Wednesday, 20 May 2015

"The Whitehall Mandarin" by Edward Wilson.

Thanks to Arcadia Books for sending us a copy of this title, for review purposes...

Review by Declan Madden.

William Catesby , SIS agent ,operates in a world where no one or nothing is as it seems to be.  Tasked with discovering the source of leaked classified files concerning nuclear weaponry, he finds himself questioning who exactly he should be investigating.
Lady Penelope Somers is the first female to head up the Ministry of Defence.  Wealthy and powerful but also with something to hide, it falls to Catesby to find the secret and bury it.
The Whitehall Mandarin is set in the Cold War era spanning over a decade from the mid fifties to the late sixties and is a real classic spy story.  The action moves from London to Moscow and eventually the conflict in Vietnam with various stops along the way. The main character, William Catesby,  works in a world of double-cross and counter-bluff where every person is suspected of spying, either for the Soviet KGB or the new rising power that is China.  China’s rapid ascent to world super power poses serious questions to both the British secret services and the KGB as to how it acquired the ability to manufacture its own nuclear weaponry so quickly.  A trip to Moscow for Catesby ends up leading to a search across South East Asia during the Vietnam war for the daughter of Lady Somers and the secret she has hidden for years.

Edward Wilson has written a cracker of a story here.  He has set the story in the height of the Cold Ward crisis and used real time events as background to the events occurring in the novel.  From the Bay of Pigs crisis through to the Profumo Scandal, Philby, Burgess and Maclean and the Vietnam War there is a definite sense of reality through the pages.  The action takes place over a number of years and builds up to a dramatic ending with the writing well-paced.  The character of Catesby is well developed and we see an outsider looking in at the peculiarities of the upper-class English who dominate officialdom and how their hedonism allows for them to be recruited by foreign espionage agents.  It’s a clever story with plenty of twists and fans of classic spy novels by Le Carre will certainly enjoy this work.

The Whitehall Mandarin is published by Arcadia Books and is now available in paperback and ebook format.

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