Exotic locations are de rigueur for the period spy novel genre, but none are more suited for a bit of cold war paranoia and plenty of double-crossing than Hong Kong in the mid 1960s.
That is the setting for half of Tim Glister’s third Richard Knox spy novel. I haven’t read the first two – yet – but hardly noticed the need of any backstory for the main character, who is starting afresh back in the service fully after a year off recovering from an injury.
During that year though, Knox hasn’t been just recuperating, he’s been babysitting a colleague, Williams, who had been caught by enemy powers and subjected to mind-control which forced him to become a double-agent. Williams has been holed up in his crumbling old manor house in Hertfordshire since being discovered, cured as much as he can be, and having told everything he knows about ‘Line Z’ the shadowy organisation that did this to him. Williams believes he is ready to be put back into action, MI5 is not quite so sure, but when Knox is needed for another task, Williams is deemed safe enough now to be left on his own.
Knox’s boss at MI5, Holland, has recalled him to help find out who is disappearing top scientists. Several have gone missing or gone rogue recently, not just in the UK, it’s happened to the Soviets too. Knox is to fly to Hong Kong and do some discrete digging there as one year after Mao’s Cultural Revolution, China is the suspect, or an Asian equivalent to Line Z. So as not to step on the Head of Station’s toes, Knox’s cover will be to recover the daughter of a British Lord who has landed herself in police hands for joining in with anti-British protests. Atwood, the HK HoS is seen as ineffectual, and too visible and predictable.
Meanwhile, a cargo ship is carrying two mysterious crates, and a young hand who questioned the manifest has disappeared. He got off at Piraeus is the official story, we know otherwise – but not what is in the crates or where they are destined for at this stage.
The plot thickens further when Knox meets up with HK police officer, Captain Madeleiene Zhou to go and retrieve Lady Penelope Reeve. When they arrive she is near catatonic in her cell, whispering ‘Blue Peacock’ under her breath. When they try to rouse her she screams, whereupon a doctor immediately injects her with a sedative. She’s out for at least eight hours. They’ll have to return for her tomorrow. Knox is intrigued by what she was muttering. ‘Blue Peacock’. Probably the latest drug thinks Zhou. The next day they discover Lady Reeve had been moved to another prison during the night, and died! Knox decides he must find out more about ‘Blue Peacock’, it’ll give him a few more days to further his other enquiries too. He will meet up with old acquaintance, and CIA officer Ashley Bennett, discovering that the USA has been suffering the same problems too.
Meanwhile, we now alternate between the UK chez Williams, and in MI5’s offices where they are discovering bugs, and then a third strand is introduced when we meet Irina Valera, a former Russian scientist who has been living quietly, secretly in a remote cabin in Utah. She returns one day to find the cabin ablaze, and realises she must run. Help comes from a new direction, when Irina is persuaded to go with a mysterious woman, Anna, who promises to take her to a safe house – can you work out where? Who is Anna?
I can’t explain more about what ‘Blue Peacock’ is, or what happens next, save to say that everything speeds up from this point onwards as we hurtle towards a climax which puts them all (i.e. in HK and the UK) in extreme danger again, and there is plenty more double-crossing to come.
Glister has obviously done his homework, as I can attest from various bits I looked up after reading the book, with Hong Kong in the middle of those who would set China against Britain. I would be particularly intrigued, however, to discover if MI5 actually had a glass box in a room to have confidential conversations in – this one is sealed and the participants use a 20-minute egg-timer to tell them when the air will begin to run out!
The characters are great. Glister is obviously well used to Knox in his third outing and on first reading he still has enough personal mystique as a spy in terms of his personal life, but you feel confident that his abilities will carry him through. Williams, as a broken man being rebuilt, particularly intrigued me and I’m rather hoping that the story of his experience about being under LIne Z control might be in the second novel in this series? (I’ve ordered both earlier ones now, and see that scientist Irina crops up in the first one too, as does the CIA agent, Ashley).
Richard Knox is a great addition to the pantheon of British spies, and Tim Glister obviously delights in the Cold War settings he is pitched into. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this well-researched and increasingly pacey novel. Here’s to more Richard Knox!
Source: Review copy – thank you. A Point Blank paperback original, May 2023, 304 pages.
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4 thoughts on “A Game of Deceit by Tim Glister – Blog tour”
Thanks for the blog tour support x
But what if they got overexcited and started breathing too quickly or shouted or something in the glass box and the oxygen runs out faster? Fascinating! I do hope that is true.
I went searching for it, but couldn’t find it – it may be the stuff of fiction – clever though, although you need to have to have the room empty too to prevent lip-reading. I would hope they build in a safety amount to the timing! 😀
Having left Hong Kong in 1958 after a decade mostly spent living in the then colony it would be particularly interesting to read this, not least because I’m partial to the occasional Cold War espionage novel. A title and an author to make a note of, for sure!