A man named Peanut escapes from prison in western China, where he has been incarcerated since 1989, and makes his way to present-day Beijing. There, he gets in touch with British journalist Philip Mangan, whom he mistakes for the heir to his previous contact. Mangan, who isn’t a spy, yet, is perfectly appalled, at first. When he passes the Peanut info on to someone he knows at the British Embassy, the scene shifts to London and SIS, where case officer Trish Patterson runs it up the food chain and discovers that Peanut may in fact be a Chinese asset who mysteriously disappeared over twenty years before and who is now the potential producer of vital information on current Chinese MIRV ballistic missile capability. In spite of himself Mangan, succumbing to the temptation to become part of the story instead of just reporting it, slips and slides into the shadow world of international espionage. It proves just as dangerous and as deadly to those around him, lovers, friends and strangers alike, as he at first suspected it would be.
Brookes stands on the shoulders of giants here. When Patterson goes to talk to Sonia, the Night Heron’s old retired recruiter/handler, the scene is positively redolent of Smiley going to talk to Connie in Smiley’s People:
“We work our whole lives, don’t we, looking for that shard of information, that secret, which has–what did we call it?–predictive value. A signpost. A precursor to understanding. And sometimes it’s staring us in the face. And because it’s not secret we ignore it…
She was tiring now, Patterson could see. “How did it end, Sonia?”
“I hardly know. We saw less and less of Peanut. The others seemed to lose interest…They all declared themselves for democracy. Poor loves…”
Either Adam Brookes has read a lot of John le Carre or British spies really do talk like this. Maybe both.
This is an old-fashioned spy novel going full gallop from Xinjiang to Beijing to Hong Kong to Seoul to London and back again. Knives are pulled, shots are fired, people die and governments sell out to their corporate masters, confirming all your worst suspicions about what’s really going on behind today’s headlines. A fun read, and I’d bet the first in series. Recommended.
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