Called "one of the best and most compulsively readable spy-fiction debuts in years", one-time China correspondent for the BBC, Adam Brookes' debut Night Heron * * relocates the traditional Cold War thriller to modern China.
The novel opens with an edge-of-your-seat escape from a remote high-security Chinese labor camp. Prisoner 5995 was once a promising engineer, imprisoned for impulsively attacking a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protests. Back in Beijing, he (code name Peanut) is desperate to renew the deal with UK intelligence in passing along technology secrets, and mistakes British journalist Philip Mangan for an undercover operative who reluctantly, is drafted into the world of espionage. Navigating not only between their two governments, but also round the opaque American intelligence agenda, Mangan and Peanut find themselves running for their lives.
"Fans of the international espionage genre will inhale this fast tale in a few suspenseful breaths. Brookes uses multiple narrators - the spy, the engineer, the journalist, the agent, the boss, whose conflicting alliances tell the real story."
The Madness of July by James Naughtie is an "explosive, brilliantly written spy novel".
Set over the course of 6 sweltering days in 1976, an American spy is found dead, stuffed into a cupboard in the House of Commons. In his pocket is Will Flemyng's phone number. A former MI6 operative who is now a rising star in the Foreign Office, and tapped for the U.S. ambassadorship, Will is forced to return to his old craft in order to safeguard some of the most sensitive secrets of his government. In the meantime, Will and his 2 brothers with hearts set on vacation in the Scottish Highlands, are confronted with interlocking mysteries that involves family secrets and a cold crime case. Clever readers will sense early on that these threads are part of a single web.
"Unlike thrillers that focus on spycraft, this debut novel from a British political affairs journalist (The Washington Post and The Guardian) digs into the psychology of secrets hidden in the crevices between diplomacy and espionage."
"For mood and atmosphere, Alan Furst's novels come to mind and for tension and pace, think of the British TV series MI-5."
* * = 2 starred reviews