Cover Image: BOX 88

BOX 88

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Member Reviews

Box 88 took a while to get started. A convoluted plot that worked extremely well, strong characters, as with all good thrillers, had an unexpected ending. The set up I found a little slow only that is a minor point and subjective on my part. The ethical questions and the inner quandary Kite has was an interesting aside that helped make this story enjoyable. 
An independent review thanks to NetGalley / Harper Collins
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‘Are you still doing those things you used to do?’

A phone call.  An unexpected death.  A funeral.  

2020, London.  Lachlan (Lockie) Kite learns, by telephone call, of the death (suspected suicide) of his once close friend, Xavier Bonnard.  Kite is a member of a secret organisation (Box 88) which draws members from former members of the British and American intelligence forces.  MI5 have heard whispers about Box 88 and have been monitoring Kite’s calls.  Attending Bonnard’s funeral may give them an opportunity to gather more information. But Kite is kidnapped immediately after the funeral.  Who has kidnapped him and why?

The story moves between the past, when Kite first became involved with Box 88 and the present, where his family is at risk if he does not provide the information sought by the kidnappers.

While MI5 (and others) are searching for Kite, we learn how he was recruited from an elite British public school to assist Box 88 gather intelligence about an Iranian businessman implicated in the Lockerbie tragedy.  The businessman, a friend of Xavier Bonnard’s father, would be visiting the Bonnards in the south of France at the same time as Kite would be visiting.

As the story shifted between past and present, I was caught up in the tension.  Would Kite be rescued?  Would his family be safe?  What was the connection between past and present?  Would Kite be forced to break his cover story in order to keep his family safe and survive?  The story drew me in: the portrayal of the young Kite particularly held my attention. There are a couple of twists which kept me guessing until quite close to the end.

If you enjoy spy stories, then I can recommend this one.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.  

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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This is a very cool spy thriller with more than a shadow of Le Carré about it. Box 88 is a highly secret trans-atlantic anti-terrorism spy agency that even M16 and the CIA don't know about. The current head, Lachlan Kite was recruited in 1989 after completing his A levels at an elite boarding school. During that summer, he was invited to stay with his best friend and his family at their house in the south of France and while there was asked to gather information on a family friend, an Iranian, also staying in the house. The events that occurred during that holiday had many repercussions for Kite including what is happening to him in 2020.

Smart and well written, this is an excellent spy thriller with plenty of tradecraft on show in both 1988 and 2020. Kite's story of what happened in 1988 coloured with the excitement and trepidation of his first assignment and falling in love with Martha, a girl also staying at the house, makes for a very absorbing tale. While there is a good sense of the younger Kite's personality through this account, the older Kite remained more distant, mainly because there is less chance to get to know him. I did very much like Cara, a young M15 spy who gets mixed up in the current day situation. I'm hopeful that Mr Cumming is planning a sequel as he indicates that he still has more to tell about one of the characters.
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This was an a old school type spy story, with a John Le Carré vibe, set in the present and in 1989. Lachlan (Lockie) Kite is attending the funeral of his old friend Xavier Bonnard. Lockie and Xav had been best friends at Alford - THE most prestigious English public school. After the funeral he agrees to go with a younger old Alfordian for a drink and a chat But is instead abducted by the man who is not what he claimed to be. For Lockie is a spy for the ultra secret Box 88 - a joint British American venture far removed from oversight.

For reasons that become clear as you read the book, his abductor wants to know all about a period, nearly 30 years ago, when Lockie was at a villa in the South of France with the Bonnard family during the summer after the final year of school. Another guest at the villa was a friend of Xav’s father, Luc Bonnard, an Iranian businessman by the name of Ali Eskandarian. This is who Lockie’s abductor wants to know about but Lockie can’t and won’t divulge his spy credentials so instead undertakes a marathon session of verbal gymnastics to try and convince his captor he is not a spy. Meanwhile MI5 has been watching Lockie, concerned about Box 88 as a rogue agency as they know nothing about it. 

The 1989 narrative tells how Lockie is recruited and details his first mission - to go to France with the Bonnards as planned and, while there, to spy on Eskandarian. While it was enjoyable to read this more quiet, slow burning, old school spy story it was quite slow (although steady). It was also quite long and took me about three days to read which is very unusual. We did get a good sense of the characters, Lockie himself is just wonderful - smart, urbane, reserved but coiled, good spy material! I get the feeling there is quite a bit we have not been told about Lockie’s ‘summer of ‘89’ love interest, Martha Raine. And the last page gives you a hint there is more to this story which would indicate another book in the offing. I give this one 3.5 stars but am bumping it up to 4 because it was so cleverly and meticulously plotted. I would expect a sequel to be somewhat faster paced however. Many thanks to Netgalley, HarperCollins and Charles Cumming for providing a copy. My opinions are my own.
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I am going to go against the popular opinion with this book and say I didn’t really enjoy it at all.

It’s a spy thriller, something I rarely (if ever? I can’t truly think of any I’ve read in the past 20 or so years anyway) read. I was looking forward to it, however, as a bit of a change up from my more usual reads of mystery or psychological thrillers. But the novelty of the genre wasn’t enough to win me over, I'm afraid.

Box 88 is the code name for a super secret spy agency of which the lead character, Lachlan Kite, is part. MI5 has Kite under surveillance when he is kidnapped by a group of Iranians. Cumming moves in between this storyline in the present, to flashbacks showing us how Kite was recruited and the events that led to his current predicament.

Cumming’s writing is not technically horrible. There is a true plot, with obviously a conflict and some tension but... I just couldn’t take to Cumming's style. I felt there was no intimacy with the characters and as such, I could not connect with them, especially not with Kite. I never felt like I cared about him or his plight. He simply remained a character on the page, someone whose life I was watching from afar, and he never made me feel…anything really.

I had this same feeling towards the supporting characters also. None of them made any impression (to be honest, I wouldn’t be able to tell you their names off the top of my head) or kicked me out of my apathetic state.

With this attitude, I read the book as I would a textbook or a recipe book. I was reading the words but I was not feeling anything. It made the whole thing drag and I took much longer to read it than I should have for a book its size.

As I said, there are lots of readers who have found this book great, giving it firm 5 out of 5’s but I’ll just stick with the halfway mark and give it 2 ½.
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