It’s my belief that the spy genre was at its absolute best during the Cold War era when authors like John Le Carre’ were writing thrilling tales of espionage and double-agents with whit and pizazz. In his debut novel, Paul Vidich takes readers back to that time, dropping them off in 1953 as the world’s two greatest superpowers prepare to wage war against one another.
I started this book wanting to like it, and ended up loving it. An Honorable Man is a gripping showdown between spies with stakes that couldn’t possibly be any higher, and where nobody can be fully trusted.
The book opens by introducing the reader to George Mueller, an American spy who is trying to find a mole, code-named Protocol, within the CIA.
Mueller watches from across the street, puffing on a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the cold D.C. air (true to the time, everyone is smoking… everyone!) as a joint-operation between the CIA and FBI gets underway. The two agencies finally have a lead on Protocol, and are hoping to capture him and take him into custody before the night’s end.
When the target arrived, Mueller noticed several things that ultimately left him unconvinced that the man before them was indeed Protocol. The FBI moved on the target anyhow, storming the building and arresting the man in question. It turned out Muller was correct, the man was in fact not Protocol. The mission was a total and complete failure.
Mueller was the last to leave the scene, well after the FBI and CIA cleared out. But just as he was preparing to head home, he laid eyes on a shadowy silhouette walking quickly down the street. Something about him made Mueller suspicious – could that be Protocol? Was he there, watching the operation unfold?
Mueller called out to the man and took off to follow him, but the figure had already disappeared back into the shadows of the night. He was too late.
Soon after the unsuccessful operation, the Director of the CIA summoned Mueller to his office. During a closed door meeting, the two discuss the leak of information that has been trickling out of the spy agency’s office. From the director’s perspective, the entire ordeal is an absolute embarrassment, and his greatest fear is that the American government will learn just how bad Protocol has infiltrated the Central Intelligence Agency.
With several undercover agents already dead, and other operations torpedoed all thanks to the unidentified mole, the director appoints the reluctant Mueller to now lead the investigation.
The FBI wants Protocol too, and technically speaking the two agencies were supposed to be working together to bring him in. Mueller, though, was told to ignore that order and find Protocol before the FBI does. After all, how can the CIA be sure they can trust the FBI?
And therein lies the real problem: When you’re dealing with spies, nobody can ever really be trusted.
When light is cast on secrets from Mueller’s past, he too becomes a suspect of investigation. Desperate to prove his innocence and then leave the spy life behind, Mueller must catch the real Protocol before it’s to late.
Why I loved it
First and foremost, I appreciated the character. Mueller isn’t James Bond. He does not rely on silly gadgets and weaponry to save him when he gets in over his head. He’s a smart, educated guy who is very cerebral and capable of seeing things that others don’t. And yet, while he’s excellent at his job, all he really desires is a normal life with his family.
Mueller had wanted out of the CIA but stayed at the request of the director, who needed him to find Protocol. You can’t fault a man for wanting to spend time with his family, which is one of the reasons it’s easy to root for Mueller when everything begins crashing down around him.
At the end of the day this book knows what it is, a good old-fashioned mole hunt. It never tries to be something it’s not, nor does it drag on longer than it needs to. It’s on the short side because of it’s lack of “filler,” which is a welcomed surprise and something I wish more authors would consider in their writing. Far too often writers try to stretch a good story that’s only three hundred pages, into four hundred, which is a critical flaw in my opinion.
That said, Vidich develops his characters, especially Mueller, quite nicely. The story isn’t missing anything. On the contrary, it contains only what is needed, moving the plot along rather quickly.
Why you should read it
Like a good movie set years in the past, costumes and set pieces are essential to setting the stage for a believable story. From long overcoats and top hats, to cigarettes and pipes, An Honorable Man makes you feel like you’re in 1953. If you like movies such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Tom Hanks’ 2015 spy flick A Bridge of Spies, you need to read this book.
Paul Vidich isn’t going anywhere. An Honorable Man is one heck of a debut novel, and is just the beginning of what should be a long and brilliant career. If you had the chance to go back in time and start reading John Le Carre’ from the very beginning, would you do it? Here’s your second chance – don’t miss it.
Author: Paul Vidich
Pages: 288 pages (Hardcover)
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release Date: April 12, 2016 (Pre-order now!)