THE WHITEHALL MANDARIN

Written by Edward Wilson

Review written by Maureen Carlyle


THE WHITEHALL MANDARIN
Arcadia Books
RRP: £12.99
Released: May 15, 2014
Hbk

This is a good old-fashioned spy story in the manner of John le Carre, equally well-written, with superbly-drawn characters.  The action ranges from 1957 to 1969, although the story actually begins in Malaya in 1948.

The main protagonist is Catesby, an agent of MI6, and the action passes through all the spy scandals of the sixties – a time when the upper-class elite ruled the western world, and in many cases, although not all, were beyond the law.

In 1957 Catesby is trailing Cauldwell, a CIA man who he knows has been turned by the Soviets and whom Catesby is capturing on film meeting a contact on a park bench.  Catesby actually rather likes Cauldwell. and doesn't bear him any malice for defecting.

The action passes through the swinging sixties, taking place in London, Aldeburgh where various members of the artistic circle around Benjamin Britten are involved,  and the Burgess and Maclean affair.  MI6 know about the involvement of Anthony Blunt, but can't touch him because of his connections with royalty.

The person Catesby's chief really wants him to investigate is Lady Somers, the first woman boss at the Ministry of Defence.  Apparently serenely impeccable, she has a daughter, Miranda, who is into drugs in a big way and is also an avowed Maoist.  China has recently become a nuclear power, achieving this in a remarkably short time.  The question is, how has this happened?

Catesby is sent on two very dangerous missions, first to Moscow, and then to Vietnam in the middle of the war.  He survives – just, and in the end astonishing answers are provided, involving personal tragedy.

High calibre writing throughout, and an array of extraordinary characters.  Not to be missed.

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