In Jones’ (D8 with F8, 2014, etc.) thriller, two CIA agents go up against a Chinese gang leader whose plan involves a gradual takeover of the United States government.
CIA operatives Zasha Davis and Cole Peterson are in China to gather intelligence on the Silent Dragon Triad, which has ties to human smuggling. In Hong Kong, the incognito agents meet Zasha’s former college roommate, jazz singer Jenna Roulette, who introduces them to her Russian friend Vladimir Nikitin, who’ll be traveling to Beijing on business. Nikitin is ex–KGB, and Zasha and Cole believe that he has a deal brewing with the triad. Beijing is the agents’ destination, too, and CIA surveillance quickly uncovers Silent Dragon leader Zhang Ju’s plan to smuggle a large number of Chinese and Mexican immigrants into the United States with falsified citizenship papers so that they may vote for preselected candidates. Zhang could then theoretically control the U.S. Congress—and perhaps the presidency. CIA director Jessie James Carson wants harder evidence of the plot; Zhang is working with a Chinese general and the nation’s premier of State Council, so unfounded accusations could spark an international incident. But Zhang manages to be one step ahead of the agency as his increasingly complicated scheme entails a secret, lethal event. Zasha, Cole, and other agents, along with CIA assets, strive to uncover specifics of the impending strike. Intermittent gunfights ensue as Zhang stays on the move, leaving occasional corpses in his wake. Time’s running short for the agents, who are unaware that the timing of the upcoming attack coincides with a major holiday.
Jones establishes a steady momentum with short scenes that keep the characters busy with a variety of complex tasks. At one point, for example, Zasha and Cole must help an asset who’s in deep with Zhang by ensuring that their daughter will be safe from possible harm. There are plenty of surprises, as well, including unexpected allegiances and betrayals, and several deaths. Although it’s clear that Zasha and Cole are skilled in combat, the author effectively showcases other character traits, as well. There’s subtle romance, for example; the two delight in shared intimacy, even when it’s just part of their cover. The mission later becomes personal for Zasha when it appears that Jenna is in imminent danger. Jones’ spy story steers clear of James Bond–style territory; there’s no sign of grandiose villains or unbelievable gadgets. Indeed, characters creatively employ familiar technological solutions, such as using cellphones to listen in on people’s conversations. That said, there are some strangely worded tech descriptions at times, as when a character sends a message to another’s “text center” or when someone “checked for messages from CIA headquarters, which would have come in under a completely obscure ISP.” However, the already fast pace gets even faster during the final act, which offers more than one twist. Several notable characters, particularly CIA Agent Julie Hu, would be welcome in a sequel—or, if necessary, a prequel.
A stirring and realistic espionage novel.