1953 – the Korean War has ended, but the Cold War emerges and the intelligence services’ nerves are frayed. When CIA officer Dr Charles Wilson dies under blurry circumstances, all information is closed down immediately. It will take twenty-two years until his death gets the attention it deserves. He “jumped or fell” from the ninth floor of a Washington hotel and his family is now demanding answers. Jack Gabriel, an old friend of Wilson’s, also an agent himself, starts digging and the deeper he gets, the more coincidental deaths among key witnesses this cases produces. Somebody tries to hide something and Gabriel soon has to ask himself how much he is willing to risk for the truth.
Paul Vidich narrates a fictional story based on the real events of the mysterious death of Frank Olson, CIA employee and biological warfare expert. The author has seen himself what the agency’s policy of secretiveness can do to a family: Olson was his uncle and he could witness the family’s grief at close range.
“That was the story of the Agency then. We could do whatever we wanted because we were fighting the Soviet Union.”
The CIA killed its own men if need be. What sounds like the plot of a superb spy novel today, was a reality back then. As Vidich recalls, raising the subject at family reunions was a taboo, even though somebody suffered a terrible injustice, everybody remained silent and thus approved of the methods. Reading about the disclosure of Wilson’s/ Olson’s murder makes you oscillate between fascination and abhorrence. A lot has been revealed about the dark sides of espionage and spying, nevertheless, I am still stunned each time I read about how ruthless the business can be and how little a human life counts.
It is remarkable how Vidich manages to transport the story in an entertaining way even though he is that close to the case. A fast paced read that gives much more insight than you could ever wish for.
When one night a man breaks into her New York apartment and tries to kill her, Marie knows that it is time to flee and to take her twin boys out of the country since they will not be secure there anymore. As a former member of the FBI she knows how to defend herself, she went through worse, but not her kids. She flees to a tiny village on Martinique where her mother has been living for decades, hoping to earn some time to write down everything that happened years before for her kids to understand one day when they are old enough. Marie thinks back to her beginnings at the agency when she had the impression of being stuck and then the unexpected chance to be a part of something bigger, of doing something good – which ended in an African bloodbath and forced her into hiding.
“American Spy” is Lauren Wilkinson’s first novel after some highly appraised shorter writings. What is quite fascinating about the thriller is that apart from the action part, it offers many different layers and aspects that can be discussed. It is set in the time of the Cold War and of course, first and foremost, the role of the two big players and their proxy wars in Africa obviously take a major part in the book. Yet, it can also be read as a feminist novel since the protagonist struggles to find her place in an all-male federal agency where people are openly sexist. Marie and her Caribbean background also qualify the novel under the label of a Black History book.
The thriller is full of suspense and provides insight into the world of spies. The complicated political situations they are in and the fact that the world is much more greyish than black and white at times forces them to either give up their ideals or simply quit their job. I liked a lot how the author combined Marie’s family history and the ghosts that haunt her with the bigger picture of world politics that, in the end, also can be broken down to personal relationships and enmities. The protagonist makes it easy to sympathise with her and thus you instantaneously immerse into the novel. Additionally, I learned a lot about Burkina Faso’s history, something that I was highly ignorant about.