The Mercenary

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Pub Date 18 Mar 2021 | Archive Date 18 Mar 2021
Oldcastle Books, No Exit Press

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From acclaimed spy novelist Paul Vidich comes a taut new thriller following the attempted exfiltration of a KGB officer from the ever-changing—and always dangerous—USSR in the mid-1980s.

Moscow, 1985. The Soviet Union and its communist regime are in the last stages of decline, but remain opaque to the rest of the world-and still very dangerous.

In this ever-shifting landscape, a senior KGB officer-code name GAMBIT-has approached the CIA Moscow Station chief with top secret military weapons intelligence and asked to be exfiltrated. GAMBIT demands that his handler be a former CIA officer, Alex Garin, a former KGB officer who defected to the American side.

The CIA had never successfully exfiltrated a KGB officer from Moscow, and the top brass do not trust Garin. But they have no other options: GAMBIT's secrets could be the deciding factor in the Cold War.Garin is able to gain the trust of GAMBIT, but remains an enigma.

Is he a mercenary acting in self-interest or are there deeper secrets from his past that would explain where his loyalties truly lie?

As the date nears for GAMBIT's exfiltration, and with the walls closing in on both of them, Garin begins a relationship with a Russian agent and sets into motion a plan that could compromise everything.

From acclaimed spy novelist Paul Vidich comes a taut new thriller following the attempted exfiltration of a KGB officer from the ever-changing—and always dangerous—USSR in the mid-1980s.


Advance Praise

'Evoking without imitating classic le Carré... Vidich supplements the world-weariness we expect from cold warriors in the game too long by giving Garin a satisfyingly contrarian "contempt for Agency puppeteers' - Booklist 

'Vidich writes knowledgeably about the politics of the period... Fans of Cold War–era spy fiction will be rewarded'  - Publishers Weekly 

'An outstanding Cold War thriller '  - Mal Warwick, Mal Warwick's Blog on Books 

'Evoking without imitating classic le Carré... Vidich supplements the world-weariness we expect from cold warriors in the game too long by giving Garin a satisfyingly contrarian "contempt for Agency...

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Featured Reviews

In his latest spy novel, Paul Vidich effortlessly captures the paranoia, suspicion and fear that marked the Cold War battle between the CIA and KGB. Set in Moscow in 1985, a former CIA officer, Aleksander Garin, is tasked with exfiltrating a senior KGB officer code-named "Gambit", who has specifically asked for Garin, who we learn was a KGB asset before he defected to the USA. and 6 years earlier was involved in a similar mission which ended in failure. So begins a tortuous plan orchestrated by Alek to bring Gambit, his wife and son, safely across the Russian border to Czechoslovakia. If successful, Gambit will be the only senior KGB officer ever to have been exfiltrated from Moscow. He has already delivered copies of top secret papers and promises to deliver more, including the Soviet Union's plans for "look down" radar, when he reaches safety. Once in Moscow, Alek has to deal with American Embassy staff who harbour various suspicions about his reasons for being there, while also arranging to meet in secret with Gambit to organise his escape. To some in the CIA's Moscow Station Alek is a only a mercenary, but we discover that he has deeper secrets which go back to his childhood. Now, with the Soviet Union in decline, the CIA sees Gambit as someone who could tip the balance in the USA's favour. Almost from the start, Garin's plot goes awry as he becomes romantically involved with Natalya, a former ballerina who works for the KGB. As the story moves inexorably to a shattering climax, the reader is subjected to the nerve-wracking escape bid by Alek, Gambit and his family. Throughout the story, we are left uncertain as to who Alek can trust - and can Alex, himself a double agent, be trusted? Paul Vidich has produced another beautifully written espionage tale with a labyrinthine plot, mixing fact with fiction in a delicious brew that is destined to become a classic in this genre. Highly recommended.

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A story of a man with no ties, a has been agent, double and treble agent, betrayed from all sides, a cast-off loner trusting no-one and always fearful, looking over his shoulder. He is approached to carry out a last assignment for the CIA on contract, to extract a dissident out of the USSR in Moscow. He accecepts for a price, A cynic doing his best in an impossible dangerous task. spired by a chance to redeem himself by getting revenge for the past. What with double dealings with KGB, a mole in the US Moscow station and meeting a kindred spirit in a ex-Ballet Dancer, with each viewing each other with mutual distrust, it all builds up to a tragic ending, alright for some.

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Gripping cold-war thriller from start to tense finish. Full of suspense and plot twists. A real page-turner. Highly recommended.

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In a spy novel nothing is what it first seems. Doubles & trebles abound. Add in the Cold War and you have got the basis of an excellent book which is what Paul Vidich has produced in The Mercenary. Set in Russia in 1985 Alex Garin is tasked with extracting a senior KGB officer who wants to defect. One slight issue is that Garin is also ex KGB. The writing draws the reader in with twists and turns on a regular basis as the tension mounts. The Mercenary is definitely an excellent spy novel and one that I thoroughly recommend

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A very thoughtful spy thriller set in the USSR before things changed (or have they really?) You really got to know the main character Alex Garin, tasked with exfiltrating a KGB officer who wanted to defect along with his family. Code named GAMBIT, the officer showed the mental turmoil he was going through and the risks he was taking in securing his bargaining chips with the Americans; the plans of top secret weaponry. There was a surreal soiree where every guest seemed to have spying as their access credentials! It made me think it was all a game. At the conclusion to the story, the enigmatic words the femme fatale Natalya spoke to Meuller (the acting director of the CIA) certainly made me wonder if Garin's sacrifice was worth it, or if she truly held any affection for him. She could hardly claim the moral highground in uttering those words. There were a few niggles with the story. The way complete changes of clothes suddenly appeared from nowhere and the weird lack of momentum an accelerating car had over a very short stretch of road when its tyres were shot out. Notwithstanding the niggles, it was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Double-cross and double-cross again It’s 1983 and the USSR is beginning to crumble, but for the KGB and CIA in Moscow, it is business as usual. There is a high-ranking KGB officer who wishes to defect; code-named GAMBIT, this officer demands an outsider as his handler, aware as he is of Soviet penetration of the CIA’s Moscow presence. Enter Alek Garin, half Russian, half American, former spy, now an agent who works for monetary return – or so it seems. Or so it seems - because nothing in this novel is as it seems. No KGB defector has ever been successfully extracted from the Soviet Union and GAMBIT makes it even more difficult by demanding his wife and child come too. He has, however, information which the USA wants and needs, so his requests must be honoured. The twists and turns in this story are legion. There are few sure footholds for the participants, let alone the reader. It is an exciting, clever narrative, building to a tense, possibly implausible climax, enjoyable to read, for all that.

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Loved this book, it’s the first Cold War story I’ve read for a while and I enjoyed it all. Didn’t seem to be too many unpronounceable Russian names! Either that or I’m getting better at pronouncing them! A great read, well worth the time spent with the book.

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Beautifully described espionage thriller set in the Russia of the mid 80’s at the end of Chernenko. A plot to extract a high level informant using an agent with a dubious past in a similar operation is told with an excellent feel for the subject. A cold early spring Moscow is used to convey a threatening atmosphere throughout and all builds to a classic border conclusion that brings a good example of the genre to a close.

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The Mercenary is a first-class, top tier espionage thriller and Vidich’s fourth CIA novel packed with danger, drama and intrigue. As the U.S.S.R. begins to crumble and half a century of the Cold War stutters to a halt, Russian-born, KGB-trained American Aleksander Garin, a former CIA asset, who had been forced to leave the agency six years earlier after a failed attempt to smuggle a valuable KGB Officer out of the Soviet Union, has been contracted to try the same thing again, even though the first time the soon-to-be defector had been captured and brutally executed. Alek is now a mercenary meaning where his loyalties lie always comes into play and of course, they lie wherever the money is. Because of the previous failure, this time around the operation is kept even closer to the vest with only those involved knowing about it. Alek is once again dispatched by the CIA to Moscow to exfiltrate Soviet military officer, Petrov, who had perilously approached the CIA Moscow Station Chief looking to defect, across the border from Moscow to Czechoslovakia. Posing as US Embassy staff Garin uses his fluency in Russian to gain the trust of the officer. The high-ranking KGB Officer’s information had been vetted and he had been given the codename GAMBIT. GAMBIT had insisted that Garin be his handler. But there was a catch making this a much more complicated exfiltration: GAMBIT demanded his wife and son to be smuggled out of the country with him and as the US desperately wants the intelligence he can provide they bend over backwards to fulfil this. To prove his worth and earn his freedom, before they take a big risk with him, GAMBIT is tasked with smuggling top-secret communiqués and papers to Garin. As Garin was an ex-KGB agent who had defected to America and worked under contract for the CIA for some time his superiors didn't exactly trust him. However, they forge ahead because the amount of top-secret military information and data on newly acquired weaponry could possibly have a hand in bringing to an end the Cold War. Garin puts a plan together as to exactly how the exfiltration will happen but his attention is soon swayed when he meets former Russian ballerina, Natalya, a member of the KGB he comes across at one of his meetings with GAMBIT. Can Garin manage to pull off a daring feat of courage right under the very noses of the KGB and police authorities? This is a riveting and compulsive espionage thriller with plenty of exhilarating action and so many heart in your mouth moments. It's fast-paced, superbly written and wickedly twisty; I found I couldn't predict what was about to happen and was shocked several times throughout. Vidich evokes the time and place perfectly with rich, intricate detail and a real authenticity about it with Soviet Russia during the Cold War giving rise to a high-stakes, palpably tense narrative that is both claustrophobic and engenders intense feelings of unsettling dread. The oppressive and immensely dangerous situation was portrayed well and the atmosphere created was an exciting and suspenseful one. Vidich is grossly underrated yet he weaves together extensively researched, scintillating spy shenanigans as adeptly as the finest of the genre, including le Carré and Alan Furst. A tightly plotted, intelligent and multilayered thriller, The Mercenary is the finest quality spy fiction from a master of the genre. Highly recommended.

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My thanks to the Author publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a Kindle version of this book to read and honestly review. This Author is a master of this genre and can be mentioned in the same breath as the legend that is John Le Carre. Beautifully written clever dramatic intriguing and intelligent a real grown up story. The characters and descriptions of time and place leap from the page, cross and double cross, nail biting with some action scenes that were so exciting I found myself holding my breath. A moving story of betrayal family honour love and loss completely totally recommended.

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This reminded me of the Smiley books from John le Carre, in a very good way, (with maybe a dash of Deighton's Bernard Samson). I haven't read any spy thrillers for a long time, and I am very glad to come back to the genre with a work from this author. Aleksander Garin is personally requested to help get a new Russian asset out of Moscow, but Garin has many reasons for not returning to Moscow, the least of which is his failure in his last mission. The bleak and paranoid world of Moscow in 1985 is as strong a character as agents and military men that fill these pages, and the main operation (to get GAMBIT out of Moscow), gets overcome by the betrayals and backstabbing as everyone seems to be willing to work for the organization that will give them the most money. Vidich two previous spy thrillers have a different lead character so The Mercenary is fine to start with, but I will be searching out the previous books very soon.

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"The Mercenary" is a gripping spy thriller set in the Cold War era. The plot is wonderfully unpredictable with twists galore. I have ready many novels in this genre and it bears comparison with John le Carre and Alan Furst. I am now feeling the need to find the earlier novels of Paul Vidich - this one is highly recommended

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