Almost exactly as I wrote it in Second Star. Minus the toroids.
And of course, some buy links for you:
The Star Svensdotter Series
A man named Peanut escapes from prison in western China, where he has been incarcerated since 1989, and makes his way to present-day Beijing. There, he gets in touch with British journalist Philip Mangan, whom he mistakes for the heir to his previous contact. Mangan, who isn’t a spy, yet, is perfectly appalled, at first. When he passes the Peanut info on to someone he knows at the British Embassy, the scene shifts to London and SIS, where case officer Trish Patterson runs it up the food chain and discovers that Peanut may in fact be a Chinese asset who mysteriously disappeared over twenty years before and who is now the potential producer of vital information on current Chinese MIRV ballistic missile capability. In spite of himself Mangan, succumbing to the temptation to become part of the story instead of just reporting it, slips and slides into the shadow world of international espionage. It proves just as dangerous and as deadly to those around him, lovers, friends and strangers alike, as he at first suspected it would be.
Brookes stands on the shoulders of giants here. When Patterson goes to talk to Sonia, the Night Heron’s old retired recruiter/handler, the scene is positively redolent of Smiley going to talk to Connie in Smiley’s People
“We work our whole lives, don’t we, looking for that shard of information, that secret, which has–what did we call it?–predictive value. A signpost. A precursor to understanding. And sometimes it’s staring us in the face. And because it’s not secret we ignore it…
She was tiring now, Patterson could see. “How did it end, Sonia?”
“I hardly know. We saw less and less of Peanut. The others seemed to lose interest…They all declared themselves for democracy. Poor loves…”
Either Adam Brookes has read a lot of John le Carre or British spies really do talk like this. Maybe both.
This is an old-fashioned spy novel going full gallop from Xinjiang to Beijing to Hong Kong to Seoul to London and back again. Knives are pulled, shots are fired, people die and governments sell out to their corporate masters, confirming all your worst suspicions about what’s really going on behind today’s headlines. A fun read, and I’d bet the first in series. Recommended.
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In England in 1953 Grace Fox is hung for poisoning her husband. In 2010 Hollywood composer Chris Lowndes returns to his Yorkshire birthplace and buys a house in Swaledale which once belonged to Grace, and becomes obsessed with finding out if Grace was guilty or innocent of the crime.
Before the Poison reads like a Golden Age classic crime novel, an unhurried, deliberate unraveling of a mystery paralleled by a long, slow reveal of the narrator’s own motivation, told with a ratcheting up of tension that I found excruciatingly delicious. It is so well plotted, and the two narratives dovetail at the end so naturally, without a hint of contrivance. The scenes of Grace in World War II are devastatingly real. I wrote to Peter Robinson when I finished the book and he wrote back
I was talking about the book at Oxford yesterday, as part of the annual St Hild’s Crime Weekend. Their theme was “Crimes of the Past: War and Other Evils” this year, and I was Guest of Honour, so I talked mostly about In a Dry Season and Before the Poison. One of the things I mentioned was how my fictionalised account of Grace’s journal made its way to a woman of 99 in New Zealand who actually went through that experience on the life-raft and is still alive today! And approved of my version!
I always say that everything is personal and Robinson makes that manifest here. Chris’ determination to discover the truth about Grace is so personal, and it rings so heartbreakingly true. Like Reginald Hill, Robinson writes about the Yorkshire landscape as if it is one of the characters, alive and beautiful and sometimes ferocious in the extreme. And I have to give a shout out to the wonderful title–Before the Poison. Perfect, however you parse it. You’ll know why when you read the book. Highly recommended.