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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A second tier spy novel
The Shanghai Factor is not Charles McCarry's best effort, but even a lesser McCarry novel is entertaining. This one is as much a mystery novel as a spy story, but it never quite develops the suspense and intrigue that fans of those genres crave.

A new agent, assigned as a sleeper in Shanghai, immediately breaks the rules by taking on a girlfriend he knows only...
Published 17 months ago by TChris

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars the ending is just too...horrible
I was teetering on a four or five star rating because this is wonderfully fast, well packaged story that kept me tuning pages. The ultimate compliment. I even over looked the bizarre coincidences that seemed to elude the main character, but it still had my full attention.

Then when it seemed like the main character was up against overwhelming circumstances,...
Published 15 months ago by robertpri007


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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A second tier spy novel, May 12, 2013
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This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
The Shanghai Factor is not Charles McCarry's best effort, but even a lesser McCarry novel is entertaining. This one is as much a mystery novel as a spy story, but it never quite develops the suspense and intrigue that fans of those genres crave.

A new agent, assigned as a sleeper in Shanghai, immediately breaks the rules by taking on a girlfriend he knows only as Mei. The unnamed agent assumes Mei is a spy but he likes the sex so he doesn't much care. Circumstances force the agent to leave China, but he soon returns with a new assignment: to set up Guoanbu operatives so they will be denounced as American spies. The operation appears to fizzle out, as does (to his great disappointment) his relationship with Mei. Back in New York, the encounters a Chinese operative who attempts to recruit him. Eventually it becomes difficult to know whether he can trust anyone, as each person who plays a significant role in his life might be a potential enemy, including the various women he beds at home and abroad. He becomes a pawn in a game played by two men "of mystery and power," one in Washington and one in China, all the while kept in the dark about the true nature of the game.

This is familiar ground for a spy novel, but the story is well told, often moving in unexpected directions. Most of it is credible, although some events near the novel's end seem both forced and implausible. McCarry maintains the novel's pace and the story is never dull. McCarry's observational talent is on full display, whether he's describing filth floating on the Yangtze or the curves of a lover's body. His thoughts about the selective and uncertain nature of trust are not new to the genre, but they're well phrased. The same can be said of his observations about the power of coincidence and its relationship to fate.

For all its interest, however, the story is surprisingly light on suspense. The mystery's resolution is reasonably satisfying but not particularly surprising. The Shanghai Factor is the work of a supremely capable technician, but it lacks the "wow" factor that the best spy novels (and mysteries) produce. The agent is a well-defined character but not one I found myself caring much about. None of those complaints prevented me from enjoying the novel, but they prevent me from shelving it in the first tier of spy fiction.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars the ending is just too...horrible, July 13, 2013
This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
I was teetering on a four or five star rating because this is wonderfully fast, well packaged story that kept me tuning pages. The ultimate compliment. I even over looked the bizarre coincidences that seemed to elude the main character, but it still had my full attention.

Then when it seemed like the main character was up against overwhelming circumstances, deadly enemies, no friends, and no way out, I noticed there were only a few pages left. Could this be part one? To be continued? No, it suddenly wraps up in a rather miserable explanation and left way too many things unfinished.

The biggest disappointment was reading such a wonderfully crafted novel, only to end as if the publisher said, "No time left. Finish it tonight."
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of The Shanghai Factor, May 17, 2013
This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry is the first novel I've read by this author. He needs no introduction given his plethora of other books on the subject of espionage so I'll begin with stating I enjoyed reading this book a lot. Our nameless hero is narrating the story as he travels between China and America on the mission of getting intelligence about CEO Chen Qi. CEO Chen Qi is believed to be the front man for the Chinese Intelligence known simply as Guonbu. We follow our spy as he becomes emersed into a world where danger is at every turn and no one can be trusted.

The Shanghai Factor reads at a very quick pace and is easy to follow. It's a slow burn, much like espionage is described as being in this book. Our hero doesn't go dashing across lanes of traffic or zip lining off telephone poles. He's your average, intelligent guy that gets a whole lot of action from women of questionable backgrounds. If you're interested in a Jason Bourne, this is not the book for you.

Character development is done well considering this is a narrative. In the interest of pacing and good storytelling, there were no unnecessary characters thrown into the fray just to be killed off. The actions in this novel are purposeful and deliberate. Every person is well described even though our hero is unable to tell most of their background. He describes their actions, their looks, as a way to evoke what that person may be thinking or feeling.

In closing, I'd like to reinterate that I really enjoyed this book. It's filled with mystery and intrigue the entire time. There's a bit of romance in here as well. The sense that there is no one who can be trusted is always lingering like the elephant in the room. The Shanghai Factor is suited best for lovers of spy novels and fans of Charles McCarry.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Befriend, befuddle, betray.", May 18, 2013
This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
An unnamed America agent narrates Charles McCarry's Kafkaesque espionage thriller, "The Shanghai Factor." The twenty-nine year old spy is based in Shanghai, where he meets a lovely Chinese woman named Mei. At his request, Mei speaks to him exclusively in Mandarin, a language that he is determined to master. The two have a torrid affair but do not probe into one another's personal lives. The spy is a "sleeper" whose job it is to "lead a transparent, predictable life," while building cover as "just another American clod" that the Chinese authorities can dismiss as unworthy of notice. Unfortunately, he is unable to keep a low profile for long.

First, he notices that teams of Chinese watchers are following him. Next, a bunch of goons abduct and assault him. He soon catches the attention of American Counterintelligence ("their job was to find the bad guy inside every good guy"). His inscrutable boss gives him a complex and ambiguous assignment that has him traveling back and forth between the U. S. and China.

McCarry knows the world of tradecraft thoroughly, and he effectively portrays the paranoia of a "spook" living in a foreign country. The American knows that if he miscalculates, he could wind up dead or at the mercy of the Guoanbu, the Chinese Intelligence Service, who are not known for their compassion. Our hero crosses paths with a wealthy and imperious CEO of a Chinese corporation; meets several other attractive females in addition to Mei; and interacts with a furtive Chinese operative who has his own mysterious agenda.

The author withholds key information until the final pages, which is likely to frustrate readers who prefer a more transparent plot. Like the unnamed protagonist, we are kept off balance, not knowing who is manipulating whom. In spite of its ambiguity, the novel succeeds, thanks to McCarry's powerful and fast-paced prose style. His descriptive writing and settings are evocative and he creates an appealing portrait of the resourceful and courageous protagonist who must fight to survive when he is targeted by powerful enemies bent on his destruction. "The Shanghai Factor" is permeated with suspicion and cynicism; nothing and no one can be taken at face value. The suspense builds steadily until, at last, McCarry reveals the truth in his surprising and satisfying conclusion.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A game of Go, June 6, 2013
This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
Charles McCarrey strikes out in a new direction with this masterly tale of spycraft in the new China of the 21st century. The emphasis here is on motive, and the goal is to occupy the high ground. Much like the classic game of Go, the moves of the characters are both simple and strategic. Each step is carefully thought out, but no amount of planning can avoid the changes which are created by a skillful opponent. At time the hero seems bound to fail, but is able to reverse the momentum of the game by seeing new possibilities.

McCarrey's clear insights in the interplay of suspicion and paranoia keep the action lively. Even the lesser characters have quirks and motives which propel the story. The whole plot develops within the framework of CI (CounterIntelligence)which serves to twist the threads into even more complicated knots. The simple becomes devious, the devious becomes desparate, and the hunter becomes the prey.

Thoroughly enjoyable, and beautifully written. The only flaw is that the novel needs another hundred pages to lengthen the enjoyment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ESPIONAGE AS REAL LIFE WEIQI (A GAME OF GO), April 20, 2014
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This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Paperback)
McCarry has long been one of the best of modern spy writers, acclaimed especially for a series of novels following the career of Paul Christopher. The hallmark of his novels is authenticity. McCarry’s far from the only writer of spy fiction to come from the ranks of former spooks (think W. Somerset Maugham, John LeCarre, and Barry Eisler for a few) but he’s the best since Maugham at describing the routines of the trade, and the equal of LeCarre at capturing the feeling of being a spy, alone in a world where one trusts no one absolutely and nothing is necessarily what it seems. McCarry’s strengths come across clear and strong in this slow building but ultimately exciting and totally engrossing novel of espionage in the Far East.

“Factor” is a word with double meaning but a good one for McCarry’s story. The novel’s protagonist is an American spy who is sent to Shanghai to soak up the language and culture. He winds up working for a Chinese magnate for whom he functions much as Western nations’ factors did in the early modern era: an agent in business negotiations between the magnate and his Western customers.
“Factor” also means causal agent, but with the nature of the causality not immediately apparent. Again, this is a good description of what happens to the young man. Bewildering things happen to him in Shanghai and later in the States. No one is as he or she seems. It slowly becomes clear why the magnate hired him and it’s not a pleasant discovery: the magnate has a personal grievance against him. Even the agency the young man works for is mysterious: it’s called the Headquarters and, whether more powerful than the CIA or not, it’s a lot more hidden. He follows the path his boss has pointed him towards but what is his boss’s agenda and where is he left if exposed?

The scenes in Shanghai are beautifully rendered, especially the paranoid feeling of being watched, of the natives reporting on you at every moment. The young agent starts out a trainee, moves up to dangler status (hanging out there, waiting to see if someone on the other side reels you in) and moves finally to the status of penetration agent (double agent).

“We’re paid to be dirty so that the virtuous may be immaculate,” his mentor explains to him when he is feeling restive. But are the virtuous ever that immaculate? Maybe as long as they’re ignorant of what their secret agents do for them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever and Creative, June 1, 2013
This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
The Shanghai Factor is not a typical spy novel in the Cold War tradition. It takes a look at China, its princelings, and the incredible ability China has shown to spy on the US, the very country to whom they have lent about a trillion dollars. I found the telling of this story quite interesting, and its point of view, that of a young US agent working in China who finds that nothing is as it seems. His unraveling of the truth takes up the entire story, and I strongly credit the author with being able to play his cards so cleverly and show that he understands China as well as he understood the older spy networks he has written about. There are many surprising twists and turns that keep the novel on a fast pace. You often see reviewers writing that they can't wait for the next novel by a particular author. That's how I am feeling as I have now closed this novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars McCarry Still Going, June 11, 2013
By 
Arthur Mortensen (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
I've read all of Charles McCarry several times, from his first, Miernek Dossier, a brilliant literary novel that's also a spy novel, to what I think are his best, The Last Supper, The Spy Lovers, and Second Sight, all from the Paul Christopher Series. (The latter is a controversial pick, as it is easily described as overwritten. So what? The more the better.) The one previous to Shanghai Factor, Christopher's Ghosts, was a fine reworking of some of that material and a very good book, but I enjoyed Shanghai Factor more. This very old spy, who's now in his 80's, is pretty hip about what's employed nowadays. I don't mean you should expect a Tom Clancy arms and technology catalog. Not at all. As in all of his books, the technical environment is just that, the milieu the principal characters work within. I don't feel a researcher standing behind the writer as he works. I just feel the interaction of his characters, in this case a young spy working initially in China, and then caught up in a struggle between his agency and Gouanbu, the Chinese spy agency. It would be telling to go much further in describing the story. Suffice it to say that McCarry's reputation among spies as genuine and realistic is deserved; this is not James Bond and, thank God, it's not John Le Carre either. With wishes that the old fellow continues to work, I hope that a reader of this paragraph will try the Shanghai Factor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Counter, March 22, 2014
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This review is from: The Shanghai Factor (Hardcover)
Readers who enjoy spy novels in which things are not as they appear to be are those most likely to enjoy reading Charles McCarry’s novel, The Shanghai Factor. The unnamed protagonist has been recruited by HQ to go to Shanghai, learn the language well, and see what develops. The senior spymasters play a long game, and McCarry keeps the plot moving while placing the characters in situations that leave a reader wondering whether it’s counterintelligence or other factors that are driving the action. I found this novel to be entertaining, and enjoyed the complexity.

Rating: Four-star (I like it)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid story but poor ending, January 4, 2014
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An American spy with no name is a sleeper agent in China. After meeting a Chinese woman he is activated by his masters to attempt to turn a group of Chinese agents.\

Our man survives many attempts on his life and for a new agent is very resourceful solving problems his agency has struggled with for years.

This story starts well enough but looses its way totally at the end. The ending is all wrapped up in about two short chapters. It felt like that the author has painted himself into a corner and needed to wrap up the story to move on.

This book feels like a screen play, a" Bourne Identity" type story. A film would be able to wrap this ending much better than the written word.

According to some of his readership this is one of McCarry's lesser works so I'll give some others a try.
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The Shanghai Factor
The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry (Hardcover - May 21, 2013)
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