Friday, June 22, 2012

Ministers of Fire

Ministers of Fire Mark Harril Saunders

Afghanistan went sour in 1979. Burling saw the ambassador get assassinated and then hatched his plan to bring in the Chinese to arm the Mujahedin. But he had to take April, his operative's wife, and on that meeting on the runway near the Russian border, she was taken. The aftermath saw his career ended and his family life shattered.

Summer, 2002. A Chinese dissident has escaped house arrest and is being smuggled to the US by a group of underground Christians and intellectuals. April's husband, Lindstrom, is brought out of a sober retirement to get him out. The head of State Security, General Zu, was on the runway when April was taken. He's on the dissident's trail. Burling, who is now the consul in Shanghai is only vaguely aware of what's going on, even though Lindstrom thinks he orchestrated the entire thing. Lindstrom's contact is Charlotte, a cultural attache and Burling's current girlfriend, who reminds everyone of April. Everyone's connected and the past is coming to haunt them, but no one knows who is pulling what strings or why.

There are plenty of car chases and gun battles on the streets of Shanghai, but this is actually a character piece of slow tension. We see into the minds of many characters on all sides and various free agents. All of them are flawed and striving towards their future, or running from their past, or both. There are true believers-- in communism, in God, in doing what is right, and jaded cynics. There are secrets and lies and people who can't make sense of the post-9/11 landscape. They doubt each other, they doubt themselves, as they try to understand the situation and who's in charge.

I loved the character development and exploration. I especially enjoyed the look at the toll the life these characters lead take on their families. Burling's kids don't talk to him, resentful of the constant moving around the world, of the way their parents' marriage dissolved. I'm guessing that many of these issues are taken from Saunders's own life, as he grew up the son of a diplomat.

I loved the look into the lives and minds of the Chinese Security police, how they still grappled with the legacy of Tiananmen.

It's more of a LeCarre slow burn than a Fleming action romp, and it keeps you madly guessing and turning pages until the end.

AND! IF YOU LIVE IN DC! Saunders is doing a free event at the Spy Museum on Friday, June 29 at noon.

Book Provided by... the Spy Museum for review consideration and event promotion.

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