The Matchmaker, by Paul Vidich

Eight stars

When handed the ARC of Paul Vidich’s latest novel, I was not sure what to expect. A spy thriller set in the dying days of the Cold War, Vidich transports the reader to a divided Germany, where tensions still run high along the seam of the Iron Curtain. Anne Simpson receives word that her husband’s wallet has been found along the banks of the river, but his body is nowhere to be found. Sure that he is away at work as a piano tuner, she is baffled, but the local American consular official makes it clear that something is amiss. As the investigation continues, Anne learns that her husband may have been working for the Matchmaker, an East German counterintelligence official, someone the CIA has been hunting in relation to a Soviet defector. Now, Anne must wonder if her entire marriage was a farce and how her husband plays into the larger narrative of a Cold War game of political chess! Vidich does a great job of stirring up emotions and political intrigue with this piece. Perfect for those whose love spy thrillers with political flavouring.

It’s 1989 and Europe is about to make a seismic shift. In Berlin, things are teetering on the brink and the Iron Curtain is fraying as the year advances. When Anne Simpson receives a knock on the door, she is by an American consular official with news about her husband. Thus begins the whirlwind of truth and emotions.

It would seem that the wallet belonging to Stefan Koehler has been found on the banks of the river, but no body. Anne is baffled, but cannot think of why her husband would be there at all, as he’s been away tuning pianos across the West. When the CIA and West German Intelligence become involved, she begins to worry, not only about Stefan’s whereabouts, but her marriage as a whole.

It’s soon revealed that Stefan may have connections to the Matchmaker, an elusive East German counterintelligence official wanted by the CIA for his known association with the KGB. It’s a race to discover the truth about Stefan and what he might have known before his apparent death.

As Anne wrestles with the truth about her husband, an apparent spy, she is thrust into the middle of the CIA’s investigation, the only person who has actually seen the Matchmaker years before when she was introduced to Stefan. Now she comes under scrutiny as the Agency pushes for answers while Berlin becomes the symbolic epicentre of a crumbling Communist empire. A chilling tale that pulls the reader into the middle of a web of lies, while showing just how masterful Paul Vidich is within the genre.

While spy thrillers have never been one of the genres I turn to with any regularity, I was eager to see how I would feel about this piece. Paul Vidich not only paints an intense picture with this words, but he places the reader in the heart of the East-West divide in the waning days of the Cold War. With a great narrative and powerful plot twists, the story comes to life and all is slowly revealed by the final chapter. This surely lives up to the standards of Graham Greene and John le Carré, as denoted in the dust jacket blurb.

Anne Simpson is the apparent protagonist throughout, though the craftiness of her husband surely helps share the spotlight. The reader is thrust into the middle of the mystery surrounding Stefan Koehler and who is truly could be, while Anne is left to question everything about the life she’s had with the man. As Anne delves deeper into the past few years, tidbits of the narrative surrounding their marriage and chance encounter become key parts of the puzzle around the plan set in motion by the Matchmaker. Vidich uses this effectively and builds up his characters in stunning fashion, developing a story that will keep the readers adding their own suppositions about each individual who graces the pages of the book.

While I have never read Paul Vidich’s work, I can see he that he’s a master of his craft. A strong narrative that keeps pace with the ever-evolving plot helps the reader become lost in the story. There are so many layers that must be revealed, it is not for the reader who seeks a quick and simple read, but rewards those who want something that adds tension and confusion. Well-developed characters bring much to the story and there is substance to each, adding depth to the political side of things at a time when tensions ran high between the East and West. Vidich does well to remind the reader of how things were in the closing months of the Cold War and uses some effective ideas to keep the tension alive. I am eager to look for more of Vidich’s work soon to see how it compares.

Kudos, Mr. Vidich, for an entertaining read that left me reminiscing of the days of the Cold War.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.