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The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson

The Whitehall Mandarin

by Edward Wilson

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  fvg | Nov 4, 2015 |
The Whitehall Mandarin – A Classic Spy Novel

The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson is a brilliant old fashioned sprinkled with historical facts, spy story. This is a classic spy story in the mould of John Le Carre rather than Ian Fleming, multi layered rather than flash bang wallop. William Catesby the hero of our story may not be James Bond but he is as efficient as Bond’s Walther PPK.

William Catesby has risen from being a working class boy through Cambridge to becoming a ranking member of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligent Service or for us peasants better known as Mi6. His knowledge and experiences are all Cold War based having worked out of Berlin as a Cultural Attaché. He is brought back to London to help catch an American double agent and long time colleague in Jeffers Caudwell, a man of many contradictions as the story evolves.

Lady Somers is rich and powerful and more importantly she is the first female Permanent under Secretary to head up the Ministry of Defence. Catesby is sent to find out her back story and bury it so deep it will never surface again. What we get is a fantastic tour of London Sex Scandals of the 60s, crossed with the ineptness of the CIA the downfall of Ministers and daft wars. We see the intelligence agency at times acting like kids in the playground not wanting to share their toys even with their friends or simply not trusting each other.

He is sent to Vietnam to find Miranda, Lady Somers daughter to make things harder she is working with Viet Cong rather than on the American’s side. Somehow he has to get from the American side of Vietnam to the other side and the risk of death very high. He has to place his life in the hands of people you wouldn’t ask you to help you across the road.

What we see in this classic spy novel is a wonderfully woven story that uses some of the biggest events in the 1950s and 60s as a backdrop and Catesby has been an influence somewhere during the event. We get a journey in this book that takes in some of the hotspots of Cuba, Moscow and Vietnam back to the ‘sedate’ streets of London.

This is a wonderful novel that ticks all the boxes that has been written so well the descriptions give such evocative imagery. This is a fast paced story that keeps the reader guessing all the way to the end. The plot is brilliant, there is an excellent research to make sure that the historical facts are woven in to the story so you cannot see the joins. This is a well written powerful story that just makes a fantastic spy novel. ( )
  atticusfinch1048 | Jul 23, 2014 |
The Whitehall Mandarin
By Edward Wilson
Arcadia Books
Submitted by the publisher
$29.95, 362 pgs

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

You know how you can tell you’re not reading just any old spy novel? There’s a bibliography included at the end.

The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson is a historical novel of espionage set in London when the Cold War was never colder. The story begins in 1957 in St. James Park where British spy William Catesby, an agent with SIS, is photographing a meet on a park bench between Jeffers Cauldwell, an American cultural attaché suspected of running a spy ring for the USSR, and an employee of the British Admiralty. The difficulty in reviewing spy novels is that almost anything I say will be a spoiler so please bear with me; this may seem a trifle vague.

During the next fifteen years, Catesby makes his way from London to Moscow to the Laotian border searching for spies, protecting secrets, and guarding the United Kingdom from implosion. He has seen the enemy and it is them. You have to appreciate a spy whose preparation for a mission includes reading The Heart of Darkness. As Catesby wraps up spy rings, moles, and triple agents, a strange thing happens. The flow of nuclear secrets to Moscow dries up. Full stop. But Catesby knows the agents are still out there. What happened? Have they seen the error of their ways? Has everyone suddenly come down with a case of patriotism? Or has another player taken the field? While exploring these questions you must consider that communism was never some "monolithic international conspiracy." Keep in mind that subtly and nuances (much to the consternation of George W. Bush) do exist; all communists are not necessarily the same. As Catesby says of the Vietnamese, “They weren’t merely walking a tightrope between Moscow and Peking; they were doing pirouettes on it.”

The characters and details are woven so tightly and creatively into historical events that I dare you to separate fact from fiction. It’s all here – Fidel Castro, Chairman Mao, Klaus Fuchs, Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, the Profumo Affair. Speaking of honey traps, I now know way more about the “sexual circus” fetishes of Britain’s upper-classes than I’d really like to. There’s an entirely plausible conspiracy theory about the assassination of JFK that I’ve never heard before and I live in Texas. Those of us who are elderly enough to remember the Cold War, third-world countries as pawns on the global chessboard, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent relief and hope that all of that was behind us, will appreciate this novel. Younger readers who watched Maidan Square in Kiev on CNN and now hear the hymns to mother Russia issuing from Crimea on Victory Day would do well to read this book. As it turns out, this historical fiction spy novel is actually quite timely. The ultimate secret had my head spinning and by the end of this story I was gasping aloud. What if? The Whitehall Mandarin is a dream for book lovers – a smart, sophisticated spy novel.

The author is a fascinating character in his own right. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Edward Wilson studied International Relations on a US Army scholarship and served as a Special Forces officer in Vietnam. His decorations include the Army Commendation Medal (with “V”) and the Bronze Star. Wilson left the Army and surrendered his US citizenship in favor of Britain where he taught English and Modern Languages for 30 years. The Whitehall Mandarin is his fifth novel.

I leave you with a question to ponder: Why did Nixon go to China? ( )
  TexasBookLover | May 14, 2014 |
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British intelligence has a mole deep in the KGB and when that mole reports on a Soviet spy ring in London, MI6 gets worried. They call Catesby who is sent on a mole hunt that leads him through the seamy sex scandals of 1960s London to the jungles of Vietnam. Thrilling and deeply intelligent, The Whitehall mandarin reveals the US government's most deeply held secret - its investigation into the People's Republic of China, and its concurrent rise to world domination. This book deals with the most guarded intelligence secrets of our modern times. It explores the enigma of intelligence secrets dealing with China's rise to power and delves into the depths of world-changing events.… (more)

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