Book Review: The Quantum Spy

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When I saw that David Ignatius had a new book out, being a fan of the spy genre and his previous novels, especially The Director, I knew that I was going to eventually pick this one up. But when I saw that the title was The Quantum Spy and the book jacket (ok the Amazon description) read:

A hyper-fast quantum computer is the digital equivalent of a nuclear bomb; whoever possesses one will be able to shred any encryption and break any code in existence. The winner of the race to build the world’s first quantum machine will attain global dominance for generations to come. The question is, who will cross the finish line first: the U.S. or China?

I made sure that I picked it up and read it when I was next in the mood for a spy novel.

Like all of Ignatius' previous novels that I have read, he completely delved into the details of spy craft proving to the reader that all of this was definitely plausible. But my disappointment was in the fact that the topic of quantum computing was nothing more than a MacGuffin for the rest of the spy craft to move forward. Quantum computing itself was a periphery topic and not even one that was the driving factor in this story of a traitor within the CIA and how they were being handled by the Chinese.

The story starts out well enough with some good old fashioned spy craft as Harris Chang works a Chinese PhD inside the MSS (China's version of the CIA) and gets out the information he needs including that the Chinese MSS has a mole, known as Rukuo within the CIA that has been feeding them secrets on the United States' efforts in quantum computing. We soon learn that this PhD commits suicide in his hotel room instead of working as a CIA informant. This is what sets up the action of the novel as the CIA fights a two-pronged battle: one to find the model inside the CIA and the other to discredit the work of the MSS.

The novel does a great job of playing out the views of each major character in the story from the CIA Agent Harris Chang to the mole within the CIA and back to John Vandel who is running this all for the CIA and Ling Ma, the head of the Chinese MSS. The way each mind thinks throughout the novel is great and by jumping between the individual characters Ignatius was able to move the story forward while not having to show one person having more knowledge than they really should have. The way Ignatius had every one questioning every one else's motivation was done really well, but I do think they laid it on a bit too heavy on the Chinese ancestry of Harris Chang and how that could impact what he thought (but this is also coming from someone who doesn't really look back at their own ancestry in any way whatsoever and never has understood that topic).

Quick Review: 4 out of 5 stars.