Book review: Night Heron by Adam Brookes

Spy thrillers set in modern day China are a rarity, so who better to plunge us into the murky depths of espionage double dealing than the BBC’s former China correspondent?
Night Heron by Adam BrookesNight Heron by Adam Brookes
Night Heron by Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes was a foreign correspondent for many years, 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.

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He never took the ‘dangle’ but he was inspired to write Night Heron, the first electrifying book in what promises to be a ground-breaking thriller trilogy which grips like a vice as well as opening up a window onto the hostile distrust that still bedevils contemporary China.

Prisoner 5995, also known as Peanut, has been in a ‘labour reform camp’ in western China for 20 years. He is an intellectual, a professor in fact, but he fell foul of the authorities when he was accused of killing a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protest.

Peanut was also in the employ of British Intelligence but now he has escaped and is on the run in the dead of night, fleeing across the winter desert. He takes with him a desire for revenge and secrets he wants to share with the world.

But the Beijing he remembers has gone and is crawling with new kinds of danger. He must quickly disappear or face death. Desperate and ruthless, Peanut reaches out to his one-time MI6 paymasters through high-profile British journalist Philip Mangan and offers secrets in return for his life.

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Against his better judgment, Mangan is dragged into a deeper and deeper whirlpool of lies, as the secrets prove more valuable than he or Peanut could ever have known... and not only to the British.

Brimming with white-knuckle tension, breathtakingly authentic and fascinating in the portrayal of a society torn between its desire to get rich and thrive, and its firmly entrenched, security-obsessed Communist ideology, this is an exciting, slow-burn story with a coruscating finale.

The two stars, Peanut and Mangan, play out their dramas alongside the British and American Intelligence services whose le Carré style antics include every trick in the spycraft manual.

Thriller fans will revel in this absorbing, action-packed adventure which quickly moves from the remote western province of Qinghai to dangerous Beijing where teeming streets are filled with smothering smog, luxury shops and the ever-present state surveillance.

A brilliant debut and a cracking start to an intriguing and original new spy series.

(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)