The Risk Agent by Ridley Pearson is a mystery/thriller novel set in China. The book is the first of a new series.
The Rutherford Risk firm has a problem. They are trying to negotiate freedom for a hostage who was taken in Shanghai, but are not allowed, by law, to investigate. The firm recruits two outsiders to bypass the Chinese laws, a dangerous game even when playing by the rules.
American Jon Knox, a civilian with military training, and Grace Chu, an accountant with military training, are put on the job. There are many things which are dangerous in corporate China, but following the money is certainly on top of the list.
From there, The Risk Agent is a whirlwind of a ride through the business world of China. While I don’t know much about doing business in that part of the world, it certainly seemed authentic to me and made for a fascinating read.
It seems that in China many companies, especially those who are not based in China, have a habit of giving incentives to government officials in order to gain the upper hand in the bidding process, or simply just flat out to get a job. Much like election “incentives” (campaign donations), the act is frowned on officially but it seems to be the standard operating procedure (SOP) with a large amount of recipients but only selective victims.
The Risk Agent is not a quick read by any means; the novel is plotted extremely well and takes time to digest and follow, but the reward of going on a great adventure is well worth the investment in time.
The two main characters are fully developed and we get to really know them before the final page is done. It is amazing how much character development goes into this novel while its heroes are running around the backstreets of Shanghai.
I have said time and time again and one of the main reasons I like espionage novels is that they are mostly gray. The line distinguishing bad from good are often blurred and horse-hair thin. The novel’s twists and turns had me guessing who is on which side; what is most certain is that everyone has their own agenda. This made the story more compelling.
An invigorating aspect of the book is the character of Grace, a level-headed accountant (and an ex-Chinese military). Contrasting Grace’s cool head and world view with John Knox’s impatience and impulsiveness added another interesting angle, as well as balance, to the story. While every partnership story has some friction between the characters, I believed this relationship
Mr. Pearson has created two of the most complex and fascinating characters who have had the dubious pleasure of becoming partners. I am looking forward to their next exploits.