review by Maryom
William Catesby is on the trail of a spy again - this time someone highly placed in Whitehall. His superiors learn, through a mole inside the KGB, that a Soviet spy ring is no longer sending information back to Russia but on to its communist rival China, and that someone high in the British government hierarchy is providing that information. Catesby has a hunch about the informant but where can he find the evidence to back it? Why would a high ranking civil servant 'turn' and spy for another country - ideology, dark hidden secrets worth a spot of blackmail or just for the money?
It's not an easy task and a story that starts in the late 1950s burns on a slow fuse through the sex scandals of London in the swinging sixties to its end in war-torn Vietnam.
The Whitehall Mandarin is another excellent convoluted maze of an espionage thriller from Edward Wilson. With his trademark of wrapping of a story around historical facts, the story is littered with references to real events and people, such as the Profumo scandal, Kennedy assassination and double-agent Oleg Penkovsky, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. Don't think this is a dry recitation of facts though - it's a gripping story full of subterfuge, lies and double, and triple, crossings; so much so that at times I felt I should have been keeping notes to remind me who I thought was on which 'side', who was lying to whom, and which people knew they were being lied to and using that for their advantage!
The setting moves from the bleak Suffolk marshes, via the offices of Whitehall and decadent society parties to the jungles of Vietnam, but it isn't really an action-packed story of high speed chases and gunfights, more on the lines of Le Carré's Smiley stories.
It seems a little odd to tag this as historical fiction - after all I can vaguely remember some of the events - but it's surprising how long ago some of these events took place.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Arcadia Books
Genre - Adult Spy Thriller, Historical Fiction
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