Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Scott C.S. Stone's The Dragon’s Eye

The Dragon’s Eye is a 1969 spy thriller by Scott C.S. Stone published by Fawcett in their Gold Medal series. I’m afraid I know nothing about the author other than that he had certainly spent time in the Far East.

This is an amateur spy tale. Michael Hawkins is a reporter covering the war in Vietnam. When his best friend, a fellow war correspondent, is killed in the fighting Hawkins decides he has had enough. He’s getting out of Asia and he’s going home. He gets as far as Hawaii and falls in love with the place. He’s going to settle down and write a book. And maybe get his chaotic love life in some sort of order.

Then an old buddy, Leslie Trent, shows up. Trent is now a spook. The mysterious intelligence agency for which he works wants Hawkins to do a job for them. Hawkins is informed that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

An English journalist, Malcolm Leigh, has become rather a big wheel in the Red Chinese hierarchy. He’s an intelligence analyst but he’s highly placed politically. Now he’s considering defecting to the West. And he won’t negotiate with anyone but Michael Hawkins.

Leigh’s defection is not going to be a simple matter. The Chinese don’t know that he plans to defect but they do know that something is up, and they know that Leslie Trent and Michael Hawkins are involved. Hawkins’ cover is blown right from the start. And the Chinese do not entirely trust Malcolm Leigh and they never have.

A further complication is that Leigh wants to bring his Chinese girlfriend Choy-Lin with him to the West. Getting two people out will be more difficult than just getting one out.

And then Trent’s contacts start getting killed. What’s worse is the strong probability that at leas one of them talked before being killed. The Chinese intelligence services do not know the exact plan that Trent and Hawkins have in mind but they’re now in a position to make some shrewd guesses.

Most of the book is taken up by an extended chase through South-East Asia. Trent, Hawkins, Leigh and Choy-Lin are never more than a short step ahead of their pursuers. It’s also the middle of the monsoon season. And everything that could go wrong seems to go wrong.

There’s a fair amount of action and suspense.

The plot is really a fairly standard defector plot. It’s handled with some skill and there is one extra complication (which I can’t reveal for fear of spoilers) that adds a slight touch of originality.

Hawkins is a typical amateur spy. He doesn’t want to be killed and he doesn’t want to kill anybody. He just wants to go back to Honolulu and resume work on his book. He’s moderately brave and moderately resourceful. He’s not cut out to be a spy but he does his best. He’s likeable enough. He’s just a regular guy.

There’s no one particular villain who stands out. The bad guys are rather anonymous which is probably a lot more realistic.

Malcolm Leigh is the most interesting character because he has complex and contradictory motivations.

The author offers us some background on the workings of the Chinese intelligence services although whether any of this stuff is accurate is a question I can’t answer.

The Dragon’s Eye makes good use of exotic settings and captures the severely paranoid flavour of the Cold War, and the paranoid treacherous world of espionage, pretty well.

The Dragon’s Eye is a solid pulp spy thriller. Recommended.

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