There is nothing especially innovative about the plot of The Mercenary , which often feels like a homage to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold , but by ’eck it can have few rivals for the grim authenticity of its setting ... Paul Vidich’s visualisation of time and place — people tracked with spy dust, a grey miasma overlaying all — is, however, masterly.
... edgy ... At first, The Mercenary seems an outstanding example of a familiar sort of spy saga. But there’s more to Alek Garin than most people know. Where did he learn to speak Russian? Why is his accent so odd? Family and professional secrets are revealed only gradually. We remain unsure how this conflicted character will fare in a Moscow full of political factions and Agency turncoats.
... a tense and pained study of the loneliness of spycraft, the toll of maintaining dual identities and the terror of living a life where everyone around you might secretly be playing the same game. Vidich's Cold War echoes that of Alan Furst or even John le Carré, a shifting labyrinth of dangers both violent and existential ... almost unbearably suspenseful. But Vidich's tight plotting and focused, polished prose keeps The Mercenary...concise and quick moving, despite the complexity of the story. His attentiveness to the disorienting misery of undercover work, the divided loyalties and threats to identity, power the narrative rather than slow it down. His hero's every interaction is fraught with danger that movie-style violent heroics would only make worse. Vidich dramatizes that dread and that humanity with elegance.
Vidich is fast establishing himself as one the rightful heirs of acknowledged espionage masters like John Le Carré, Robert Littell or Charles McCarry in yet another nigh perfect deep exploration of the Cold War years and the jigsaw-like complications of machinations between opposing ideologies and spying apparatuses ... At times reminiscent of the classic The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in its panorama of constant grey, hopelessness and characters lost on a chessboard mined by fate, this is a bleak but gripping dive into the best of spy fiction.
Vidich’s excellent series of espionage novels are taking the form back to its cold war roots – all shadows and moral ambiguity. The Mercenary is set in the last years before the fall of the Soviet Union, as freelance operative Alek Garin is employed to bring a double agent out of Moscow.
Author Paul Vidich has once again proved his mastery of the espionage thriller with his edge-of-your-seat novel ... fast paced and action packed, but Vidich lingers long enough to allow readers to experience Garin’s emotional highs and lows. In that regard, the novel deservedly draws comparisons to John le Carré’s tales of the intrepid spy George Smiley.
Vidich carries the wintry mood of Soviet menace and danger powerfully, and his plot twists are tight and all too believable ... With George Mueller, a CIA agent rolling out of the embassy and into a late-in-life mission to meet a new Russian spy, the moment is all about rational fear and determination ... Garin’s return to the Soviet Union is by definition perilous, with all the odds against him. His own identity as some sort of Russian himself will slowly unfold over the course of his mission—but there’s no question that somewhere in the Soviet files, his image and story are well documented, and he’s in danger from this moment on, in Moscow ... The deepest and most painful conflict in The Mercenary becomes whether Alek Garin must meet the same ending as Alec Leamas. Vidich holds the issue in fierce suspense all the way through this standalone thriller.
It may be the most familiar trope in Cold War spy fiction—the Iron Curtain crossing—but somehow it never quite loses its frisson. Here, in a novel set in 1985, aging CIA spymaster George Mueller is attempting to do something never done before: exfiltrate a senior Soviet intelligence officer from Moscow ... Vidich supplements the world-weariness we expect from cold warriors in the game too long by giving Garin a satisfyingly contrarian 'contempt for Agency puppetteers moving his arms and legs in a . . . production of espionage commedia dell’arte.'
Vidich writes knowledgeably about the politics of the period, notably the impending changes to the U.S.S.R. with the rise of Gorbachev, and the spycraft rings true, but an enormous cast and labyrinthine plotting bog down the book. Still, fans of Cold War–era spy fiction will be rewarded.