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Red Swan by Peter T. Deutermann

Published by St. Martin's Press on August 22, 2017

A new CIA operative, Melanie Sloan, is recruited to a mission that asks her to become intimate with the chief of China’s Ministry of Security Services. Preston Allender, a consulting psychiatrist for the CIA, has selected Melanie and one of his female associates trains her in the art of seduction. That sort of thing happens all the time in spy novels, but P.T. Deuterman makes the set-up seem credible … or credible enough that I happily bought into it for the sake of the story.

About a third of the way into the novel, a trap gets sprung and the story takes a twist, one I haven’t seen before in the many spy novels I’ve read. Kudos to Deutermann for his cleverness. But the story doesn’t stop twisting until it reaches its end. The consequences that follow from Allender’s scheme set up the remainder of the novel.

Red Swan
also differs from most spy novels in the way that Allender’s scheme backfires, not because it is unsuccessful, but because it is so successful that it has political ramifications. Heads must roll and Allender’s head is most convenient. The political and bureaucratic aspect of the novel is sharper than most American spy novels manage to convey. But again, the reader sees only the tip of a political struggle that will gain depth at the plot moves forward, entangling the CIA’s director and its top two deputies, as well as a Congresswoman and a slew of American and Chinese spooks.

Allender is a character I would like to meet again. He’s known as Dragon Eyes because his yellow eyes are unusually intense, an attribute he put to good use as the CIA’s chief interrogator before his retirement. He also has a preternatural ability to anticipate what someone is about to say, a talent he uses to convince people that he can read their minds — and maybe he can, in a limited sense. An interrogation scene at the end of the novel is very cool. All of that makes Allender an interesting character without taking him too far over the top, as so many recent thrillers have done with their protagonists.

Red Swan is a fun novel. The plot kept me guessing about which purported were really good guys and which apparent bad guys were actually the enemy. That's what a spy novel should do. Low-key action keeps the story moving but I was engrossed by the puzzles that torment the key players. Deutermann writes in the confident voice of a seasoned author. If this is the start of a series, I look forward to the next installment.


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