Friday, July 14, 2017

Review of The Good Assassin by Paul Vidich (Atria, 2017)

George Meuller has left the CIA and is teaching in a university and writing spy novels when the director calls him in to ask a favour – head to Cuba to look into the activities of Toby Graham, an operative suspected of colluding with Castro’s forces fighting the Batista regime. The FBI are convinced Graham is supplying the rebels with guns and information. Meuller and Graham were college friends and it’s felt that might provide cover for the covert investigation. Reluctantly Meuller agrees, heading to Havana under the pretence of working as a writer for Holiday magazine. He arrives to find a jittery country on the brink of revolution. He falls in with an old acquaintance, Jack Malone, and his wife, Liz, begins an affair with his photographer, and starts to rub against the local FBI agent and the Cuban intelligence services. Graham remains elusive, even when the two finally do meet and Meuller finds himself developing divided loyalties.

Set in Cuba in 1958, The Good Assassin tells the story of George Meuller, a former CIA agent, tasked with assessing whether his friend, Toby Graham, has been supplying Castro’s rebels with arms. Meuller is very much the reluctant, ambivalent spy, slouching round Havana and the Cuban countryside, first trying to make contact with Graham, then trying to assess whether he’s pursuing his own agenda, all the while mildly antagonising the local FBI agent and the Cuban intelligence services. Vidich nicely captures Meuller’s persona and frustration and the unsettled situation of the last few months of the Batista regime. The plot seems to meander along without really changing pace or rising in tension. Occasionally there are dramatic moments, but they too are told in a laconic way, almost as if they are incidental, and their consequences are little explored.  The result is a story that seems quite flat and overly understated. As a consequence I was never quite captivated by the tale, despite some nice prose and occasional choice observations.

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