The Shanghai Factor

As espionage writers go, Charles McCarry (Old Boys, Second Sight) is right up there with the best, and The Shanghai Factor does not disappoint. It keeps the reader wondering: Would the solution have been more apparent if she had been more attentive? McCarry doesn't cheat, though; all the clues are there.

A young American spy is sent to live in Shanghai to work on his Mandarin, absorb the culture and learn to "fit in." He is in the employ of "HQ," a murky U.S. intelligence agency. In a meet-cute bicycle accident, the sexy, mysterious Mei enters his life. That's probably not her real name, and where she goes when she isn't with "Dude," as she calls him, is a mystery--though she's probably related to someone high up in the deadly Guoanbu, the Chinese equivalent of the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security rolled into one.

The enigmatic head of HQ, Luther Burbank (yes, that's really his name), finally gives the rookie spy an assignment, and it's a dandy: go undercover in a massive Chinese conglomerate and learn the secrets of their powerful CEO, Chen Qi, whom HQ believes to be a front man for Guoanbu. The danse macabre among Chinese thugs, Chen Qi, Dude, Mei and various players for both sides is fascinating and puzzling. Many flights between Washington and China, coded meetings, midnight rambles and cat-and-mouse games finally bring understanding to what is really going on, what is at stake and just how fungible the players are. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

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