterious MI-6 Agent Robert Mantis for a “simple” job while attending a literary festival in Morocco. His task: finding Lara Bartok, the ex-girlfirend of Ivan Simakov, the deceased founder of revolutionary terrorists Resurrection. Kit naturally questions why he’s been recruited for the job, to which Robert replies that “writers on research trips provide perfect cover for clandestine work. The inquisitive novelist,” he explains, “always has a watertight excuse for poking his nose around.”
Whether gullible or just eager to be a part of a “real-life” spy adventure like the kinds he writes about, Kit readily goes along with the mission. It’s only as the suspense, mysterious characters, and double-crosses stack up that Kit begins to question his decision, as well as the legitimacy of the mission itself. Coupled with a growing attraction to the target of his quest, Lara Bartok herself, Kit’s world becomes increasingly complicated and dangerous.
Cumming keeps the action fast-paced and the twists unexpected, while building a budding romance between Kit and Lara. Ultimately, with Russian assassins closing in, Kit must decide who can he trust.