The best spy novels (think John le Carré, Alan Furst and Francine Mathews) have plots that balance authenticity with audacity and main characters who are morally compromised agents. Their flaws often interfere with their abilities to perform their missions and force them to take actions that risk lives -- theirs and others. Charles Cumming's sophisticated spy thriller "Typhoon" has all these hallmarks and a love story, as well.

The novel is about a CIA plot to destabilize China and the role of the British Secret Service (MI6) in that sabotage. The novel opens with a flashback to the "sunset of the British Empire" and the months before Hong Kong is transferred to the Chinese and then culminates 10 years later, right before the Beijing Olympics.

Cumming brilliantly balances the complicated relationships between our hero, Joe Lennox, a young British spy with "non-official cover ... the most sensitive and secretive position in the intelligence firmament," and Chinese and U.S. intelligence agencies. The lives of Cumming's characters mattered to me as much as their missions, making this thoroughly researched thriller even more gripping.