The opening shows how Caine became a burned CIA agent, and the birth of his vendetta Allan Bernatto, who betrays him during a mission. As a result, Caine’s partner dies, but not before making Caine swear to protect his son, Sean. We then flash forward to shortly after the events of Tokyo Black and actually meet Sean, who is now a human rights activist in China. His work gets him netted by the Chinese Police and thrown into a political prison, but there’s more going on than what it seems.
Meanwhile, Caine tracks down Bernatto to Eastern Europe and is about to kill him, when it’s revealed that Sean is in danger. Never one to renege on a promise, Caine relents but promises Bernatto that their feud isn’t over yet. Once Bernatto provides him with the details, Caine travels to China to rescue Sean, a young man he’s never met but obligated to protect.
Once in Beijing, Caine meets up with Jia, a local Chinese human rights activist. While attending a protest, the two of them are nearly caught by Police, but thanks to some quick thinking, take refuge in a Chinese pizza joint. Jia becomes Caine’s ally to rescue Sean.
But there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Parallel to Caine’s POV, we rendezvous with Rebecca Freeling, who is now adjusting to life in a wheelchair after the events of Tokyo Black. She is our guide through the bureaucratic intelligence world that is now on high alert thanks to Sean’s capture. The Chinese want to trade Sean for a Chinese hacker captured in America. Turns out this Chinese hacker uncovered a lot of secrets that would prove embarrassing for the US government, such as CIA involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests.
Unable to risk such secrets coming to light, an assassin – the titular Red Phoenix – is sent to China to thwart the exchange before it ever even takes place. Added to that is the main antagonist, the sinister David Fang. A wealthy tycoon with Triad connections, Fang’s motives are mysterious but driven by a lust for technological power that could upset the world order.
Red Phoenix is a high-level thriller with geopolitical intrigue and action set-pieces, perfect for creating a movie inside your head. While I did see Red Phoenix’s true identity early on and I liked Tokyo Black better, this is a novel that will get your blood pumping and heart racing. Andrew Warren is one of the best thriller writers out today and an equal to any of the traditionally published authors in the genre.
Andrew Warren Interview
1) Did you already have Red Phoenix planned when you began writing Tokyo Black?
Yes and no… I knew I wanted to set the next book in China, as that was another location I had travelled in, and I really enjoyed my time there. Plus, it seemed like a fantastic locale for a spy thriller. However, it wasn’t until I finished writing both Tokyo Black and Devil’s Due that the story for Red Phoenix really crystalized in my mind (along with the title… In my earliest notes, the book was originally referred to as ‘Red Shadow’). Luckily, I had not published Tokyo Black yet, so I was able to go back and drop in little details that served as connective tissue between the two books.
2) What research did you do when writing the novel?
Well, like I said I had visited China before, so I had a lot of ideas for sights and situations I wanted to include in the book. For example, Caine’s journey into the Chinese hutong village was taken directly from my own experiences… he visits the same hutong I did, and I even ate at the same rather unusual restaurant that Caine does. I still remember clear as day when I first set foot on those old cobblestone streets…. It really felt like I was being transported back in time! (Of course, my visit ended with a lot less violence than Caine’s).
However, I also wanted to set a good portion of the book in Shanghai, which I had never been to. So I did a lot of research on the local landmarks there, the history of the Triads, and of course, China’s political history as well.
I also did a fair amount of research into the NSA, and their various surveillance programs. In the book, the macguffin (the thing everyone is chasing) is an NSA cyber weapon called TANGENT. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but suffice to say that I made up TANGENT completely… it wasn’t based on any real program, and I was terrified that readers wouldn’t believe it could really exist, or that it wouldn’t hold up to technical scrutiny. Fast forward to publishing the book, and within two weeks of release, the CIA revealed their own hacking program called UMBRAGE, which had almost identical capabilities… When I read the newspaper article, I couldn’t believe it!!
3) You make reference to PLA Unit 61398 in the novel. Can you share a little more about this real life Chinese Military unit?
PLA Unit 61398, or The People’s Liberation Army advanced persistent threat unit, is China’s most advanced Cyber Warfare unit. Aside from their Military Unit Cover Designator (PLA Unit 61398), not much is known about them… in fact, I believe the Chinese government denied their existence until 2013. In 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted five of the group’s officers fo theft of confidential business information and intellectual property from U.S. commercial firms.
The unit has been implicated in hacking attacks against targets is the US, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam… all over the world, really. I knew going in that cyber-espionage would play a big part in the story, so it made sense to involve them in some capacity.
4) Will we see any appearances of Jia in future books?
Absolutely! Jia’s character and her personal struggle really grew into something much bigger than I originally intended. She stuck with me, and became a fan favorite as well. I’ve planned a spin-off series featuring her and Lian… sort of a spy version of Lone Wolf and Cub.
The first book in that series will be set in Taipei, and will see her cross paths with the United Bamboo crime syndicate. As to whether she’ll ever meet up with Thomas Caine again…. Well, as the saying goes, never say never.
5) Likewise, will we see any more of Bernatto?
Bernatto is the villain I love to hate! So far, he’s popped up in all the main storyline novels, including Fire and Forget, which begins shortly after Red Phoenix, as well as Code Green. Code Green, you may be interested to know, will be the fourth Thomas Caine thriller. The rough draft is done, and I’m editing it now!
6) I take it we will see who was really running Ted in the third book?
Absolutely… The mystery man is revealed in Fire and Forget, along with the fate of Ted Lapinski.
7) Part of the plot involves CIA involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. How much of this is rooted in fact?
That’s hard to say for sure, because there are so many rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding those tragic events. I did some research, and came up with a fictionalized version of what I thought seemed to be a likely scenario. In the book, I mention something called “Operation Canary”, which was based on the real life “Operation Yellowbird.” Yellowbird was primarily a Hong Kong-based operation to help the dissidents who participated in the protests escape arrest by the Chinese government, with support from the CIA and Brittan’s SIS. Yellowbird really happened, but as for the rest, who can say for sure?
For me, the Caine series is really about the characters and their personal struggles… universal themes like honor, guilt, betrayal, redemption, etc. Politics are just the canvas in the background, upon which their stories play out. But in this case, David Fang’s motivations are tied very deeply to the things that happened to him and his family. Tiananmen, along with his perceived betrayal by the CIA there, play a huge part in his personal motivations. And like all great villains, I think, he sees himself as the beleaguered hero of his own story.
8) Is there any real-life inspiration behind Fang, the villain of Red Phoenix?
Fang is honestly one of my favorite villains… I had so much fun writing about him and his crazy gang of followers… Especially Iris! I think Fang and Iris are the closest the Caine series ever gets to an over the top megalomaniac and femme fatale. Fang himself was originally based on a certain American politician… I won’t say who, and it really doesn’t matter because it all changed once I started writing. From his very first scene, the character morphed into something else and exploded off the page. I threw out all my initial plans and just ran with it. Fang is a man who has suffered so much pain and betrayal in his life, and yet he comes out of it with the hubris of a god! But deep down, he still has this sliver of very human weakness…
9) What can we expect from future Thomas Caine books?
I’ve published quite a few Caine books since Red Phoenix… a whole second series, in fact! The main storyline continues in Fire and Forget, which sees Caine traveling to East Africa to stop a warlord from unleashing a deadly bio-weapon. Then there’s the Caine: Rapid Fire series. These books are shorter novellas that fill in some details from Caine’s past. Devil’s Due and Cold Kill both take place shortly before Tokyo Black, when Caine is living off the grid in Thailand. Sandfire and Depth Charge, which I co-wrote with fellow thriller author Aiden L. Bailey, jump back in time to reveal some black ops that take place during Caine’s tenure in the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
10) What are you working on currently?
I’m in the editing phase on the fourth Caine thriller, Code Green. This book sees Caine finally come in from the cold, and work directly with the CIA once again. He finds himself racing through Singapore and Vietnam to protect a vital intelligence asset before a deep state conspiracy, and an old enemy from his past, can silence them for good.
Next up, I have another Rapid Fire book I’m working on with Aiden, which sees Caine and Jack Tyler chase a Russian assassin across Europe. After that, I plan to get started on a new Caine book, as well as the Jia series I mentioned above. So as you can see, there are plenty of thrilling new adventures heading to readers very soon!