HANTU by John Halkin


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Glum Far Eastern intrigue set in the dark days of the Korean War, by the author of Kenya (1986). Hantu ("ghost") is Peter Ross, a Chinese-born British intelligence agent loaded down with traumatic memories; he burned out after killing innumerable Japanese as a commando in WW II, but has now been requested by name (why? he wonders, but we don't) by the newly installed Chinese Communists as the liaison for an unspecified mission. The first half of the book is a series of stalls--Ross spars with his superiors; gets bitten by every mosquito in Singapore (a city Halkin evokes with loving distaste); fends off the professional attentions of the obtuse Alun Browne of Internal Security; makes his rendezvous only to find his contact killed minutes later; and trades salvos with the local police--before the mission is confirmed: to destroy a Russian germ-warfare plant in the mountains of Manchuria before the Soviets can release the plague among the UN peace-keeping force in Korea and saddle the Chinese with the backlash. Despite Ross' invariable truculence (he often seems on better terms with his enemies than with his colleagues) and his conviction of impending doom (if germs work in Korea, Europe will be next, and the President may retaliate with nuclear weapons), there's never any doubt that Ross--disguised as a Soviet officer--will penetrate the plague factory, escape capture, blow up the plant and everyone in it, and return safely, meanwhile bedding the mysterious Fang Mei-lin ("l loved you for a night. . .See you in the next world, my ghost!") and killing his would be double-crossers, including his old war ally Chuan. The author is never able to overcome his audience's knowledge that neither plague germs nor atomic warheads were used in Korea; that knowledge just takes the edge off his suspense. Meanwhile, Ross never stops believing that he's too old, sour, and paranoid for this job, and he's probably right.

ISBN: 945167-11-3
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