A moody debut spy novel inspired by real events.
In 1953, the world is filled with angst. Stalin is dead, and the USSR is in turmoil. A Soviet mole has penetrated the CIA, causing missions to fail and agents to die. The CIA has code-named him Protocol, and in Washington, D.C., agent George Mueller must uncover him. Mueller wants to get out of his double life because “Washington was a terrible place for honorable men to work,” and he hates “the red-baiting spectacle in Congress.” He has no friends, because “friendship is a dangerous luxury.” Indeed, there’s little that he seems to like. “My indifference is a life preserver against a tide of joyless disappointments,” he says. When he chats with Yuri Vasilenko, head of the Soviet trade mission and a likely agent of the secret police, Vasilenko tells him, “Our countries share one thing. Corruption.…Our jobs require that we lie to each other.” One afternoon, Mueller rides home on a bicycle and is run off the road and injured. He finds himself at the home of Beth Altman, who gets him medical care and invites him to stay for dinner. Beth’s brother, Roger, works for the State Department. He’s homosexual, a secret that if made public would lump him with communists in the eyes of Congress. So he’s vulnerable to blackmail, but Mueller knows about Roger’s sexual orientation and fully trusts him. Vasilenko tries to recruit Mueller as a double agent. Mueller’s missteps get him in trouble; for example, he has an “unauthorized meeting with the other side” and fails a polygraph test. Washington is a dour setting, as hammered home by excessive weather reports such as the “low ceiling of angry clouds,” and Mueller’s attitude fits right in.
Dead-on Cold War fiction. Noir to the bone.