The Spy's Daughter


By Adam Brookes

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The thrilling third novel from multi-award-nominated author Adam Brookes is paranoid, tense spy fiction at its very finest.

Meet Pearl Tao: an American girl with a lethal secret.

Pearl longs for the life of a normal American teenager: summers at the pool, friends, backyard barbecues in the Washington DC suburbs. But she is different.

Her gift for mathematics means overprotective parents and college sponsorship from a secretive technology corporation. And now, aged nineteen, she is beginning to understand what her parents intend for her. The terrifying role she is to play.

Her only hope of escape lies with two sidelined and discredited spies: Trish Patterson and Philip Mangan. Finding out the truth about Pearl will be the biggest mission they’ll ever undertake.

“Authentic, taut and compelling. Brookes is the real deal.” — Charles Cumming



Great Falls, Maryland
The recent past

The sound of the shot made the outdoor diners at a nearby restaurant lift their eyes and turn, wondering, from their conversations. They looked across the parking lot, towards the trees. There, partly hidden by azalea bushes and undergrowth, a car rocked momentarily on its suspension. Startled birds rose in the warm air.

The first intrepid soul to leave his table and approach the vehicle was a former Marine of broad back and strong stomach. He picked his way past the vegetation and peered through the windscreen, then backed away shaking his head—whether in sorrow or disgust it was hard to say. A single body, he reported, male, in the driver’s seat, the back of the head shot away, suggesting a self-inflicted wound. Blood all over the place. The hand holding the weapon was limp and curiously positioned, turned back on itself in the well between the seats.

The diners called their children to them. Some paid their bills and left hurriedly. The police and paramedics arrived, then a detective, then a forensic investigator from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The male in the driver’s seat was declared dead. The investigator picked his way around the car, leaned into it, made copious notes. Photographs were taken, and evidence bagged and tagged. Finally, the body was manoeuvred from the car and laid upon a gurney.

The dead man was of sixty-some years. He wore a well-cut suit and a silk tie for the day of his death. He appeared prosperous, trim, fit, lightly tanned. He wore a silver beard, trimmed close to the jaw. On his right wrist was an extremely expensive watch, a Breguet. This was odd, thought the forensic examiner, since it would suggest left-handedness, yet the weapon, a Sig .357, was in the right.

The forensic examiner pondered the strangeness of it all—out here on the edge of the city, in the trees, near a popular restaurant and a pretty canal, a place for day trips, for hikes; the suit and tie, the sense of orderliness and authority they hinted at. And as he did so, the FBI arrived, as he knew they would. For the man’s identity—quickly established from his wallet and the federal government identification tag in his inside pocket—was already sending tremors through Washington, DC. He was, apparently, a senior official of the State Department—not a diplomat, but an intelligence analyst by the name of Jonathan Monroe. And when such people—the holders of security clearances that allowed them into the most secret compartments of this most secretive of cities—took their own lives, all the worst assumptions frothed and bubbled around their cadavers. Was it corruption? Sex? Was he coerced, compromised, cuckolded? Was he, God help us all, a spy?

Two FBI special agents waited politely to talk to him, and for a moment the examiner looked skyward at the circling birds, felt the sun on his face. Such a death was not uncommon in Washington: the pressure, the secrecy, the sheer viciousness of the place ate away at people.

But such a death was rarely uncomplicated.


The Possible


Beijing, China
The recent past

Granny Poon came in dry as a bone, this time.

She carried no handheld, no tracker. Nothing to leak a signal, however faint. She would leave no signature, no spoor. She would float through the digital medium like a dust mote in dark, quiet air.

She took a bus from the airport. She paid in cash and turned her face from the cameras that monitored her boarding. The bus crawled into the city and she watched the tower blocks creep past, the concrete rendered gold in the late summer sunlight.

Bone dry. Alone.

That was the way of it, she thought. She looked down at her hands, their liver spots, veins rising from the dry, papery skin. She wondered if this might, perhaps, be the last time.

Let’s see what this stupid old woman can do.

The restaurant was packed with market traders and migrant workers, the air clattering and heavy with grease, the reek of sorghum spirit. They came here for the Shanxi food, the bowls of fatty lamb and shaved noodles. She had come in good time to watch from the scrubby park across the street, sitting still in the warm twilight, clutching a walking stick and her purse. She had made two passes before entering, tottering along the sidewalk in dark glasses, wheezing. Now she occupied a corner table. The waitress smiled at her, called her ayi, auntie, a sweet girl. She ordered Cat’s Ear Noodles heaped with garlic bolts and tomatoes, the broth thick with cumin, laced with black vinegar. The girl caught her accent, the sibilant sing-song of the south, and smiled, tilting her head questioningly. Eileen Poon just nodded.

And now Eileen waited, and watched. She waited for a particular moment, one rapidly approaching, whose exact location in time had been determined months previously, perhaps years. She watched for the anomaly, the ripple on the surface of the crowd.

Not long now.

The girl came and placed before her a steaming bowl, plastic chopsticks wrapped in a napkin. A glass of tea. She picked at the noodles, letting the seconds tick down. She allowed her gaze to float and settle, float and settle.


Nothing but the bark and clatter of the restaurant, steam rising from the bowls and curling in the afternoon light, the ruddy-faced men leaning into their food, pouring the sorghum spirit from the little green bottles, tossing it back.

Time, now.

She laid her chopsticks down, got shakily to her feet, one hand leaning on the table, the other clutching her purse. The sweet waitress was there, asking if she needed anything.

Cesuo,”she said. Toilet.

The girl gestured to the back of the restaurant, a corridor. Eileen Poon tottered past the busy tables, down the corridor, past stacks of greasy chairs, an empty fish tank. The noise receded.

The door to the toilet was of plywood and stood half open. She went in, felt for a light switch, locked the door behind her and stifled her breathing against the ammonia stench. From a squat toilet a pipe snaked up the wall to the cistern. She took a pair of latex gloves from her purse and put them on. She ran her hand up and down the pipe, feeling behind it. Nothing there. She opened the toilet paper dispenser. Nothing. Beneath the hand washbasin, she found a cupboard. She opened it and ran her hands around the inside.

And just there, deep in the cupboard’s filthy recesses, taped to the underside of the basin, a packet of White Rabbit milk candy.

Eileen worked the packet free, peeled the tape from it, and put it in a plastic bag. She threw the tape and the latex gloves into the toilet and put the plastic bag containing the candy in her purse.

She waited for a moment, steadied herself. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands, unlocked the door and made her way back down the corridor.

A little flutter of relief. Well, that’s that part done, she thought.

Now the difficult part.

She emerged into the restaurant and stopped. The roar of talk and laughter and the rattle of crockery broke over her. She reached beyond the sound and the visual clutter. Was he here, the bringer of White Rabbit candy? Was he watching? Or she? She felt around the room for a gaze, for a look a little too laden with meaning, for the tilt down of the head, the turn away.


She walked slowly back to her table, sat, drank her tea.

The sweet girl brought her bill.

“You didn’t like the noodles?” she said.

“Too much,” said Eileen.

“I’m sorry,” said the girl.

Mei shi.” No matter. She raised her frail old hand, waved away the girl’s concern. She peered at the bill and counted out yuan notes from her purse, her frugality on show. The girl smiled, waited patiently. Eileen put on her dark glasses and stood to leave—the egress protocol was complicated, calling for some quick street work and a weave through the subway system, alone. She took her stick and walked to the front door. The waitress was there, holding the door, lovely girl, saying, “Manman zou.” Go carefully.

Eileen stepped out of the restaurant into the warm evening. She stood on the sidewalk, fussing with her purse, her stick, scanning the street, the pavement, counting, watching: a boy in a Chicago Bulls cap, staring at his phone, moving slowly west; a silver SUV, and behind it a Yamaha motorbike, yellow, the boy riding it in a white T-shirt, moving quickly; a couple, deep in conversation, with shopping bags and a purple backpack.

And a man on a bench.

The very same bench, the one that afforded a clear view of the restaurant, that Eileen Poon had taken advantage of earlier in the day.

The man wore a cream, short-sleeved shirt and grey cotton slacks. He sat with his knees together. He held a folded newspaper in his lap, but looked straight ahead. His hair was grey and thinning and combed back from the forehead. Some oil or pomade may have been used.

Eileen Poon absorbed these details in an instant, fixed them in her mind.

And who are you?

She surveyed him from behind her dark glasses. Even at this distance she saw that the hands that lay in his lap were small and smooth. His cheeks and chin were smooth, too, as if scrubbed with pumice. He evinced cleanliness. A fastidious man, this. One with well-kept nails, shiny shoes. He sat very still. And it was his stillness, she realised, that had drawn her eye to him. He sat as if in prayer, and his eyes were small, dark stones.

She looked both ways, made to cross the street. A bus drew up, obscuring her view of the park, the bench, the man. When it pulled out and away again, he was gone.

In her hotel room, later, after the streets and the subway and the sidewalks, Eileen Poon sat on the edge of the bed in darkness and removed her shoes, massaged her aching feet for a moment. The visage of the smooth-cheeked man lay fixed just behind her retina, and now she worked it deep into her memory.

During half a lifetime of secret work on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, Eileen had built within herself a vast mental vault peopled with places, faces, postures, gaits, voices, accents, atmospheres and encounters, every one of them specific and immediate to her, every one available for instant recall. For, when it came down to it, the practitioners of secret intelligence working along Asia’s Pacific Rim were relatively few in number. Oh, the listeners and cyber sleuths and local security thugs numbered in the millions. But the professionals—the agent runners, the handlers, the watchers and the street artists—not so many. And Eileen, of anyone, could spot them. To Granny Poon the street artist—the finest in Asia, Hopko said—the skills of recall and connection were central to intelligence work, and her astounding capacity for both was the reason that the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service had kept faith with the Poon family for forty years. Hopko valued Granny Poon’s gifts. You’re my eyes, Eileen, she had once said. You’re my memory.

But of Fastidious Man, Eileen found nothing.

She held the image of him in her mind, allowed it to drift and move. She made demands of it. Tell me why you sat on the bench, at that time, in that way. Tell me what it was in your look that hinted at awareness, of resources available to you. Tell me about intention, how it manifests in a person. Tell me why I know you, even though I don’t. Tell me about White Rabbit milk candy.

She stood, walked to the desk, turned on the lamp and pulled the curtains closed. She went to her suitcase and took from it a second pair of latex gloves and a face mask, and put them on. She took also a rubber mat wrapped in cellophane. She unwrapped the mat and laid it on the desk. She walked to the bathroom, and took from her sponge bag a box containing a pair of nail scissors and a pair of tweezers, both in sterile wrap.

She sat at the desk, her purse before her.

Using the tweezers, she removed the bag containing the White Rabbit candy from the purse, then used the nail scissors to cut it open. With the tweezers, she took twelve pieces of candy from the packet, each individually wrapped in waxy red and blue paper, with twists at each end. She laid them out side by side on the mat. Carefully, she began to unwrap each one, delicately working the gobbets of chewy white candy from the paper.

When she reached the seventh, she knew she had found it. She felt its different density, the uniformity of its shape. She unwrapped the waxy paper. Inside, no milk candy, but a white plastic capsule, hard and smooth. Upon closer examination, the capsule revealed a join at its middle, as if it were in two parts. Eileen pulled gently and with a snick the two halves came away to reveal a foam centre, and encased in the foam was a tiny drive, no bigger than a finger nail. She held the drive in the tweezers for a moment, wondering.

Movement in the corridor.

Eileen looked around, towards the door, sitting very still. A burst of laughter, then nothing.

She listened. More movement, in a room down the corridor, perhaps.

Nothing there, she thought. Why so jumpy? Stupid old woman.

She pushed the drive back into its foam recess, clicked the two sides of the capsule together. She rewrapped the capsule in its candy wrapper, replaced it in the packet with the others, put the candy back in the bag, the bag back in the purse.

Just candy. In a purse.

This operation, she thought, had an austere feel to it. Very quiet, very deep. Very hard-edged. Just her, dry as a bone. Not even her sons. If Peter or Frederick had been with her they could have sniffed Fastidious Man, filmed him, listened to him, run him through the servers, found him out. She thought of the man’s stillness, his unnatural posture.

From the street, the sound of a car accelerating, too aggressively, too fast.

She stood, pulled the curtain away from the wall a little, looked into the dark.

In nearly forty years on the street, Eileen Poon had learned the virtue of solid cover and pure nerve. She knew to brazen it out, not to run. Every little drama, every midnight flit, left unanswered questions in its wake, left chambermaids calling the shift manager, slack-jawed security officers reviewing the camera footage, accountants looking at your credit card. And soon someone notices. And then the someone starts paying attention, looking for patterns. And before you know it he’s in your phone, your laptop, your apartment, watching you move, sniffing the air as you pass. Better to sit still, wait, move deliberately, calmly.

And yet. A packet of White Rabbit candy currently residing in her purse screamed, Run. Now.

She stood motionless and listened again, her stomach churning. Fear did not come often to her. Why tonight?

She picked up the phone and called room service.

Wei? Yes. I want club sandwich. But no mayonnaise. You understand? No mayonnaise. Yes, lettuce, tomato, want. No mayonnaise. Mayonnaise give me irritable bowel. Also, Bloody Mary, large one.”

She put down the phone, and went back to her purse, pulling out the packet of candy, feeling in it for the capsule. She put the capsule in a sterile evidence bag. She knelt by the curtains. They were heavy, floor length, of some dun-coloured material. Using the nail scissors, she unpicked two inches of hem, slipped the bag and capsule in, used a needle and thread to tack the hem, let the curtains fall.

By the time the food arrived, she had changed into a cotton nightgown and had donned a hairnet and sat on the bed, watching a Chinese news channel. A parade was planned, said the reporter. A grand military parade! Through central Beijing, past Tiananmen Gate, to mark the anniversary of China’s great victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan. There would be twelve thousand goose-stepping troops, stealth fighters overhead. In preparation, the authorities were seeding clouds and setting monkeys to roam the city’s parks. The monkeys were tasked with killing birds, though it was unclear to Eileen Poon why the birds might pose a security threat. “As the tanks roll down Beijing’s central thoroughfare,” said the reporter, “the people’s unity will reach its peak.”

The waiter pushed a little clinking trolley to her, and lifted a plastic cover to reveal her sandwich.

“Club sandwich. No mayonnaise,” he said. “Bloody Mary.”

He didn’t meet her eye. She tipped him and he left quickly.

She ate the sandwich fast, tipped the Bloody Mary down the sink, turned the television and the lights off, listened. Waited. She badly wanted to smoke a beedi, one of the reeking Indian cigarillos she bought in bunches tied with string from the little store in Wan Chai.

The night spooled out endlessly. Fear slowed time down. She forced herself to think of her boys, back in Hong Kong awaiting her return, waiting to signal She’s back. She thought of the hand-off to Hopko. Where would it be? Geneva? Bangkok? She thought of dropping the capsule into Hopko’s waiting hand, her smile, the venal look that would frame her eye.

And the fuss Hopko would make of her. Hopko would take her for a nice dinner, and give her presents from London, the shortbread from Fortnum’s for which Eileen had such a weakness. It would be just the two of them, nobody else. Because this operation—she didn’t even have a codename for it—was theirs alone. Just Eileen Poon and Valentina Hopko. Twice she had been into Beijing in the last eight months at Hopko’s order, dry as a bone each time. Twice she had cleared an old-fashioned dead drop loaded by an agent she never saw. Did Hopko even know who he was? This one is special, Eileen, Hopko had said. This one has the scent of greatness on him. And he’s just for us, Eileen. Not even for your boys.

Restless, she puffed her pillows, smoothed her nightgown, sipped water to ease the dryness in her mouth, listened to the hiss of the air conditioning.

She had known other long nights. Nights when she feared State Security was at the corner, on the street, at the door. Nights with her nerves writhing and sleep a distant, treacherous shore. Nights when nothing had happened, and when everything had happened. Nights long ago when numbers crackling across the shortwave frequencies told her ABORT ABORT, and she’d burned her passport and run through the backstreets of Chengdu or Semarang or Hanoi. Why such unease tonight?

Perhaps three times was enough. Perhaps it was time.

At four or so, she dozed, and at five she watched the grey light filter in from a crack in the curtains.

If they come, she thought, it will be now.

She got up and put on a pink shirt and tan hiking pants that reached halfway down her blue-veined calves, and a pair of sneakers. She stretched, pushed away the wheeze and shuffle of yesterday, and readied herself to move fast.

She thought of Fastidious Man, his smooth cheeks, his little hands. She wondered what it might be like to be touched by those hands. What they would feel like on her cheek, her waist, her breast. She wondered if, in a way, he was touching her now.

She knelt, extracted the capsule in its polythene bag from the hem of the curtain and returned it to the packet of candy, before packing it in her carry-on.

She stopped at the door to her room, listened, calmed herself.

An operation is a whisper, Hopko had once said to her. Don’t make it an argument.


Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia

Mangan entered the shop through a ragged plastic shower curtain. The interior was all clutter. Half-refurbished laptops were strewn about, piles of boxes, cell phones, tablets. From behind the counter, the Javanese woman—toothy, powdered, hair in a bun—eyed him. Mangan was conscious of his own dishevelment: he was unshaven, his T-shirt hanging limply from his awkward, lanky frame, his jeans had gone baggy at the knees, and on his feet were flip-flops, on his back the scraggy backpack. The shop smelled of clove cigarettes and damp.

“You back again,” said the woman.

“Yup,” said Mangan.

“What you want this time?”

“Same as before,” said Mangan.

She frowned.

“Phone card?” she said.

“Yes. Please.”

She flicked an accusatory finger at him.

“You just buy. One week.”

“I want another. The same. Pre-paid. No name.”

She was giving him a stern look now.

“Why you want?”

“Is it important why?”

“You already have. Why you want one more?”

“I lost it. Now can I have another one?”

She paused, considering. He looked at her, and caught in her eye the tick of calculation. He realised that something was happening he didn’t understand, a tinge of alarm bleeding into his chest, his stomach.

“What’s the problem?” he said.

She shook her head, looked down.

“What’s the problem?” he said again.

“No problem,” she said.

She reached into a glass-fronted case behind her, and from a filthy tangle of cables, old phones and chargers, extracted an envelope. She handed it to him. He felt the hard little SIM card through the paper.

“Six million rupiah,” she said. About four hundred U.S. dollars.

“Six?” said Mangan. “Why the price rise?”

She shrugged.

“What’s changed since last week?” he said softly.

She pointed upward with her forefinger.

“Price go up.” She wouldn’t meet his eye. “You pay now.”

Very alert now, he leaned across the counter, smiled, laid his hand on her forearm. He felt her tense under his touch.

“What’s changed?”

She said nothing.

“I’ll pay the price, and I won’t come back here again. Okay? Just tell me.”

She licked her lips.

“You. Problem.”

“What? What problem?”

“Some people they come here. Ask about you.”

“They asked about me? Who? What did they say?”

“They say if I have seen Inggris. Tall man. Hair red colour, like you.”

“Did they know my name?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did you tell them?”

She shook her head, her finger-wagging gone now. He let his voice rise a little.

“What did you fucking tell them?”

“I say … I say I see you. But I don’t know where you go. Where you stay.”

His hand was still on her forearm. He felt a prickling of his scalp.

“Who were they?”

Orang Cina.” Chinese, the words coated in contempt. She paused. “They have photo. You.”

“They showed you a photo?”

She nodded. He took back his hand. She was staring at the counter. He counted out notes from his wallet, dropped them in front of her. She reached out to take them, but he planted his finger on them, pinning them.

“The card,” he said. “It’s good?”

She nodded.

“It register, but name not true. Is okay.”

He kept the money pinned to the counter.

“And now?”

She looked up at him.


“You’ll call them, won’t you? The orang Cina. They told you to call them.”

She blinked, then made a what can I do gesture, holding her hands out.

“If I not call, then …”

“Then what?”

“They say they make trouble for me. For family. They say they tell polis, make big trouble.” She was becoming agitated.

“Why did they come to you?”

She looked blank.

“They ask many place. Hotel, phone place, internet place.”

Jesus Christ.

“Did they say anything else?”

She shook her head.

“What you do?” she said. “You are criminal? You are thief.”

He took his finger off the rupiah notes, let her take them.

“I didn’t do anything. I’m just a journalist. Wartawan.” He pointed at himself. “Wartawan.”

He let her take the money, pocketed the SIM card, and left.


Washington, DC

Patterson found the apartment on an online listing service, and she loved it immediately. It was off 18th Street, a tiny top floor with big windows in an elderly brick row house. An iron fire escape bore rows of plant pots. Below, a cobbled courtyard.

The owner seemed reluctant, worried about her lack of credit history, and when they met was visibly startled: the British accent on the phone didn’t match the blackness of her person, apparently. In the end, the diplomatic passport prevailed, and the owner, a smooth, highlighted matriarch in beige, pushed the rental agreement across the table for her to sign.


  • "Riveting and accomplished."—The Sunday Times (UK)
  • "A tense spy thriller of the highest order."—Irish Independent
  • "Another top bit of work from a man who's inching further ahead in the spy thriller stakes."—Sunday Sport (UK)
  • "The plot is thick with intrigue and espionage and is as good a spy novel as any you will read."—Chris High
  • "This would make a superb television spy drama. I really didn't want it to end. A terrific heart-thumping spy thriller."—Northern Crime Reviews
  • "Authentic, taut and compelling. Brookes is the real deal."—Charles Cumming on Spy Games
  • "Pulsing with power and danger."—New York Times on Night Heron
  • "A smarter or more exciting mystery likely won't be released this year."—Kirkus (starred review) on Spy Games
  • "The must-read thriller of the year."—NPR Books on Night Heron
  • "Brookes shows that his impressive debut was no fluke, and readers will look forward to Mangan's next adventure."—Publishers Weekly on Spy Games
  • "[Adam Brookes] does an excellent job of keeping the action moving and the tension high, making Spy Games a difficult book to put down.... Brookes has separated himself from the pack: I've read a lot of very good China books by excellent journalists, but I've never before stayed up far too late on a work night to finish one, unwilling to go to sleep until I knew how it ended."—Los Angeles Review of Books on Spy Games
  • "A classic spy thriller packed with tension and detail, brilliantly paced."—Peter James on Night Heron
  • "A rich, can't-put-it-down thriller... terrific."—Joseph Kanon on Spy Games
  • "Outstanding."—Washington Post on Night Heron
  • "One of the best and most compulsively readable spy-fiction debuts in years."—Kirkus on Night Heron

On Sale
Oct 31, 2017
Page Count
448 pages

Adam Brookes

About the Author

Adam Brookes was for many years a journalist and foreign correspondent for BBC News. He reported from China, Indonesia, the US and many other countries, Iraq and Afghanistan among them. His debut novel, Night Heron, was nominated for the 2014 CWA John Creasey Dagger and appeared on best of the year lists in the TLS, Kirkus and NPR; its follow-up Spy Games was nominated for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. The Spy’s Daughter is his third novel. He lives with his family in Takoma Park, Maryland.

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