Simon reviews the latest in Peter Stafford-Bow's series of satirical novels. Does Eastern Promise deliver the goods?

Peter Stafford-Bow - Eastern Promise (Book cover)

It’s been three years since I rhetorically posited “whether Felix Hart can sustain a fourth book is a moot point”. I was writing about Peter Stafford-Bow’s series of satirical wine-themed novels, having just devoured part three (Firing Blancs). When the newest instalment landed on my doormat a few weeks back (with a prominent endorsement on the cover from yours truly, no less) I realised the author had called me out.

Like its predecessors, Eastern Promise is a fast-paced, racy affair that will have you turning pages faster than the current UK government changes its policy narrative. This time, our hero is dispatched to Hong Kong to infiltrate a suspected wine fraud operation, cleverly providing Stafford-Bow with new cultural and thematic backdrops to send up. Much of the novel also plays out in London, with plenty of action set at Minstrel’s Hall – surely one of the author’s most brilliant creations.

Minstrel’s Hall was one of several favourite elements that barely featured in the previous Felix Hart novel Firing Blancs. Added to that, the author’s strong emotional connection to the South African setting sometimes threatened to destabilise its satirical intent. Eastern Promise feels more like business as usual. That said, 2023’s Felix Hart has matured and taken his place in an increasingly politically correct world. The Hart of the first two novels would unquestionably have been implicated in a “me too” scandal by now, but in Eastern Promise the author turns the situation on its head, subjecting him to mild sexual harassment from a domineering female manager.

Stafford-Bow’s strength, as ever, is that he weaves in plenty of subject matter detail to keep the narrative current. However improbable the premise, there is always a thin veneer of plausibility. Anyone who followed the rise and fall of Rudy Kurniawan will enjoy playing wine fraud bingo throughout Eastern Promise. Just as with previous instalments, you don’t have to work in the wine industry to enjoy the novel, but those who do will probably laugh the loudest. Corporate culture comes in for further lambasting, as Stafford-Bow litters Gatesave UK’s queasy landscape with ineffectual robots, vainglorious execs and covid-busting toilets.

Despite the all the wryly observed references, the plot at large remains fantastically implausible, with seat-of-the-pants twists and turns that try their best to outdo the previous three novels. Hart is unequivocally the James Bond of the wine world, constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time, but always bailed out by extraordinary luck. The novel is lighthearted because we know that however bad it gets, Felix Hart will triumph and everything will magically resolve itself.

In that sense, it’s a formula but an enjoyable and well-executed one. And just as the James Bond franchise has managed to keep going for decades, I think Stafford-Bow could spin this out for quite a few more books. Eastern Promise has quashed any doubts I might have had.



I received a complimentary review copy.

Eastern Promise is available now. Follow the links on the author’s website for various purchasing options.