While at the opening of a kabuki performance at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House theater in D.C., two close friends of San Francisco art dealer and martial arts practitioner Jim Brodie are gunned down by a professional assassin. One of them, Sayuri Tanaka, was a former college roommate of America’s first lady, and knowing Brodie’s reputation as an experienced troubleshooter, FLOTUS implores him to go after the killer.

The Spy Across the Table, by Barry Lancet.
440 pages

Lurking around the narrative is Zhou, a brilliant and dangerous Chinese spy who serves up menace along with gourmet foods and wines (hence the book’s title).

Lancet also serves up tasty food for thought about the difficulties of balancing personal and national loyalty, particularly when overzealous officials become infected by ambition.

The tautly written story also adds a few touches inspired by classic hard-boiled fiction of yore: “The Tokyo police moved at the speed of an intravenous drip” — or when a Korean gangster chews out his brother-in-law, saying, “You got a jumbo target on your back, you wasabi-for-brains nitwit.”

Along with lots of good old-fashioned mayhem, Lancet does a fine job on the complexities of electronic espionage — hacking, eavesdropping, GPS tracking, eye-in-the-sky surveillance, biometrics and the like. Readers who can’t keep up with the tech lingo and almost nonstop action might find the whole thing a bit overwhelming. But those who thrive on complex, tightly written thrillers are more likely to call it a tour-de-force.


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