IMAGINE JAMES BOND as a woman: suave, clever, vain, and sexually predatory, yet as quick and lethal as a mongoose. Such a paragon is Eva Cunningham, superbabe agent of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, and protagonist of Linda Davies’ second novel, WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS (Doubleday, $23). Just what, exactly, is Eva’s game? Her old Oxford classmate Cassandra Stewart, herself a stunning beauty with a ”radiant intellect,” can’t help but wonder. After all, it’s been eight years since the two last met. And while Cassie’s climbed her way to the pinnacle of the London investment banking world, Eva’s been teaching English to schoolchildren in rural Vietnam — she says. But when she comes seeking venture capital to develop what could be the diamond find of the century, who’s to quibble? Even if the mine does happen to be located in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Cassie has just the partner in mind for her old friend: a Hong Kong businessman named Robie Frazer. True, there are rumors about how Frazer made his stash, but he’s from an old family and may be worth a billion English pounds. How is the successful-but-naive banker to know that MI6 has set the whole thing up as a means of entrapping Frazer — a heroin smuggler and illicit-arms merchant?
For all its inevitable British preoccupation with class and caste, Mirrors has a distinctly American feel. Partly it’s the book’s sleek, cinematic plotting — a big improvement upon the author’s sprawling first novel, Nest of Vipers. But more than that, Davies displays a vulgar curiosity rarely encountered in more literary British fiction. A onetime merchant banker, she’s clearly done her homework. Along with the sexual intrigue and derring-do, there’s lots of great stuff here on how to leverage a buyout or run a stock scam that you’ll never read about in The Wall Street Journal. B+