Thursday, February 4, 2021

"The Mercenary"

Paul Vidich’s fourth novel, The Mercenary, is now out from Pegasus Books. His debut novel, An Honorable Man, was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 Mystery and Thriller in 2016. It was followed the next year by The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was widely praised in England and America, earning strong reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

Vidich applied the Page 69 Test to The Mercenary and reported the following:
Page 69 introduces Helen Walsh, an American counselor officer in Moscow’s US embassy, who also happens to work for the KGB. Helen hosts a regular Friday evening salon in her apartment for Moscow’s diplomatic corps. Walsh confronts the novel’s protagonist, Alek Garin, an undercover CIA officer, and she probes him about his activities in Moscow while offering him a vodka martini.

Garin’s suspicion is raised. The page ends: “Her comment was so casual, so out of nowhere, and so notable for its provocative oddity, that it stuck with him. He didn’t think it was a random shot, and like her earlier comment and others that had come to his attention, he had begun to think that his cover wasn’t as good as he had hoped. Rumors had begun to attach themselves likes burrs.”

Does page 69 pass the Page 69 test? The novel’s Moscow setting is implied, although not stated. Helen Walsh’s meddling character, and Alex Garin’s concern that he's not bringing attention to himself, are presented. England’s spy service, MI6, is mentioned so the reader might conclude the book involves spies. Most importantly, Garin’s interiority – his concern that ‘rumors had begun to attach themselves to him like burrs,” takes the reader into his mind.

On the other hand, page 69 does not reveal any of the book’s plot, nor does it reveal the book’s other key characters. On balance, a browser to page 69 would not have a good idea about the whole work, but she would have an insight into what type of book it is, and what is on the protagonist’s mind.

The Mercenary tries to create a sense of claustrophobia and danger for an American spy in Moscow during the final years of the Cold War. Spies lived in a shadow world, always aware of who they were talking to, what they were being told, and how much they should lie. They breathed suspicion, danger, and caution. Those sentiments do appear in the subtext on page 69.
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My Book, The Movie: The Mercenary.

--Marshal Zeringue