An unnamed spy is dispatched to Shanghai to aid a shadowy U.S. agency known only as HQ. There he meets a mysterious woman named Mei and begins a torrid affair that threatens to expose him to Chinese intelligence, the notorious Guoanbu. As danger waits for him around every corner, and the enigmatic Mei moves into and out of his life, he finds himself drawn further into a deadly cat-and-mouse game between Guoanbu and HQ that threatens not only to end his life but to also dangerously destabilize East/West relations.
All the top-shelf spy fiction seems to be written by former intelligence officers. I'm not sure if there is some retirement program (some post-retirement class or retreat) that involves teaching former CIA agents how to write spy-genre fiction. McCarry's most recent novel is a good blend of the counter-intelligence spy novel (one mastered by le Carré and Littell) and the mentor/acolyte subset of spy fiction. All in all, 'The Shanghai Factor' was a compelling, basically well-written novel.
I have noticed, however, a lot of recent spy fiction has an almost hyper-fixation on writing about sex, but it is never their novel's best parts. They can write smoothly about counter-intelligence, foreign cultures, and almost everything that is obliquely related to spy-craft, but once they start writing about sex, the prose starts sliding around like a vertigo sufferer on a a lake of frozen KY (if you doubt me go read/listen to Matthews' Red Sparrow).
It wasn't a classic or GREAT novel, but not every spy novelist can grow up to be Graham Greene or John le Carré.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful
A clever spy story set against the backdrop of the interface between Chinese and American cultures, which is often depicted (accurately in my experience) with wry humor. This is not an action-packed thriller, but rather a cerebral tale in which the author continually tantalizes with clues and possibilities regarding both the plot and the characters. Having been to China a few times as a tourist, I can vouch for the author's descriptions of the sensations of being a tall white guy trying to make his way through the crowds.
While the narrator ably handles the voices of the various characters, he butchers many of the Mandarin phrases and names, e.g., "Qi" being pronounced "key" instead of the correct "chee". I wish he had done a little homework before making this recording. I don't think such egregious mispronunciation of a European language would be acceptable in a narration of this purported quality.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful