Monday, June 4, 2012

C is for The Cambridge Theorem

Again I am participating in the Crime Fiction Alphabet community meme. This week we are up to the letter C, and I am eager to see what other participants have covered. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other C entries.

My choice is The Cambridge Theorem by Tony Cape. This is a first novel by an author who produced four mysteries between 1989 and 1996. This book is a combination of police procedural and spy fiction. Right up my alley. I read the book in January of this year, before I started this blog.

The description on the book cover sums it up well:
"When Simon Bowles commits suicide, no one is surprised. A graduate student at Cambridge University, Bowles had a long history of depression. But as Detective Sergeant Derek Smailes soon discovers, he also had an extraordinary knack for solving historical mysteries. His most recent project: Uncovering the identity of the fabled “fifth man” in the notorious Cambridge spy-ring of the 1930s. Could Bowles possibly have solved that mystery? And could his solution—his “theorem”—have brought about his death?"
It is obvious from the beginning that there is something brewing related to the Cambridge spies, but it is not clear if it actually has anything to do with the demise of Simon Bowles. Every one else involved considers the death of the graduate student to be a suicide... but DS Derek Smailes isn't so sure. He gets interested and follows up on some inconsistencies.

The title of the book refers to the student's extracurricular activities: using mathematical logic to solve problems. In this case both the possible existence of a fifth Cambridge spy and the solution to the Kennedy assassination.  The plot centers on the investigation into a possible conspiracy to cover up a murder, and whether this relates Simon Bowles' investigation into the Cambridge spies or not. 

I enjoy spy fiction for the stories of corruption and betrayals. Police procedurals are a favorite sub-genre for me. With elements of both, this book kept me entertained for all of its 430 pages.   However, it was the development of the main character, Derek, and his backstory, that pushed up another level for me. The exploration of why he is a policeman and his complex relationship with his father and how this drives his actions was well done.

The book is set in the early 1980's, and was published in 1989. The copy I have was published by Felony & Mayhem and I discovered it at a wonderful independent bookstore that has an extensive mystery collection. There are three more books by Tony Cape (per Fantastic Fiction) and as far as I can tell, they all are continuations of the Derek Smailes series. The second and third are available at a reasonable price (used, online), but finding the fourth one is more difficult.  I would like to know more about the author, Tony Cape, but was unsuccessful in my research.

More information related to the book:
Online article about the Cambridge spies at BBC News
At Felony & Mayhem
A review by B. Morrison


Peggy Ann said...

Very interesting, Tracy! Seems the author himself is a mystery! I'm off to see if my library has any of his books. Probably not though. They never have much of what I want to read:(

Anonymous said...

Tracy - Thanks for reminding me of this. I'd heard about this one before, and have always wondered about that possible "fifth person." I'll have to try it. This is a really interesting choice for this letter!!

Bill Selnes said...

Tracy: It sounds excellent. The last combined mystery / spy novel I read was Secret Lovers by Charles McCarry. This book sounds better.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fascinating - I've not actually heard of this author, so thanks for this. In my mind I always thought that John Cairncross was now established as the 'fifth man', but I don't know if that would have been a commonly held view in the 80s ... perhaps not.

TracyK said...

The BBC article says that Cairncross was revealed in 1990. Wikipedia says it is commonly believed there was a 6th man, and I have read The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming, which was good but I did not like as well as this one. I really don't know a lot about the story of the Cambridge spies, I just like espionage fiction. And mysteries set in the UK. Going back to Ambler soon, although those won't be set in the UK.

TracyK said...

I loved all the McCarry books. That is a series I wish I had not read yet, guess I will read it again sometime in the future.