Two men stand in the shadow of a helicopter at midnight in London. One of them is Quiller, and he recalls his thoughts:
“My hands were growing cold and a lightness was coming into my head, and I had the same thought that we all have when we're going into a mission: That we ought to get out now before it's too late, before the luck runs out and we're cast up in a Gulag labor camp or lashed blindfold to a post in Beirut or spread-eagled against a mountainside with a ripped parachute for a shroud and one last intimate friend plucking strength from us with his bone-white beak. But suddenly, this time, it was too late to get out. And Lord, I was afraid.”
We are with him later, when he stands among the crowds massed in Peking for the funeral of the Chinese Premier:
“The British delegates formed a short line along the side of the catafalque as their leader placed the Queen's wreath carefully against it; then suddenly the sky was filled with flowers, and the bloodied body of the secretary of state was hurled against me by the blast as the coffin exploded.”
With him we meet Spur, the agent who will later be found lifeless in the coils of a boa constrictor in his lonely room above the streets of Seoul; and Li-fei, the girl with the cinnamon eyes and the delicate porcelain neck, in the last few days before a merciless act of ritual ends her life on the temple steps; and Tung Kuo-fong, the omnipotent diabolus who is the target for the mission; and Ferris, the man from London who is here with Quiller to try to save him as he faces his moment of truth:
“For the first time I wondered how far gone I was.
From Ferris to London: ‘They've tried five times to kill him and I don't think he can stand the strain...’
From London to Ferris: ‘There's no point in leaving him out there if he's losing his nerve...’
I sat hunched with my eyes screwed shut, wondering how to face the man beside me when I opened them. Then Ferris asked me quietly:
‘Why don't you go home? Anyone else would.’
I opened my eyes and took a breath and tried to get some steadiness into my voice.
‘This is home.’
‘Where the brink is?’
This is Adam Hall's tenth story of Quiller, the ultra-secret espionage agent, a "mission report" that takes the reader through the nerve-chilling labyrinth to the brink and back as he closes in on The Peking Target.