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Literature / Catherine Ling

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A trilogy of spy thriller novels by American writer Iris Johansen.

The series stars Catherine Ling, a semi-retired CIA agent originally from Hong Kong. As a child she was sold from an Orphanage of Fear as a Sex Slave, but escaped into the underground and by her mid-teens had become an Information Broker. After an entanglement with The Triads and the Tongs went south, she joined up with Hu Chang, an eccentric expert in Chinese folk medicine and poisons. As an adult she became a reliable informant for the CIA station in Hong Kong, which eventually recruited her into the agency.

The trilogy consists of:

  1. What Doesn't Kill You (2012)
  2. Live to See Tomorrow (2014)
  3. Your Next Breath (2015)


This series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Mom: Catherine has a teenage son and spends a lot of the first book trying to keep him safe while she deals with the villain.
  • Depraved Bisexual: The villain of What Doesn't Kill You isn't above using sex to control his male employees (The Dragon in particular), and also fantasizes about torturing and raping Catherine.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Hu Chang, dear God. He experiments with chemicals in part for his own amusement and seemingly takes few things completely seriously. He also rescues Catherine's son from under the nose of assassins who already killed the CIA agents guarding the safehouse.
  • Immortality Inducer: Hu's latest project in What Doesn't Kill You is apparently both poison and cure. He treated an old woman with it and it turned her youthful again.
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  • May–December Romance: Catherine's dead husband, a fellow CIA agent, was much older than her.
  • Pervy Patdown: In What Doesn't Kill You, The Dragon, who is gay, does this to Catherine just because he doesn't like her and wants to make her uncomfortable. She tells him to cut it out or she'll break his neck.
Catherine: "I'll let you have thirty more seconds. But you're enjoying this too much. When I think you've had enough fun to realize I don't have a weapon, I'm going to step back, and you'll take your hands away. If you don't, I'll break your neck."