I'm not a science nerd or should I say I am cyber-impaired? This thriller about a race to make the first working quantum computer, which in theory would be able to decipher any encrypted messages in a short matter of time, is a book that I found fast paced and exciting. The race is between the U.S. intelligence community (aka the CIA) and China's Ministry of State Security, (MSS) who seem to be one step behind the Americans every step of the way. The CIA has discovered that there is a mole in their own department but have no clue as to who it is and how to catch him or her or them. At the same time, Chinese-American field agent Harris Chang is sent to investigate a small company in the US that the CIA believe has been contacted by a front company of the MSS and has been compromised by a Chinese informant.
We next find Chang in Singapore with a Chinese national, one Dr. Ma Yubo. Dr. Ma has been on the take, accepting bribes to support a mistress in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to keep his daughter in school at Stanford University in the U.S., and to keep his relatives off of his back as they ask him for money and help. Dr. Ma is a scientist who, the Americans know, works for the MSS. What they don't understand is why.
Ma agrees to meet with Gunther Krause, a private wealth advisor for a company called the Luxembourg Asset Management. However, Krause shows up with Chang, much to Dr. Ma's disapproval. Ma soon learns that Krause and Chang work for the same company --the CIA-- and the CIA is determined to get Ma to help them find the mole in the Company. As Chang meets with an unwilling Dr. Ma, he alerts some of his colleagues to search Dr. Ma’s hotel room to find his mijian, a small diary where he wrote his private thoughts. Most Chinese officials have them as they were deemed safer than electronic devices and were to be used to protect the Ministry, but officials knew the diaries were kept for their own protection.
Chang manages to get Dr. Ma to submit to become a CIA “asset”, as they have his mijian. Ma is told if he doesn't cooperate, the notebook will be sent to those authorities in China who investigate corruption within the system.
The CIA had gathered enough information to confirm that there was a mole who had access to top level security items and how the contacts were established. They learned of a Chinese program called Xie (Scorpion) and found that the Chinese asset's name for their mole is Rukou, (Doorway). What they didn't foresee was that Dr. Ma realizes he is not in a win-win situation as Chang has suggested. Before any of the CIA operatives could prevent him, Dr. Ma hangs himself. Now, with such little information and no way to make contact, how will the CIA find their mole?
David Ignatius is a writer for the Washington Post who has been covering the Middle East and the CIA for over twenty-five years so his descriptions of assignments and covert actions make you feel as if you are really in the story itself as well. Anybody interested in a thriller will enjoy the twists and turns of the novel as it deals with ethics, racism, loyalty, and betrayal in a modern day setting where real change is happening in the world of technology.~Ernie Hoyt