In her acclaimed debut, The Cutout, former CIA analyst Francine Mathews defined a world of intrigue where only the savvy survive. Now, in The Secret Agent, Mathews propels us deep into the baffling history of a maverick American's glittering life and his sudden, cataclysmic disappearance.... Here is the masterful story of secret agents of many kinds--in a realm where truth is the most dangerous secret of all.
Who was Jack Roderick?
Trained by the OSS, Jack Roderick plummeted into Bangkok one rainy morning in 1945 and never left. Silk King, pirate, ruthless collector of beautiful objects--especially women--Roderick was feared and respected as a foreign spy, a business kingpin, and a trader in men's souls. And then, at the height of the Vietnam War, caught in a killing web of treachery and revenge that would determine the fate of his only son, Rory, Jack Roderick walked into the jungle...and vanished from the face of the earth.
Four decades later, can the mystery be solved?
International fund manager Stefani Fogg is recruited by a man whose job it is to know the unknowable. Wealthy beyond corruption, impervious to romance, and equipped with a mind that can crack any enigma, Stefani signs up for the adventure of a lifetime: playing Secret Agent to Max Roderick, grandson of Bangkok's long-vanished Legendary American. A world-class skier tangled in a sordid Thai murder investigation, Max is consumed with the riddle of Jack Roderick's disappearance--and with his own father's death in the jungles of Vietnam.
Seduced by Max's charm and intrigued by his family history, Stefani ignores the warning signs and follows her heart. But when Max's quarrel with the Thai police turns deadly and a killer strikes, she knows she must return to the place where it all began, to unravel the lies, penetrate a deadly conspiracy, and expose a killing truth. She flees Max's France for Bangkok's khlongs--into the ruins of the Silk King's dark past and the mesmerizing shadow of the Roderick family curse. What she finds, in Jack Roderick's story and in the fate of his fighter-pilot son, is an American dream that crashed and burned in the rice paddies of Vietnam and a chilling legacy that haunts our own to this day.
Propelling us masterfully through half a century, from Manhattan to the Alps to the colorful and treacherous heart of Bangkok, and based on the life of American expatriate Jim Thompson, The Secret Agent is at once a murder mystery, a touching love story, and a lavishly atmospheric journey through the exotic landscape of love and history--an historical thriller of the first rank.
Part of the Reader Store Gritty Fiction collection.
Mathews, writing as Stephanie Barron, has had considerable success splicing mystery plots with the real-life story of novelist Jane Austen. Now she takes another true story, that of a legendary American spy and silk merchant named Jim Thompson, and tries - with somewhat less success but lots of old-fashioned panache - to turn it into adventure fiction. Like Thompson, her protagonist, Jack Roderick, worked for the OSS (and its successor, the CIA) in Bangkok from 1945 until he disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. Unlike Thompson, Roderick had a son, Rory, who was killed in Vietnam, and a grandson, Max, who becomes an Olympic ski champion. It's Max who starts the narrative engine here when he tries to pressure the Thai government to turn his grandfather's fabulous house in Bangkok over to him. Soon, Max is one step ahead of a murderous plot that leads him to call on the services of a risk management expert called Oliver Krane. Krane in turn persuades Stefani Fogg - an attractive, deceptively fragile financial expert with a checkered past - to help Max in his quest. If this all sounds complicated and confusing, it is - especially since Mathews interrupts her present-day story (which zooms from the Scottish Highlands to the French Alps and then to Vietnam and Bangkok) with constant flashbacks to Jack Roderick's adventures and Rory's Vietnam saga. It's easy to see why Mathews, who worked for the CIA herself as an analyst, became fascinated with Thompson and Bangkok, but even her strong narrative skills (and superb action set pieces involving natural disasters like a typhoon and an avalanche) are hard-pressed to keep this jerky train on its tracks.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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March 31, 2003
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Excerpt from The Secret Agent by Francine Mathews
Chapter 1 The Oriental Hotel in the heart of Bangkok is a name to conjure history. It recalls a time when tourists were travelers, when steamer trunks came by long-tail boat up the Chao Phraya, the River of Kings; when stoic male writers and legends of the Asian bush crawled out of the jungle to swap stories in the Bamboo Bar. Somerset Maugham almost died of fever there, in the 1920s, and Joseph Conrad tossed sleepless on a sweat-soaked cot; Hemingway ought to have seduced a legion of hard-drinking women behind the swinging shuttered doors, but apparently never did. During the Second World War the natives of Bangkok edged warily around the hotel, which had become an object of fear under the Japanese; and when Thailand capitulated to the Allies in September 1945, the Oriental turned hostel for U.S. and British officers. They must have felt right at home, those Allied soldiers, between the French doors and the lawns running down to the swollen brown river. Orchids bloomed as profusely as English violets at the foot of the towering palms, and the whistles of the boatmen flew over the water like lark song. Under the drift of electric fans the officers drank deep of gin and Pimms, composing letters to women they hadn’t seen in years. They imagined themselves conquerors, without having fired a shot. This is the sorcery of Thailand, and of the Oriental Hotel: to make a guest feel at home without ever implying he is anything but a guest. But like all great hotels, the Oriental is a stage for public drama: it demands a decent performance from the people who walk through its doors. The right to enter history comes at considerable cost, and style is the preferred form of currency. Shorts and backpacks-those hallmarks of the indigent tourist desperate for an hour of quiet and air conditioning-are strictly forbidden in the Oriental’s main lobby. Stefani Fogg had stayed at the hotel before. She had read the dress-code notice etched politely near the revolving front door. But she was a woman who rarely apologized, particularly to the hired help. And so this morning she hitched her backpack higher on her shoulder and swung her long, bare legs out of the taxi. “Welcome back to the Oriental, Ms. Fogg,” the doorman said, and bowed low over his steepled hands. She took the spray of jasmine he offered her and raised it to her face. The scent was elusive-the essence of untimely death. She nodded to the doorman, paid off the taxi, and stalked inside. She may have been conscious of the eyes that followed her as she crossed the spotless carpet. If so, she ignored them. She ignored, too, the soaring windows, the chairs swathed in silk, the towering arrangements of lilies, the four employees who bowed in succession as she passed. She ignored the powerfully built man with the gleaming black hair, who sedulously scanned his newspaper at a desk opposite the magazine kiosk, although he was the only person in the room pretending to ignore her and thus ought to have been alarming. Stefani was too tired to care. The rigid set of her shoulders and the thin line of her mouth screamed exhaustion. During the past week she had slept badly and in the previous twenty-seven hours, not at all. “Mr. Rewadee,” she said by way of greeting to the Manager of Customer Relations. Her voice was as frayed as a hank of old rope. The backpack slid from her shoulder to the plush carpet at her feet. “Ms. Fogg! Welcome back to the Oriental!” This phrase-or variations on the theme-was a gamut she was forced to run every time she reappeared on the banks of the Chao Phraya. But she liked Rewadee, with his correct navy suit and his beautiful silk tie, his smooth, tapering fingers; so she stifled her annoyance and forced a smile, as though her clothes did not stink of mildew or her feet require washing. The manager’s