Based on the actual death of the author’s uncle, Paul Vidich’s The Coldest Warrior (No Exit £8.99) revolves around the murder or suicide in 1953 of a disturbed US army scientist, who “jumped or fell” from a New York hotel room. Twenty-two years later, as reports emerge of 1950s CIA experiments with LSD, a veteran spook is tasked, à la Smiley, with investigating what happened. While the story is undoubtedly compelling, it’s unclear what translating it into fiction adds — and why give an almost complete description of the key incident in the prologue, thereby eliminating mystery and suspense?
Justly praised by his peers, Vidich is an espionage novelist who deserves to be more widely known. His noir cold war spy stories are laced with echoes of Graham Green and Eric Ambler. Unusually for an author in this genre, Vidich has a very personal stake in his latest book. It was inspired by the fate of his uncle, Frank Olson, an army scientist who worked at a top-secret US army biological warfare facility. Olson died in 1953 when he jumped, fell or was thrown out of a 13th-floor hotel window in New York. His story was dramatised in the Netflix mini-series Wormwood.