cover image The Shanghai Factor

The Shanghai Factor

Charles McCarry. Atlantic/Grove/Mysterious, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2127-1

Meticulous, intelligent prose is the real star of this excellent espionage thriller from former CIA operations officer McCarry (Christopher’s Ghosts), who focuses more on the psychological challenges faced by street-level agents and those running the operations than on physical action. One day on a Shanghai road, the unnamed 29-year-old narrator is riding his bicycle when a beautiful young Chinese woman, Mei, runs into him on her bike. Is it an accident? Our hero, “a rookie spook” working as a sleeper for the agency he calls Headquarters, immediately pegs Mei as an agent for the Chinese Ministry of State Security, but that doesn’t stop him from becoming her lover for the next two years. Eventually, his boss, the head of his agency’s counterintelligence division, calls him back to Washington, D.C., and gives him the assignment of building a network of Chinese spies drawn from the privileged class of party leaders’ children. Back in China, the narrator takes a job with a mysterious, imperious industrialist, Chen Qi, until he’s fired and assigned to Headquarters in Washington. While not much happens by the standard of your average spy novel and events get wrapped up quickly at the end, this book is a must-read for genre aficionados and McCarry’s many fans. (June)