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Solid factual digressions and crisply authentic backgrounds beef up this intriguing but thin early-'70s China thriller--which revolves around the mysterious 1972 disappearance (supposedly in a plane crash) of high official Lin Piao, alleged planner of an anti-Mao, pro-Soviet coup. It's now 1972 in Peking and brawling British journalist Alan Brock is lured into a strange conspiracy: Lin Piao, it seems, is really alive (Brock catches a glimpse of him); there's a plan to rally pro-Soviet, anti-war forces around the resurrected Lin; but Brock's help is needed in smuggling Lin out of the country (to Ulan Bator)--and the help of Australian doctor Joanna Robinson is needed in treating Lin's severe case of Parkinson's Disease. Rather implausibly, then, Alan and Joanna are talked into aiding this supremely dangerous conspiracy; along the way, they fail tartly in love--though Alan's a macho type and Joanna's a feisty feminist. But after a few quite extraneous sidetrips (Alan goes to Moscow and Shanghai, is interrogated and roughed up), it becomes clear that Alan and Joanna have been duped: the whole Lin Piao scheme is a phony one, tricked up in order to embarrass the West, enhance the Peking radicals, and fend off the looming Chinese/American dÉtente. So Alan is taken prisoner and pressured (unsuccessfully) into confessing--until an escape is arranged, along with explanation of a few of the loose ends. (Why Parkinson's Disease? Why have attacks on Confucius been so crucial in the governmental propaganda campaign against Lin Piao?) Jones, herself a longtime Asia journalist, does a neat job with some complicated China politics here, incorporating actual documents and news reports into the narrative. And her descriptions of Peking, Shanghai, and Mongolian locales (even when less than germane to the plot) are detailed with reportorial firmness. But the suspense is minimal, with no real surprises--and the overall appeal is more to China-history buffs and vicarious tourists than to mainstream thriller readers.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's