Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Chinese Visitor by James Eastwood

Today we take a look at another one of the Anna Zordan spy novels by James Eastwood. Seduce and Destroy was previously reviewed. This was the one which stimulated my interest in the whole Anna Zordan trilogy. The Chinese Visitor is the novel which introduces Anna and her British secret service boss Sarratt. It has the same subtle humor of Seduce. There are a few plot devices which seemed outlandish, but for the most part the book is excellent.
In the first chapter a Chinese trade ambassador is assassinated while visiting the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery. Since this takes place around 1965 (the year the book was published), the cold war is in full swing. A mysterious woman is arrested in the scuffle after the killing, who turns out to be Anna Zordan. But she has nothing to do with the murder. She just happened to like visiting cemeteries.
Anna spends a few days in jail rather than pay a fine. She returns to her apartment to find it occupied by a mysterious stranger who wants information. It soon becomes apparent that the stranger is the killer who slaughtered both of her parents years earlier. There's a fight between her and the stranger where she over-powers the killer before putting two slugs in him (one for each parent). She calls the only person she trusts- Mr. Sarratt, who took care of her after the death of her mother and father.
The dead killer turns out to be a ruthless assassin named Hagmann. Sarratt links him to several other mysterious deaths. Soon she learns her father was working as a double agent for both the British and a sinister group known only as the Organization. Sarratt further uncovers information that the Organization is a front for a radical faction in the Chinese government intent on igniting nuclear Armageddon between the USSR and the USA. With time running out, he decides to recruit Anna into his secret service.
Although Eastwood isn't big on local culture in these books, the characters really stand-out. The prime minister whom Sarratt is beholden is obviously from the Labor Party and keeps a mistress on the side. There's an American general who's marked for death on the discovered hit list, but just can't avoid missing a dinner in his honor. And there's the leader of the Organization: Edwin Steiner, a portly American who appears to be running a charitable foundation.
Best of all is the Chinese official who runs his operation out of an outpost in Albania. Known only as "the god" throughout the book, he never appears to Steiner or the Organization. All his orders are carried out from behind a screen next to a huge Buddha statue. When he does make an appearance it's almost anticlimactic.
I've got the next book in the series on the way. Too bad there's only three.

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