The claustrophobia, tension and fear of Soviet-era embassy life is well portrayed. This is the fourth in a consistently excellent series of cold war spy novels from an author in control of both his story and its arena. Vidich’s style is sparse but atmospheric. Carefully deployed tradecraft and technical knowledge only add to the air of verisimilitude. But who is Natalya, a striking Russian ballerina who makes a beeline for Garin — and can she be trusted?
This is Moscow in the mid-1980s, just before Mikhail Gorbachev and perestroika. The former CIA officer Alek Garin agrees to return to Russia to orchestrate the CIA’s exfiltration of a defector. Things ended badly when he tried to bring out another agent some years earlier, and this time he is hampered by a mole in the Moscow station as well as by a KGB honey trap. Naturally, not all is as it seems. A power struggle is breaking out in Russia and the enigmatic Garin has hidden motives, but the tone is too subdued to fully engage the reader’s sympathies. Paul Vidich’s visualisation of time and place — people tracked with spy dust, a grey miasma overlaying all — is, however, masterly.