Night Heron by Adam Brookes is a spy novel with China as its focus. It manages to pull off the hat trick of teaching you something new, creating realistic characters and being a thrilling adventure. The story follows the stories of three people caught up in the web of modern espionage.
The first is Peanut, an intellectual arrested during the Tiananmen Square protests turned massacre who then spent the next two decades in a prison camp. He finally escapes and leverages the only thing he has left, his connections to an old friend with knowledge of Chinese rocket systems and his former life as a spy for MI6, to survive.
The second is Philip Mangan, a freelance journalist in Beijing with a nose for the stories the government doesn’t want to get out and the urge to be part of something important. Peanut picks Mangan to be his conduit to MI6 and things proceed to get complicated from there.
Finally, we have Valerie Patterson, a former army soldier turned MI6 officer and Mangan’s handler. She’s new to the job and hasn’t had the typical cynicism of spies knocked into her yet. It’s a running question throughout the novel as to whether that will be a good or a bad thing.
This is an excellent spy novel. Brookes is at ease setting the political table in an entertaining way and weaving it throughout the narrative. He also complicates his heroes lives in realistic ways. Much of the novel is a slow burn he sets up the players and their dilemmas before turning up the heat in the final hundred pages. They flew by and I couldn’t put the book down for the last third. All of his characters are believable people and after getting to know each of them it’s surprisingly fun to see them either working together or at odds with each other.
I visited Beijing a few years back and greatly enjoyed reading about locations I’d previously seen. Brookes’ version of China seemed to jibe with reality. I’ve already picked up his next two novels and look forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve.