Succubus – Regis Sheehan
I love reading a great political spy thriller, and Regis Sheehan in his book Succubus reminded me of what is best in the genre. It is a really clever and well-structured plot that interweaves fictional defectors from North Korea into the real-life global political scene we’re experiencing. It’s an engrossing story with an expansive global landscape and great believable characters. The intrigue and threat are always prevalent which keeps the atmosphere heightened throughout the book.
The story takes place from secret locations throughout the USA to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, from Italy to China, from Iraq to Japan, and between North and South Korea. The detail is superb and it is unsurprising that Regis Sheehan has a background as an agent in the US State Department, Diplomatic Security Service.
The story is set in 2003 just after the Iraq war and hunt for Sadam Hussain. The search for weapons of mass destruction is proving misleading so we have a sceptical world as to motivations behind the military interventions and foreign interference. Within this context and with worsening relationships between the USA and North Korea, we have a high level North Korean diplomat (Ro Jae-Ki), based in Rome, wanting to defect along with his niece (Hwa Nari – a nuclear research scientist) who is still living in North Korea. The Songbun class system in North Korea is very interesting: Top of the system the “Loyal Class” who enjoy the highest living and educational standards. The “Wavering Class” are the largest group of workers who are loyal but their loyalties can be reasonably questioned. The “Hostile Class” are anti-revolutionary people, former landowners, former pro-Japanese families, various criminals and families of defectors. This defection is just about to condemn Ro’s remaining family from the Loyal to the Hostile Class – at best. Not that it seems to bother Ro much.
A military team is formed to undertake Hwa Nari’s extraction from North Korea and the sense of danger and menace surrounding their task, and any capture triggers suicide, using implanted suicide vials rather than be taken prisoner. Plans rarely work perfectly and their mission code-named ARGENT SUCCUBUS will be no exception.
The only real criticism I have with the story is that there are a lot of acronyms used and it takes a while before the more important ones sink in. I found myself categorising different groups/units/departments etc. as USA – secret, USA – really secret, USA – really really secret and the same for other countries. I couldn’t quote you one abbreviation now. For others, this may resonate strongly and add to the authentic feel of the narration and dialogue, but for me, it slowed the story down.
I would recommend this book as an enthralling, intriguing and suspenseful political espionage thriller. I’ll definitely read Regis’ other books.