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A very disappointing Cold War spy novel
on 17 September 2015
The start of this spy novel is pure pleasure - there's intrigue, there's grey, drizzly post-war London, there's covert espionage, KGB double, even triple agents, and an unknown mole in MI6.
But, about a third way through, this Cold War thriller stops being a novel and becomes a series of what I can only describe as Whitehall and CIA reports on the security situation in the world. The point of view wanders from Mao, Kennedy, to the hero of the novel, MI6 spy Catesby, and many characters besides.
Up to the end of the novel, the namesake of the book, The Whitehall Mandarin, aka Lady Somers, the first female to head the UK Ministry of Defence, remains in the background. Because of the title of the novel, you know she has to be a crucial part of the story, so in a way, the twist is already known to the reader from the onset. This knowledge becomes more and more frustrating because, until the very end, she does not seem to be part of the plot.
I don't often give books just a one star review, but this was a very disappointing read. Wilson's spy thriller showed much promise, but in the end lacked a clearly defined plot, had weak, one-dimensional characters and poor prose.