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.