The Washington Post has reported recently that a former CIA case officer, suspected of being the mole responsible for the unmasking and deaths of many undercover agents in China, has been arrested. The investigation to find the mole has been going on for a number of years now, crippling our ability to get accurate information about China. A clear reminder that spying is not glamorous but in reality a very a deadly business.
In The Shanghai Factor a nameless spy relates his experiences in China working for a nebulous U. S. agency named HQ. At first he is supposed to immerse himself in the language and culture, but when he meets a woman named Mei and they begin a torrid affair, he suddenly risks exposing himself and HQ. Trying to put a positive spin on this unexpected notoriety, Luther Burbank, the head of HQ, asks the young spy to go undercover at a large Chinese multi national company and try to uncover whether or not its CEO, Chen Qi, is indeed the head of the shadowy and impenetrable Chinese Intelligence Service known as Goanbu.
The spy soon realizes however, that in addition to HQ there are others who are monitoring his movements and the cat and mouse game that he is playing becomes even more complicated and dangerous. While, Mei flits in and out of his life, upsetting his dreams of making their relationship permanent, the spy is drawn further and further into the shadowy and deadly power struggle between HQ and Goanbu, which could upset the balance of power between East and West.
McCarry, like LeCarré, was once a spy himself and his descriptions of what a spy thinks, and feels and their struggles to maintain their cover in the face of intense scrutiny and difficulty feels authentic and true. This book was fascinating and McCarry’s insights into China and the way the Chinese perceive the world and threats to their power were enlightening. The nameless spy was an interesting affectation that was both helpful and a bit unsettling, since it limited your ability to relate to the character fully. However, it also made you aware of the nameless people who serve as our country’s eyes and ears all over the world and who are often betrayed or die in that service who are never known or acknowledged.
Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 Out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Marian, Keith and Sharon
Book Study Worthy? Yes
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