Review: When her field mission ends badly, a bullet through her shoulder, CIA operative Kyra Stryker returns to Langley to accept a desk assignment in a department with two employees — she's the second — in Red Cell, presumably the first in a series by Mark Henshaw.
"Have you heard of the Red Cell?" [CIA Director Kathryn] Cooke asked.
"No, ma'am, I haven't," Kyra admitted.
"It's an alternative analysis unit … not your usual [Directorate of Intelligence] shop," Cooke said. "George Tenet create the Red Cell on September 13th to make sure the Agency didn't suffer another September 11th. Their job is to 'think outside the box' — to find the possibilities that other analysts might overlook or dismiss."
"Devil's advocate? War-gaming?" Kyra asked. That, at least, could be interesting.
"They do those occasionally, but it's not their sole mission. And to be honest, the rest of the analysts don't like them. Or I should say 'him'. The Cell is running low on manpower," Cooke said.
"Right now, one." Cooke admitted.
The one is Jonathan Burke, a brilliant if cranky analyst.
"You've always said that you don't have enough warm bodies," Cooke said.
"I have plenty," [Jonathan] said.
"You have one," Cooke observed.
"As I said."
Jonathan and Kyra are immediately thrust into the latest international situation, the arrest of PRC spies in Taiwan. President Liang, the current leader of Taiwan, in the middle of a tough re-election campaign, wants to appear strong to his people against what he considers their common enemy, mainland China and its "One China" policy. Provocation of the PRC risks retaliation but Liang seems unconcerned. What troubles the CIA is that the PRC also seems unconcerned about the US coming to the aid of Taiwan in the event of an invasion. Several years earlier, Jonathan had drafted a "limited war" scenario that succeeds in the PRC assuming control over Taiwan. Is it possible that this scenario, or some minor variation of it, is being carried out right now?
Red Cell is an exceptionally polished thriller. Though a lot of characters are introduced and the narrative shifts rapidly from one place to another, the author returns frequently to the unusual, but remarkably effective, pairing of Jonathan and Kyra, keeping them the center of action … and attention. The storyline is chillingly plausible with an incredible amount of realistic details, adding a sense of authenticity to what the characters are doing — and possibly more importantly, why they are doing it and risking their lives in the process. This is most certainly one of the best thrillers of the year with a promise of more to come from these characters. The book concludes with Cooke asking Kyra what she wants to do next. Her reply: "I want to finish the mission."
Acknowledgment: Simon & Schuster provided an ARC of Red Cell for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Red Cell: Washington DC; Taipei, Taiwan; Beijing, China
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Red Cell by Mark Henshaw
Publication Date: May 2012
List Price: $24.99