M.Hartland, The Year of the Scorpion

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Michael Hartland was an “insider” having worked in “the business” before he became a spy writer. His novels capture the action and adventure side of the tradition and are often set in far-flung places. This edition is one of only 75 numbered and signed copies in a special binding with an appreciation by Eric Homberger and Ted Allbeury.

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Michael Hartland published his first spy fiction book Down Among the Dead Men in 1983. He wrote five novels which bring together the older espionage tradition (Buchan, Sapper, Ambler) of danger, capture, torture and escape from evil powers to the moral ambiguity and sensitivity the post-60s le Carre, Deighton and Allbeury school of Realpolitik. Hartland applied to join GDHQ Cheltenham in his final year at Cambridge and worked with the legendary Hugh Alexander. The latter broke the German codes in the Second World War. This was at a time of great international tension – the Cuban missile crisis, and tension in the Far East over Mao’s designs on Taiwan. Subsequently, Hartland worked in others branches of the intelligence service such as counter-terrorism and finally worked in the diplomatic corp. His books are admired for the authenticity and the clever combination of thriller elements and depth of compassion for his characters – particularly spy chief David Cable (based on Alexander) and his daughter Sarah, who has reoccurring doubts about her suitability to be a good intelligence officer.

Ted Allbeury

The Year of the Scorpion (1991) is set in the near future on the fringe of British influence at Hong Kong station. Sarah is sent on a mission to discover the mole and aid the October Tenth underground democratic movement in Communist China. It is a tale of intrigue and cat and mouse tactics as Sarah must avoid the enemies traps as she moves to her goal. For this edition Eric Homberger (author of a study on John Le Carre) was asked to place Hartland in the spy writing tradition and Ted Allbeury, one of the most experienced real spy writers also did an appreciation.

5.00 out of 5

1 review for M.Hartland, The Year of the Scorpion

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Eric Homberger on May 18, 2012 :

    Extract from the Appreciation by Eric Homberger

    “Michael Hartland is among the brightest and most promising of the ‘younger’ generation. Despite being regularly compared to le Carre (like le Carre, he began writing while working as a civil servant), his novels, beginning with Down Among the Dead Men (1983), represent a new wave in the spy thriller – an attempt to build a bridge between he-man adventure thrillers and the subtler investigations of the ethics of spying. Hartland’s setting is countries on the margin of the great powers (Pakistan, Austria, Hong Kong), where the games played between spies and spy-catchers are at their deadliest. He is like le Carre in his passion for authenticity and detail. But he is less interested in the mythology of ‘the Cut’, which has no corporate voice, no collective memory as does le Carre’s Circus, than in suggesting the terrible human price paid by the players in the espionage game. Hartland portrays a world in which violence is unexpected, seemingly random, and morally shattering. The Year of the Scorpion begins with the beheading of a missionary in China by stragglers from the defeated army of the Kuomintang in 1950, and the shooting of a fourteen year old Chinese girl, forty years on, while trying to sneak across the border to Hong Kong. With the murder of an innocent family in Hong Kong, and the fire-bombing of the flat of a British agent, the complex web of history and current politics . . . have set in motion the conspiracies and counter-conspiracies which give this novel its complex and exciting denouement. . .”

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