Muse's Books (muse_books) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
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Books 229-230: The Shanghai Factor and Dust

Book 229: The Shanghai Factor.
Author: Charles McCarry, 2013.
Genre: Spy Thriller. Contemporary.
Other Details: Hardback. 304 pages.

The novel is narrated by a spy with no name; an American placed in Shanghai as a sleeper agent polishing his language skills and waiting for instructions from Washington. While there he becomes involved with Mei, a Chinese woman with her own secrets. Then his Stateside boss tasks him with a delicate operation in which he is to infiltrate the Chinese intelligence service as a supposed double agent. It is a dangerous life and hard to tell friend from foe. The action leaves China and returns to USA soil though the so-called Shanghai Factor follows him home.

At the start I was a little put off by the cover quote from Lee Child stating that McCarry was better than John le Carre. His opinion maybe but for me le Carre is hard act to beat. Still McCarry does share the quality of providing a slow burn rather than the flash bang of so much thriller fiction. McCarry's background as a former deep cover agent for the CIA gives him the perfect background for writing this novel about the unnamed young man who is playing the dangerous game of double agent.

I found this an intelligent, complex novel that kept me enthralled. I will be looking out for other of his works that have made it across the Pond.

Book 230: Dust (Kay Scarpetta #21).
Author: Patricia Cornwell, 2013.
Genre: Forensic Crime Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 512 pages.

It is almost Christmas, 2012 and Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta has returned home after working on one of the worst mass killings in US history. The event has effected her deeply though then she is called to the scene of crime in which the body of a young woman has been found inside the sheltered gates of MIT, draped in an unusual cloth and posed in a way that makes it clear this is not their first kill. They also discover that the body is covered in a fine dust that fluoresces under ultra-violet light. Further physical evidence links this to a series of disturbing homicides in Washington, DC though there is resistance on the part of the FBI to make the connection and Kay's husband is under pressure from higher up.

I felt this novel started off quite strongly but then the plot became so convoluted that it became confusing and I literally 'lost the plot' despite often popping back for clarification. Part of the issue was Kay's constant inner ramblings about her dysfunctional relationships along with tons of dialogue between Kay, Benton, Lucy and Pete that only made things more confusing. In addition, so much time was taken up with the minute forensic details of the case and this rendered the revelation of the killer somewhat anti-climatic and I struggled to see how this connected to the previous 470 or so pages.

It was quite obvious that Cornwell had been deeply upset by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and expresses this through her fictional character even though the name of the school is not mentioned. It is a respectful reference though I am not sure it really belonged in a work of fiction even as flashbacks of memory.

The novel ended with a 'Profile of Patricia Cornwell' giving background on the series and her writing process. I still long for the tightly written early Kay Scarpetta novels.
Tags: crime fiction, murder mystery, thriller
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