During a CIA operation in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Agent Hector Kane finds his career and marriage at stake when he receives a call from a Saudi prince claiming that Hector’s wife is a Chinese spy.
Life has never been the same since Hector Kane was tossed out of the Company two years ago. His marriage to the smart and beautiful Yubi is falling apart after the death of their son. His teaching career at the American Institute of Middle Eastern Studies in Cairo has not fulfilled him as he thought it would. His heart and mind are still in the trade. So when the CIA offers him a chance to redeem himself, Hector doesn’t hesitate.
It’s a “one-man job,” as the Cairo chief puts it; if successful, Hector is set up to become the next deputy chief of the CIA’s Cairo station. Hector will take his wife and five students to a remote island in the South China Sea. No questions, Hector; you’ll be briefed in Asia.
But in Asia, things get weirder by the day. First, Hector questions the nature of his mission when the CIA instructs him to infect one of his students with a deadly virus. Second, Hector receives a call from the Saudi Prince Mohamed bin Hakam, who claims that Hector’s wife is a Chinese spy who has seduced and abducted his son.
Unable to tell the CIA, Hector must act alone. He has to contact the Chinese intelligence, locate the prince’s son, and relearn everything he thought he knew about his marriage, his mission, and himself.
“With its relentless pace, smart plot, and top-notch writing, The Haze makes for a most appealing and compelling read. A read that transcends its obvious timeliness (Hawkes’s prescient subplot of an engineered Coronavirus!) to say much about personal loyalty and institutional betrayal.
“Sophisticated reading is something of a rarity these days and a debut novel with interesting characters in a dense, intelligent storyline rarer still and it’s a credit to Hawkes that he excels on all levels.
“It’s not a read to be rushed. Hawkes’s plot doesn’t follow a linear progression from problem to solution. The world of clandestine operations isn’t like that and on this level, it’s the plot’s process, not the progress that makes The Haze a powerful and intriguing read.
“With superb character development, Hawkes creates sympathy for individual characters in their specific situations without dictating what we are supposed to think about the big picture. Central to this is Agent Hector Kane who’s bored and fed up with spinning his wheels and looking for something to bring meaning to events in which he has been embroiled. A superb character study his story is told with equal parts passion and calculation, with compelling real-world relevance whilst putting a fallible human face to covert operations.
“Exciting, fascinating, absorbing, The Haze is a must-read for fans of Spy Stories and is recommended without reservation.”
Set in 2013, Hawkes’s engrossing debut introduces CIA agent Hector Kane, who, years after being fired without explanation, is welcomed back to the agency. Hector’s boss, George Moore (nicknamed the Cardinal because he “spent a year as a Jesuit monk novice before Langley entered his life”), who has managed to get the Senate to confirm him as the CIA director despite being considered the mastermind behind the intel that Iraq had WMDs, has a mission for Hector that involves the future of Egypt. Fifi Noman, the niece of the dean of the university where Hector was teaching between CIA stints, is the daughter of Ibrahim Noman, known as the Godfather of Egypt’s 2011 revolution. The Cardinal’s plan is for Hector to accompany Fifi and some others to the Southeast Asian country of Pulau, “a benevolent dictatorship,” expose Fifi to its underbelly, and “impress upon her pliant head the Kantian tenet that democracy was a categorical imperative.” Hawkes keeps the twists coming as Hector seeks to influence Fifi to promote the cause of democracy in Egypt. Fans of superior post–Cold War spy fiction will be satisfied.
"A thoroughly enjoyable contemporary spy novel recommended to fans of the well-known "heavy hitter" espionage writers.
"This slick and contemporary CIA espionage thriller leads us through the revolution ravaged streets of Cairo - to the heady atmosphere of Pulau island in South East Asia - via the dirty money of Saudi princes, high end yachts and other similarly shadowy characters under the veneer of middle eastern powerplay.
"We quickly learn that our leading man, Professor Hector Kane; is not quite what he seems. Former CIA agent, both noble yet disgraced, he finds himself drawn back into the game by the mysterious Cardinal to head up a new CIA operation under the guise of his new deep cover life as a university Professor. But who can Hector trust? Travelling his mission undercover with a group of his elite university students, we learn that everyone has their own secret agenda to hide.
"His end goal already murky, the lens of Hector’s life is further narrowed when he received a tip off claiming that his wife, the mother of his son – the child they lost, is a Chinese spy; he also learns that his late father, also an eminent Professor, carried a legacy destined to land on his shoulders, to be avenged two decades after his death.
"This is a multi-layered and exciting novel from Burnaby Hawkes, crafted with spectacular detail all with an authentic feel. The inner workings of this contemporary CIA operation are masterfully revealed in a plot that darts from earlier events to real time as we build a picture of Hector’s ultimate task.
"There is a fine line in espionage writing where I feel an author can overwrite complexity into the finer details to the detriment of the reader’s enjoyment. Hawkes here manages to achieve the perfect balance of offering up a satisfyingly challenging read without the need to spoon feed or use clichés to activate the basic thrill and dirty glamour of a classic spy plot.
"A wonderful sense of place is created throughout this novel: for example in the author’s descriptions of the humid polluted tense atmosphere (“the Haze”) of Pulau. My mind’s eye was easily opened as to how the characters looked, spoke and behaved; and any one of the life stories of the main cast could be a spin-off novel in its own right, so rich is the use of every word to craft each character and their backstory.
"I found this a reasonably quick and enjoyable read and would certainly recommend it to fans of any of the well-known heavy hitter espionage writers: Forsyth, Le Carre and the like. It is no surprise with the author’s professional background that this novel feels authentic, which is all too important. I would be happy to read another novel by Burnaby Hawkes. A great read."
We had the most fantastic time catching up with author Burnaby Hawkes today. While he may be churning out tales of CIA agents in the most desperate situations now, we learned that that has not always been the adventures of his imagination. We chat about his aspirations as a young child and the writer whom he credits for being a life changing experience.
TSW: Ok, Burnaby Hawkes is now a fantastic author writing books that keep his readers on the edge of their seats. But, he hasn't always been, right? So, let's go back in time a second. What does 5-year-old Burnaby Hawkes want to be when he grows up?
BH: An astronaut, of course—which is funny now when I look back on it, because I don't think that was what I really wanted. It was the idea of being up there among the stars, in another world, that fascinated me. Like all kids, I believed imagining was doing. So I saw myself as the hero of a space adventure that took place only in my head.
TSW: That is too cute! Perhaps you would have been one of the astronauts that were a part of the SpaceX launch! Ok, so a five-year-old astronaut, but I assume by the time you reach teen years, you'd realize you'd no longer wanted to be on a space adventure. Maybe you'd learned about more amazing experiences, and read more great books to inspire new paths. Was there a favorite book you can recall from your young adult years?
BH: I grew up in a small Egyptian town, and most of what I grew up reading were cheap pulp translations: some of which printed in or funded by the USSR, Egypt's patron in the early decades of independence. I particularly remember a series of mystery novels by Maurice Leblanc featuring the gentleman thief and daring lothario Arsène Lupin. These novels kept me hooked and away from trouble. But if there was one book that made me a writer, it was Rousseau's Confessions. I read it when I was 14, clueless as to who Jean-Jacques Rousseau even was. And it changed me completely. I still regard this one book as my all-time favorite.
TSW: Wow, that is quite interesting. It's quite interesting how the right book can profoundly influence you as an individual. Moving along to the current day, we have your creative works inspiring and intriguing many. What position in life have you held, if any, that inspired The Haze?
BH: Well… it was a position that came while I was working on The Haze. A bit of a background story: In 2013, I traveled to Singapore on an academic trip while still a graduate student of global affairs at the American University in Cairo. I was fascinated by the island and took tons of notes. But I never thought of writing a novel that took place there. I had already been working on a book about the Egyptian Revolution, which I had witnessed in 2011. A couple of years later, though, I was a Research Analyst at the NATO Council of Canada, based in Toronto. Being there allowed me to meet experts on international relations, diplomacy, weaponry, and other exciting fields. It was a very engaging job, and it activated my brain cells to ask the unlikely question: What if you revamped your novel-in-progress and set it in Southeast Asia? I'm glad I asked myself that question because it made me go places I wouldn't have dreamed of.
TSW: Burnaby, ok, so we have to have you back and focus on the many travels of Burnaby Hawkes! Right? That sounds amazing to me! Now, here you are filled with incredible memories inspiring great tales, and I'm wondering, do you write in a space equally as impressive, or do you more so prefer a peaceful area, without the frills, just perfect for a great round of writing?
BH: I don't have a writing corner. I write anywhere, anytime—provided that I have read and exercised beforehand. Both are the two components of my writing routine. I write at my desk and in libraries and coffee shops. Some chapters of The Haze were actually written on my cell phone while attending lectures or on the bus, then transcribed on my laptop later on.
TSW: I love it; I really do! So, touching on The Haze. Hector Kane seems to be in for quite a ride. Before we get into any parts of his journey -his name, how did he get his name?
BH: I know where Hector came from; Kane is a big mystery to me. I was reading Homer's Iliad a few years ago, and "Hector of Troy" stuck with me. I liked the sounding of the name and the heroic charisma it exuded. My "Hector Kane" is quite different from his Trojan namesake, though: He starts a bit subdued, given the multiple failures he's had, but then picks himself up and becomes more real as you go. At least that's what I think, and I could be wrong.
TSW: What do you mean? You are the omniscient narrator of this tale. You could never be wrong! Ha! What's your favorite plot twist without giving too much?
BH: The Haze is a spy mystery centered around Hector Kane, a CIA agent. He was tossed out of the Company unceremoniously two years ago, now working as a professor at an American university in the Middle East. When Hector is suddenly recalled into the CIA, he goes on a mission in Asia accompanied by his Chinese-Canadian wife, Yubi, and five graduate students. In Asia, Hector receives a phone call from a Saudi prince who claims that Yubi is a Chinese spy who has seduced and abducted his son. The most important thing to keep in mind, while reading The Haze, is that nothing is as it seems. It's not until you reach the final page that you discover the whole truth.
TSW: Welp! Folks there you have it, no peeks for us, we are just going to have to read it, and that we will do, right? Well, can we at least know this? If there was an audiobook, who would voice Hector Kane?
BH: Robert Pattinson. He's a bit younger than Hector Kane, but he bears an eerie resemblance to him. As an actor, he'd do a great job portraying Hector audibly and on screen.
TSW: Ooo, quite the mysterious fella, I am intrigued. Fun question - If you could live out the action of one scene in your book, which would it be?
BH: The underground garden scene, simply because it is one of the most imaginative scenes in the whole book. Also, a lot is revealed there. I'd love to see it on screen one day.
TSW: Aww, such the creative you are, find you in the most vivid scene with possibly one of the most profound meaning. Yes, I love it. Well, Burnaby, it has been tons of fun chatting with you. Your book, The Haze sounds like quite an addition to our bookshelves, and that we should do! But, before you go, let's have some fun with a TSW Power round.
TSW: Most desired superpower
BH: Flying. I love to travel, and airplanes. Flying would be ideal for me, given the current travel restrictions.
TSW: Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Gadget
BH: Sherlock, by all means. He's outlived his own mysteries. Quite a fascinating character, really.
TSW: Favorite spy film
BH: The first Mission Impossible movie. It is slow-burn and utterly mysterious, the best of the whole franchise.
TSW: All really good stuff! Please, tell the people how to reach you?
BH: There is a contact form on my website: www.burnabyhawkes.com. You can also easily find me on Twitter: @BurnabyHawkes.