Beirut Station by Paul Vidich – blog tour

This espionage novel was my first encounter with Vidich, who has previously written five more. In Beirut Station, given the current political situation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with Hezbollah watching in neighbouring Lebanon, the timing of the publication of this thriller set in Beirut back in 2006 when the Hezbollah and Israel were at war, may be seen as either timely or provocative – although of course it was written and planned well before the present conflict broke out.

I will confess too that I find the politics, religious divisions and conflicts of the region very complicated, thus I apologise sincerely for reading this accomplished political thriller on perhaps a less than political level.

Subtitled ‘Two Lives of a Spy’ Vidich’s protagonist is Analise, a young Lebanese-American CIA agent, and she makes a refreshing change. As the novel begins, she has been in bed with Corbin, an American journalist. A bomb goes off nearby…

Analise counted the seconds until the sound of the concussive blast arrived. ‘It’s the airport or Hezbollah headquarters in Bourj al-Barajneh.’

Corbin phones in and has to hurry off to file a story, leaving Analise watching at the balcony.

She gazed at gray smoke pluming into the starless night. The air was warm but she felt cold. It was always that way the night before an operation, particularly one in which a man’s life would be taken. She was glad to be at the end of her tour and glad to be moving on. There was a plan in place, and what mattered was that the plan kept her from thinking too much about her role. She merely had to maintain cover and do her part. Most intelligence officers needed to be trained to compartmentalise their lives, but Analise’s instincts sprung from her chrysalis fully formed. She never hesitated to close down a concern, and she could give a dozen explanations for what she was doing or where or why, each more convincing than the truth.

So by the end of the first chapter we’ve already begun to get the measure of Analise, and we know something’s going down tomorrow. A tantalising opening.

In the second chapter we’ll discover what the operation is: a joint CIA and Mossad plan to eliminate a senior Hezbollah officer. Analise is one of the spotters on the ground, however, this time they have to abort when Qassem’s grandchildren are with him. It’s disappointing for the team as the pressure is on to get rid of Qassem before a diplomatic summit in a couple of weeks, which Condoleezza Rice will attend. Will they get another opportunity? Analise’s cover is working for a UN education agency, and she ‘volunteers’ in the school attended by Qassem’s son. The former chief of police keeps asking her for information on one of the international journalists, whom he suspects is a Mossad agent. She has to play a very dangerous game, to be resourceful and adaptable, and ere long realises that she can’t trust any of them, and that her cover is likely to be blown.

Is there anyone she can trust? Even Corbin suspects she is more than she appears. In Analise, Vidich has created a superb multilayered character who is strong and feminine and able to play her roles, including playing down her knowledge and intelligence, amongst all the various men. Vidich has obviously done his research well to bring this period in Beirut’s turbulent history to life. There’s also a nice nod in the book to the story of another traitorous spy who lived in Beirut some decades before, i.e. Kim Philby.

As thrillers go, Beirut Station has real complexity in its character-led plot, suspense and more suspense. Jeopardy, betrayal and questions of loyalty and trust run through it from start to finish, making it a compelling read, which I enjoyed.

Source: Review copy – thank you. No Exit Press hardback, 304 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.

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