Sirk TV Book Review: RED CELL [Touchstone]
The intonations of “Red Cell” [Mark Henshaw/Touchstone/336pgs] as a female Jack Ryan for the new millenium rings true while engaging with in some cloak and dagger elements made specific in USA Networks’ “Covert Affairs” starring Piper Perabo. The key within this idea of spy thrillers is making their stories prevalent and newsworthy while still retaining a necessity of the lead character to grow. In this case the lead character is Kyra Styker, a CIA analyst who is burned in the field in Venezuela because of the bad call of her superior and must find her way back into the good graces of her agency. Through the watchful eye of Cooke, the female CIA director, she is routed into the Red Cell unit which looks for ideas between the lines. When a mass scale attack by the Chinese advancing on Taiwan forces the hand of the American President to play part of his carrier group in the Taiwanese Straits, something seems off because of an attack on a CIA asset deep in Chinese. This asset reflects the growing rebuke within China as he was a participant in the Tienanmen Square protests but eventually escaped detection to become a worker inside their intelligence units. Stryker’s instincts and fact finding ability point her and her colleagues to a possible secret weapon on the Chinese side that requires both cryptology and knowledge on the ground to make work in terms of strategy. Much is based on luck which makes its set up very similar to “The Hunt For Red October” though its spy fare is much more obvious and placed in a less claustrophobic setting. Like the newly minted Ryan,. Stryker stakes her career on a hunch but has more of the agency backing around her (though she too is expendable). Like “October” as well, after gaining intel, she must convince the military men (including the commander of the pushing fleet) that what she is doing is right despite what holes there might be in her story. Ultimately, “Red Cell” is a story of second chances and second guessing that proves the fate of the modern world is based upon a series of random moments that come together which, with the right information, can be crucial. While some of the expositional elements might be possible to perceive as wordy, the novelist, himself a former CIA analyst, makes the plot abstracts move forward with exceptional ease and pace to a tension-filled end.