Series: Philip Mangan 1
My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, China, MI6
First published: 2014
From the cover:
A lone man escapes a labour camp in the dead of night, fleeing across the winter desert of north-west China.
Two decades earlier, he was a spy for the British. Now he finds Beijing transformed and crawling with danger – the fugitive must quickly disappear on its surveillance blanketed streets or face death.
Desperate and ruthless, he reaches out to his one-time MI6 paymasters via journalist Philip Mangan, offering secrets in return for his life. Mangan is dragged deeper and deeper into a whirlpool of lies, as the secrets prove more valuable than either of them could ever have known…and not only to the British.
This could and should have been a lot better. It’s pretty much OK, as it is, but not really the ‘thriller packed with tension’ of the quote on the cover. If he had stretched out the parts that were showing good signs of being ‘packed with tension’ then we might have had the book these people seem to have read.
The Night Heron of the title, is a Chinese dissident, or rebel – or, as rebellious as one can be in China – who begins the book having served ten years in prison in The Back Of Beyond, and deciding that’s enough, I need to get out. I didn’t see that there was a need he felt had to be met at that particular time, just that he had to get out for his own sake. He turns out to have been previously an informant for the British. Part of a network, and his code name, which he goves to our man Mangham as proof he is who he says he is, was Night Heron. From there on, no mention of Night Heron, the codename. From then on, it is difficult actually to reckon with who is the star of the show. As Mangham is a stumbling, bunny caught in the headlights amateur and Night Heron flits in and out until he finally manages to persuade Mangham to persuade ‘London‘ to get him out. The flight across China to their previously arranged and possibly compromised rendezvous point again could have been stretched out a lot more, to create the tension. The ‘feeling’ that the previous leader of the British informants’ ring, ‘Granny Poom’ gets that the watchers are being watched, isn’t well enough developed, though it can perhaps be explained by the end chapter. Though that is left for the reader – me – to guess at, it could have done with being looked at some more.
It is superior to what a lot of American writers would have done with the subject matter – though as the Yanks are the implicit villains of the piece, in several ways, it’s not surprising. That angle in itself is flashy trashy enough to attract American thriller writers, but even as a more objective British writer, he misses the opportunity to bite harder.
I felt like it was a missed opportunity, though really not by all that much.