A contemporary Washington mystery with a high tech, China twist . . . A brilliantly-conceived spy novel introducing seven engaging characters whose lives are transformed by crisis.
It begins as a drinking club in an academic backwater on the Stanford University campus of the late 1970s. A post-Nixon/post-Mao generation of China scholars plots to make a better world. Suddenly, the U.S. recognizes the People’s Republic of China. Intense demand arises for the unique skills The Mandarin Club members possess.
Now, yesterday’s dreamers are today’s policy-makers and pundits, patriots and spies. Their intimately intertwined past thrusts them together into an international crisis straight from tomorrow’s headlines, as America, China, and Taiwan stumble toward war.
Here are vivid portraits of characters trying to honor fundamental values in busy lives, even as a violent world intrudes. Rachel Paulson, the one-time Rocky Mountain ranch girl, has become a top Washington lobbyist. Alexander Bonner, the sage reporter, now tracks ominous intelligence leaks. Branko Rosza, the cleverest of the originals, heads China analysis at the CIA, manipulating the pieces of their puzzle. Mickey Dooley, their one-time ringleader, now peddles satellite technology to Communists with the cool aplomb of a mortuary salesman. Evanescent Barry Lavin, father and friend, floats in and out of their lives with alarming ease, obscuring his private mysteries. Martin Booth, the earnest minister’s son, works the Congress, haunted by the contradictions of power. Watching them all is their once-adopted Beijing exchange student, Lee Tai Ling, the stubborn Chinese nationalist, who remains torn between ideology and individualism.
Told sequentially from the perspective of each of the Stanford originals, the fast-paced tale takes us behind the scenes of rogue intelligence operations and high tech smuggling, from Washington and Beijing to the wild coastal towns of California.
From its opening, when global events shatter their suburban idyll, to its close, when flawed old friends awkwardly seek to reconcile, the story builds swiftly, blending fact with fiction that rings eerily true. Provocatively detailed through the knowing voice of a prominent Washington expert, this is highly literate fiction. It fuses Big Chill themes with Le Carré rhythms in a post-Cold War story of espionage spiced with intelligence nuggets only an inside player can possess.
The Mandarin Club is a cerebral thriller. Its complex international plot is peopled by characters eminently capable of transformation. They reflect on topics as diverse as the true nature of patriotism to the transcendent meaning of good sex. Through their eyes, we witness a series of intriguing exchanges: reporter and source, donor and politician, spy-master and recruit. Through their ears, we eavesdrop on debates from China’s War Room to the hideaway offices of Congress. Through their hearts, we share in their determined struggle to find purpose, companionship, and renewal in imperfect lives.