Against all odds, Prisoner 5995—a former professor wrongly convicted of murder—escapes a high security Chinese facility after 20 torturous years. Having concocted a plan to flee China and establish a new identity, he finds an unlikely ally in Mangan, a veteran British journalist based in Beijing.
In his former life, the escapee was employed by British intelligence under the code name Peanut. After he finds a place to lay low and recover from the physical abuse he suffered at the prison camp, he tracks down a one-time fellow academic and spy who is now a well-off military researcher; he forces his old colleague to make copies of secret documents by threatening to expose his past—and by beating him to a pulp. When he hears about Mangan, a famous British reporter who lives in the area, Peanut passes the documents to him and asks that Mangan give them to his contacts in the British Embassy. Though he thrives on danger, the last thing Mangan wants is hot papers in his possession; he's already under close scrutiny by state security for a story he wrote on a cult after sneaking into the blockaded town it was occupying. After Mangan is talked into working for British intelligence, all manner of reversals, betrayals, arrests and killings have him and Peanut running for their lives. Brookes, a one-time China correspondent for the BBC, knows this turf exceedingly well and translates that knowledge into a novel that is as strikingly different as it is thrilling. In hinting at China's capabilities as a cyberenemy, the author may be giving us a clue about the subject of his next novel. One can't wait to read it.
One of the best and most compulsively readable spy-fiction debuts in years.