Beirut Station is set in the Israel-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006. This unending conflict is tearing the city apart again. As the bombs rain down and refugees crowd the dockside, Mossad and the CIA play a spying game that is as old and insoluble as the conflict.
Amid this chaos a CIA operative is tasked with orchestrating the assassination of a Hezbollah leader. A mission that will put her life at risk and reveal the tangled web of double and triple dealing between supposed allies. In the looking-glass world of espionage, the demarcation line between friends and enemies is so thin as to be almost invisible.
The action revolves around the plan to eliminate Najib Qassem, a reclusive Hezbollah leader, ahead of a visit to the region by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Analise, a Lebanese American CIA operative, is tasked with facilitating the mission by befriending Qassem’s grandson and so infiltrating his inner circle.
The enduring human impact of conflict
The events that have unfolded in Israel and Gaza since October last year have focused the attention of the world again on the tensions that have simmered away in the Middle East for decades. Although written before these events, in looking back to an earlier conflict this novel asks uncomfortable questions about the actions of the main protagonists and those powers, allegedly, trying to broker peace in the region.
Vidich writes with chilling authenticity about both the machinations that occur between two intelligence agencies with wider political agendas to pursue, and the grim calculation of how much extra trauma they can get away with inflicting on the population of an already shattered city. He also writes well about the impact of the spying game on those who play it through the experience of Analise in the days leading up to the mission. Already troubled by her childhood and the breakdown of her marriage, she must now witness the casual brutality of her fellow operatives, and cope with the guilt of betraying people with whom she had built up trusting relationships.
This is played out against the backdrop provided by Beirut, a city where the faded glamour of its heyday rubs against its often chaotic present. Like Berlin, its streets are soaked with the memory of past intrigues and, in this instance, the suffering of a population that has been under siege for years.
Vidich — an heir to Le Carré
The list of writers with a realistic prospect of one day filling the role of doyen of the spy genre left vacant by the late John Le Carré is a short one. This book and his other novels make a compelling case for Paul Vidich to be considered as one of the prime contenders for the crown.
Beirut Station is a tale of manipulation and betrayal worthy of the master in his pomp. The setting is brilliantly realised perfectly, catching the tension rippling through the air in a city that has been caught between the fault lines of history for generations. Vidich writes with authority about the business of spying, from the tradecraft used by Analise as she negotiates the narrow streets of Beirut, to the machinations of the station chiefs.
In doing so he has delivered one of the outstanding spy novels of recent years, a book that gets to grips with the grubby details of a conflict that continues to have a huge impact on world history, wrecking countless lives in the process.
Beirut Station by Paul Vidich is published by Bedford Square Publishers under the No Exit Press imprint, 2024.