When the BBC’s former China correspondent Adam Brookes made his fiction debut with sizzling spy thriller Night Heron last year, it rightly won him favourable comparisons to the great John le Carré.
Brookes was a foreign correspondent for decades, reporting from dangerous countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Mongolia, and is no stranger to the world of government secrets.
But it was during his years in China that Brookes received repeated visits from an anonymous man offering to sell him military secrets to pass to British Intelligence services, most probably a ploy to entrap him.
He never took the ‘dangle’ but he was inspired to write his electrifying Philip Mangan spy thriller trilogy which opens a window on to the dangerous paranoia that still bedevils contemporary China and explores the murky depths of espionage double dealing.
In the second book of this powerful and impressive series, which can just as easily be read as a standalone story, Brookes delivers the same exhilarating blend of white-knuckle tension, breathtaking authenticity and perfectly crafted, complex plotting.
At the heart of the action is British journalist Philip Mangan, an experienced newspaper foreign correspondent who turns out to be a ‘natural’ spy when he is dragged – often unwillingly and not without some trepidation – into some of the darkest corners of international politics and espionage.
Fearing for his life, Mangan has gone into hiding from the Chinese agents who have identified him as a British spy and left his reputation and life in tatters. He is currently lying low in Ethiopia and working on a story about the pernicious Chinese influence on African infrastructure and politics.
But when he narrowly escapes death in a terrorist attack in Addis Ababa and a shadowy Chinese figure approaches him in the dead of night with information on the origins of the atrocity, Mangan is suddenly back in the eye of the storm.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away on a humid Hong Kong night, a key MI6 source is murdered just minutes after meeting high-ranking British spy Trish Patterson, a formidable operator and a key figure in Mangan’s earlier espionage heroics.
And in the hallowed halls of Oxford University, two young star-crossed Chinese students are embarking on a relationship that will stir up a sleeping snake, a sinister force that is more than willing to use Mangan and Patterson as its pawns… if they survive.
Spy Games sees the new master of espionage move up a gear as we are whisked from surveillance-saturated Hong Kong and the dusty, dangerous streets of Addis Ababa to the dreaming spires of Oxford and Washington DC, the seat of American power.
Harnessing his in-depth knowledge of modern China and the twilight world of the intelligence services, Brookes creates a story brimming with suspense, thrilling action sequences, superpower politics and a frighteningly plausible plot.
Impressively authentic, immaculately researched and written with true quality and style, Spy Games is one of the best spy thrillers you will read this year.
(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)