The Chinese are gearing up for a takeover of Taiwan, offering a scary vision of the future with the monstrous destruction of a Taiwanese naval base.
It's up to CIA agent Kyra Stryker to retrieve a veteran undercover "asset" in Beijing who is now targeted by the Chinese and for U.S. Navy forces to stop China's secret military weapon before it stops them. For his first novel, former CIA analyst Henshaw draws upon his stint with the agency's Red Cell unit, formed by CIA director George Tenet two days after 9/11 as a source of alternative, unconventional intelligence. That's where Stryker lands after her first mission (in Venezuela) goes bad due to no fault of her own. Teamed with straight-shooting analyst Jonathan Burke under agreeable CIA director Kathryn Cooke, Stryker detects patterns of unrest involving Chinese spies in Taiwan and plans for re-unifying it with the mainland. What U.S. President Harry Stuart doesn't know in his hard-nosed exchanges with Chinese President Tian Kai is that the People's Liberation Army is in possession of Assassin's Mace, a weapon with frightening capabilities. Cutting back and forth among countries and locales, the novel turns up the tension, taking time to provide first-rate descriptions of scenery and technology. Stryker, a role in waiting for Keira Knightley, proves as good an action hero as intelligence gatherer. She takes a bullet to the arm and an elbow to the chops and keeps running. Pioneer is a classic burnout who has been under stress for so long he doesn't know who he's angry at anymore. The novel doesn't have the dimensions that distinguish the best spy thrillers—it has the feel of the pilot for an ongoing series. But it's a lean and efficient effort fueled by an infrequent quality: believability.
In this deft novel of intelligence, the CIA actually shines.