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The Shanghai Factor

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  874 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Charles McCarry is widely considered one of the greatest espionage writers of the all-time, and in The Shanghai Factor he returns to his roots with an absorbing tale of global skulduggery that leaves the reader guessing at every turn.

A young, unnamed spy is living in Shanghai in order to observe and absorb the culture and language so as to aid a shadowy U.S. agency known o
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Mysterious Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  874 ratings  ·  129 reviews

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Brandon Gryder
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A new Charles Mccarry book is a major event in my opinion. My favorite author. Period. Runs circles around Lecarre and Littell, better than Furst. America's greatest writer of espionage. His books are as literary as any books out there. Yes, he is that good.

"The Shanghai Factor" is a wonderful testimony to modern day espionage. While it is not on the same level as Mccarry's Paul Christopher stories, it is better than any spy novel printed in a long time.

Do yourself a favor and start with "The
Jun 08, 2013 rated it liked it
The Shanghai Factor starts out strong as a spy thriller. I was immediately sucked into the story of the unnamed narrator in Shanghai and his adventures in espionage. This is summer reading at its best: you are transported to another country, a dangerous exotic locale where even speaking the language won't save you from peril, and as the suspense builds you are so into it that you can even taste the Yangtze River when the narrator is thrown in. McCarry seems to be using China the way LeCarre used ...more
Amit Tiwary
Sep 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-books
This is a simple yet brilliant spy thriller. It keeps you hooked till the end. Is it in the league of John Le Carre? Probably yes. The narration of John Le Carre ones are bit complex, superbly pitched, rich, and very British. Here it is simple and lucid. This book should appeal to you if you read this genre.
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
All the top-shelf spy fiction seems to be written by former intelligence officers. I'm not sure if there is some retirement program (some post-retirement class or retreat) that involves teaching former CIA agents how to write spy-genre fiction. McCarry's most recent novel is a good blend of the counter-intelligence spy novel (one mastered by le Carré and Littell) and the mentor/acolyte subset of spy fiction. All in all, 'The Shanghai Factor' was a compelling, basically well-written novel.

I have
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
"Better than John Le Carre" according to Lee Child. Bollocks is it.
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nicely-rendered, credible spy thriller.
Patrice Hoffman
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Barry Sierer
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it
This book was not what I had hoped for in a spy novel set in China. It comes with a couple of key illusions.
The first is the illusion that this book involves a lot of “tradecraft”, when it is really focused on psychology. There is little discussion of the technical aspects of espionage and the author is vague in areas where detail would have made the story more interesting.

The second is the illusion of character. The story is told in the first person by the main character who recounts his though
Lynn Horton
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This is my first foray into McCarry's spy thrillers, and I enjoyed it more for the setting than for the character development. I'm unfamiliar with China—one of the few places about which I can say that—so the author's descriptions intrigued me. One of our children speaks Mandarin, so I've absorbed a few of his studies along the way, and McCarry's depictions are consistent with what I've learned from my son.

The settings alone are reason to read this book, as is the sense of place in terms of lif
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Nice spy novel incorporating double agents and lots of deception. But I have to admit that I was disappointed to have figured out the "bad guy" pretty early in the story. I guess I've read too much Agatha Christie to trust those I'm supposed to trust.
Michael Martz
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you're an avid fan of 'spy' fiction and you love the tradecraft, cat & mouse games, chess-like thinking, and other aspects of these novels that make them so interesting, you'll love Charles McCarry's 'The Shanghai Factor'. In addition to all the building blocks that make great spy thrillers, throw in a lot of sex as well as exotic locales and you'll experience a winning combination. My only warning is that this is one of those stories that requires concentration on the reader's part. If y ...more
Jul 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Paul Christopher, he's not, but this nameless narrator drags us willynilly to the end. I got up in the middle of the night to read half a dozen more chapters and then before the crack of dawn to finish it. Nameless is a bit repulsive and this is where I like repulsive characters -- in books and movies, not sitting in my living room. Kudos to McCarry, now 83, for bringing spycraft up to date with cell phones, thumb drives, etc. Can't wait for my Shanghai sister to read this so we can compare note ...more
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Read this on Anthony Bourdain's Twitter recommendation: "Charles McCarry’s latest, 'Shanghai Factor' a glorious spy novel. Witty, knowing. Delicious." The first half had potential but it devolved into a boring, predictable mess. The writing is a classic example of why "show not tell" is advice given to every high school English class; there are pages upon pages of drab dialogue explaining what's happening without developing any character. There is no mystery, intrigue, inventive tradecraft, or e ...more
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
McCarry's book captures the paranoid insularity of counter-intelligence work and the people who are drawn to it. The book has limited action, but high tension. It also offers a fascinating picture of Chinese culture as seen through the eyes of a Mandarin-speaking non-Chinese. It's ongoing issues==who is watched, who is the watcher--is consistently interesting, even if the villain on the piece is obvious. It is a book that is very heavy on intrigue.
Jim Carroll
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Mr McCarry has no equal in this genre. This book was un-put-downable. Anyone who enjoys this genre should begin with "The Tears of Autumn." Superb. As a former deep undercover operative, his novels are as much truth as fiction. His plot development is powerful yet sublime. Protagonists are human, flawed, and reachable.
The writing here was good and I enjoyed the author's use of humor but the story is one that will be forgotten within a day of reading. I kept expecting some dramatic event to occur but nothing happens.
Vikas Datta
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A taut spy story that maintains its pace (until the denouement when it seems a little hurried) and portrays the ultimate nightmare - who can you ultimately trust?
Alik Tam
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
If you're into spy thrillers this one will definitely peak your interest.

I say "peak your interest" rather than "you'll like it" because, well, it's not all that it promises to be. There is a good story here. A lot of in-depth descriptions of people, places and things. However, it falls in the category of being all show. There's no real big substance about it or any actual conclusion to it all.

If I were to describe it as something, I would compare it to white bread. It's alright, it is what it i
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This Shanghai-U.S. East Coast-based spy thriller is reminiscent of the early works of John le Carré, where the question always is, Whom can you trust? And the answer: no one. At least that’s how the unnamed narrator, a new CIA recruit, chooses to operate. Paranoia 101. Throughout, it’s McCarry’s wry observations of characters and their situations that make the reading such a pleasure.
Undocumented CIA agents, like the narrator
. . never carry official ID. This absence of proof that they’re up to
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am reading all of Charles McCarry right now. An excellent espionage book set in Shanghai with frequent trips back to the power cities of the East Coast: new York, Boston and Washington, D.C. A young spy (nameless and the narrator) working for a shadowy U.S. agency is approached by an enigmatic chief counterspy, Luther Burbank, to infiltrate a massive Chinese conglomerate and learn the secrets of it's power CEO, Chen Qi. There are woman, of course, and Chinese-Americans on both sides of the ais ...more
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a well written subtle spy novel, exploring more, the tradecraft of the profession than the shootings and explosions of Bond or Bourne. I wouldn’t suggest that if you’re a fan of the latter it’s not for you, but be warned....
Three observations from other readers.
One, it starts well but but you will loose interest after the first third. Rubbish.
Two it’s been compared to leCarre. Rubbish.
And, three. The ending is rushed. Unfortunately this is an accurate criticism. I don’t understand why,
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is no such thing as a bad or below average Charles McCarry book. There's not a wasted sentence or paragraph in his stories. Most of the plot takes place in Shanghai and Manhattan. The astute and stylishly descriptive writing makes both of these cities come alive as if you're actually there. This is a thinking person's writer; McCarry's books are more slow paced character studies than action spy novels.

Shortly after starting The Shanghai Factor, I learned that the author had passed away on
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I came to this book with no expectations other than really enjoying Old Boys about 5yrs ago.
I was slightly disappointed this wasn't a book involving Horace Christopher from Old Boys.
Perhaps I'm misremembering but I seem to recall really liking that character way back when I read my first Charles McCarry book and was also slightly disappointed that all the Christopher books weren't about him but rather they're about Paul.
Well I plan read a few of those to see what this Paul guy is all about and i
John Kaye
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A re-read, in preparation for reading The Mulberry Bush, McCarry's most recent, which I have been saving for a couple of years. I virtually never re-read, so this was unusual, and a pleasure, because although I started with no remembrance, as I read on, most of it came back, but I still wanted to read to the end. While not up there with the Paul Christopher stories, it was engaging and I simply enjoy McCarry's prose and construction skills. Oh, and the mulberry bush gets a mention toward the ver ...more
Charles Dingman
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A terrific spy story from his own point of view. He is a patriot, perhaps accidentally, and a spy, seemingly because other lives seem pale or futile. A chameleon, he looks for others acting inimically to his country. I felt the vertigo of reorientation as possible alternative scenarios play out in his mind. The suspense was palpable.
Rita Berk
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
McCarry wrote wonderful espionage stories. In his books, nothing and no one are what they seem. “Suspicion, prudence, deception. The three muses of the craft. “ Fun to read with twists and turns. A couple of mistakes worth noting: the narrator flew into New York twice— once to Dulles, once to Reagan. Of course, in a McCarry, that could have been intentional subterfuge or secret signals!
James R Jackson III
First rate

No author since John LeCarre has spun my head around like that. Did I not understand the premise? When the author gives what the American reader demands, he has to write the solution with a Crayola. I think I'll buy another. No one will know how thick I am.
Anne Tanner
May 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Quite an interesting story, but, maybe. I missed something? It was all wrapped up in the last few chapters, seemed a bit hurried, and I don’t really understand how the hero worked it out. A downside of reading too quickly maybe. Hmm.
Arun Kamath
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it
while i mostly dont run past the lecarre at the buffet, the plot of this one intrigued me. stylishly done and at a leisurely pace.. very similar to len deighton and le carre.

give me ludlum any day .. but sigh.. hes dead... lets hope terry hayes is worth the wait for the next book after the pilgrim..
mlchael w looper
Mar 19, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poor review.

It was not very interesting. Slow,boring. Could not come up with a moral of the story. Would not recommend to anyone.
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McCarry served in the United States Army, where he was a correspondent for Stars and Stripes, was a small-town newspaperman, and was a speechwriter in the Eisenhower administration. From 1958 to 1967 he worked for the CIA, under deep cover in Europe, Asia, and Africa. However, his cover was not as a writer or journalist.

McCarry was editor-at-large for National Geographic and contributed pieces to
“All suburban housing developments look alike, and besides, every Yankee who ever crossed the Potomac except Ulysses S. Grant got lost as soon as he reached the Virginia side.” 5 likes
“the truth was that I had become a secret agent because I could not bear for another minute the pointlessness of life in the real world.” 2 likes
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