This is Henry Porter at his best. White Hot Silence has all the pace and excitement of Remembrance Day and the cool intelligent depth of Brandenburg, for me his two best novels to date. This is a sequel to last year’s topical thriller, Firefly, that book was no slouch but this novel is better. Of course, it benefits from the grounding in the first novel and the return of some familiar characters is most welcome. It’s a contemporary tale alive to the shifting tectonic plates of post Cold War world affairs, and to the new post financial crash realities. However, White Hot Silence is also a cracking kidnap adventure, the action is non-stop, so it’s also a page turner. I’ve yet to read a Henry Porter novel that I didn’t enjoy, he’s a master of the modern espionage/world affairs thriller, but I really didn’t want to put this one down, and when I did I was eager to get back to it. Porter knows how to unfold a complex tale so that the undercurrents and themes seamlessly blend into the action. A lot of journalists try their hand at this kind of novel few come anywhere near the class Porter has. His novels are zeitgeisty and insightful. In White Hot Silence I also sense a quiet, measured anger at the stupidity and torpor of modern politics (the sort of thing that comes through in le Carré work about unfettered financial corruption and west/east game playing etc.).
Like all the best spy stories, White Hot Silence is also a love story. That helps to round out the characters and adds to our understanding of their motivations and actions. Generally there is a credible cast of players here but I particularly like Anastasia, kidnapped but nobody’s idea of a victim. She takes matters into her own hands, where that goes is something you will have to find out, but she is as nuanced and complex as anyone in the novel.
I would recommend reading Firefly first, it’s good enough anyway, but the back story is subtly and fully explained here so it’s not essential.
Anastasia Hisami should be on a flight back to the US, her husband Denis seems edgy, he wants her home and she’s not used to him being demonstrative so something must be up – something that can’t be discussed on the phone. She has her own concerns about her charity work. She has to deliver the car she is driving to Spiadino, a village in the Calabrian mountains, now home to hundreds of refugees. Then she’ll be on the next flight out of Brindisi. While Anastasia is still on the phone she sees a familiar face so she stops to offer a lift to two refugees. Things quickly turn nasty, the men ask for her phone, she runs from the car as a Mercedes comes around the corner in the other direction. Two more men, Italians, these ones have guns. Anastasia probably could escape but her conscience stops her when the men from the Mercedes threaten to kill the refugees. She surrenders.
Her husband, Denis Hisami, is the philanthropist behind her charity project but he is also a billionaire investor with a dark past. One of his investments, the TangKi fund, is troubling him, he’s called a meeting of the major partners, he suspects money laundering. Huge sums of money have been filtered through the fund and not registered in the accounts. Now, fund manager Adam Crane has gone missing. In order to shut him up, a DC law firm offered to buy Denis’ shares for three times their current value, an offer he rejected. Because he won’t play ball they threaten him with the IRS, the Justice Department and, even, Homeland Security.
Just as his wife is being kidnapped in Italy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement turn up demanding Denis’ passport. Coincidence? Unlikely. Denis Hisami won’t lose his wife, he already lost his sister. This is going to be a fight he has to take on remotely. As information about Denis is leaked in the press Homeland arrest him. He is now reliant on a team of investigators and Anastasia’s former lover Paul Samson to find her.
This is no kidnap for ransom, even in Italy they don’t do that very often anymore. From Italy to America, London to Russia a complex conspiracy of money laundering and kidnap unfolds (the refugee crisis remains a theme from Firefly). Both sides have dark secrets in the past that need protecting at any cost.
Porter’s novels spring from his journalism, and a wealth of knowledge gathered over the years, White Hot Silence is in the moment, totally relevant. Essentially, a chase thriller, this novel is exciting, pacy and thought provoking. Who is on whose side is debatable and the good guys don’t all wear white hats. However, as I said of Firefly, when it comes down to it, a decent man with a small group of friends is determined to rescue Anastasia, a woman who spends her life trying to help people. Ultimately an enriching read but this in no way detracts from the full on thrilling adventure that unfolds for us. Porter has always been strong on the human aspects of spying which is equally true in White Hot Silence. Terrific stuff.
Paul Burke 5/5
White Hot Silence by Henry Porter
Quercus 9781787470804 hbk Jun 2019