Our Book of the Month for February 2017 is an ideal winter read, a Cold War spy thriller that is as atmospheric as it is compelling. An Honorable Man is the debut novel by award-winning short story writer Paul Vidich, published as a paperback edition on the 23rd. We just have to look at the hardback, published last year, to see how exciting this release is; its immediate popularity put it up there with the best of the genre, and has already made Vidich a writer to watch.
An Honorable Man is set in Washington D.C in 1953, when McCarthyism was spreading fear throughout the capital and Stalin’s recent death had left a dangerous power vacuum in the Soviet Union. CIA agent George Mueller has been tasked with an important assignment – to find a traitor within the organisation who has been selling secrets to the Soviets. As a result of this traitor, who’s been given the code name ‘Protocol’, undercover agents have been brutally murdered and anti-Communist plots have been cut short. The director of the CIA knows that if this was to get out, it would be a national embarrassment that would compromise the entire agency.
George Mueller seems like the ideal candidate to uncover the identity of Protocol. He is Yale-educated and has extensive experience running missions in Eastern Europe. Mueller is so dedicated to his job that he sacrificed a marriage for it; he is trusted by the director and is certain of his own ability to discover the truth. But he also harbours secrets of his own, and after making contact with a Soviet agent, suspicion begins to fall on him. Certain peers believe Mueller himself could be the traitor, and uncovering Protocol’s true identity becomes even more urgent, before he finds himself at great risk.
It’s a narrative that follows the grand tradition of spy fiction, and is so well written that readers will find themselves utterly absorbed. Vidich’s prose is cinematic and reads almost like a work of noir. His plot is neatly executed, full of betrayal and tense moments in which the reader finds he cannot trust anyone. It is a hall of mirrors that deals deftly with the political – in a political climate that bears a too-close-for-comfort resemblance to that of today’s.
The book has already garnered excellent reviews. Lovereading called the book “Atmospheric, moving and enigma-laden, this is spy writing at its very best.” Booklist called it “A richly atmospheric and emotionally complex tale of spies versus spies.” Bestselling author Michael Harvey wrote of the book “As I read An Honorable Man, I kept coming back to George Smiley and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. That’s how good this book is.” Indeed, An Honorable Man is not short on comparisons to other iconic works of spy fiction. Crime Review, the UK’s biggest network for fans of the genre, wrote “This debut novel by short-story writer Vidich will be right up your street if you like Le Carre, Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst.” It has also been likened to both Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and to the Spielberg film Bridge of Spies by The Real Spy Book website. Nor is the book short of acclaim offered by other authors of the genre; perhaps most notably John Connolly, who wrote: “An Honorable Man is that rare beast: a good, old fashioned spy novel. But like the best of its kind, it understands that the genre is about something more: betrayal, paranoia, unease, and sacrifice.”
Fans of spy fiction will be thrilled with this edition to the canon, but it is also such a fantastic work outside of its genre that general readers will find much to enjoy. Published by established crime publisher No Exit Press, this is a book with enormous potential that could be considered one of the best works of its kind to be published in recent times. As critic Barry Forshaw writes, “This is splendid stuff. Vidich is clearly a name to watch.”
An Honorable Man is published by No Exit Press on the 23rd February 2017
(£8.99, p/b, 256pp, 9781843449584)