Having survived a disastrous turn of events in China in Brookes' sensational debut, Night Heron (2014), British journalist-cum-spy Philip Mangan is dragged back into perilous waters by a mysterious Chinese official who wants to trade state secrets.
His cover blown, Mangan has been keeping a low profile in Ethiopia. But following a terrorist bombing in Addis Ababa, he is enticed into meeting with "Rocky," as the official calls himself. Part of a rogue military group bent on overthrowing political and corporate leaders in China, he not only has information on the terrorist attack, but also defense secrets to share with the British. Returning as Mangan's determined handler, tall and striking Trish Patterson gives him the go-ahead to meet with Rocky, who may also know something about the murder of a key contact of hers in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, a boy from a storied but shady Communist family who's attending Oxford is worried for his safety. As the plotlines converge, Mangan gets in further and further over his head. As much as he may have learned about deception, betrayal, and even killing, he is no supersleuth. In the tradition of the great spy novelists, Brookes refuses to indulge in heroics: when Mangan is seized by the bad guys and has his life threatened—knowing he's regarded by MI6 as a "cutout," or on his own—he is properly petrified. "Get used to it, Philip," Trish tells him at one point. "Our stories don't end. They just sort of hang there, unresolved." As powerfully as this story is, in fact, resolved, readers will be left hanging on, keenly anticipating the next installment in the series.
Brookes' second novel is a multipronged spy thriller that fires on all cylinders. A smarter or more exciting mystery likely won't be released this year.