The Insider
Date Published25 November 2021
Price£ 8.99

The Insider

by Matthew Richardson

When a Russian defector is murdered, suspicion centres on a traitor at the heart of the British establishment, and former spy Solomon Vine is brought back to identify the mole.


Set in current times, this spy thriller asserts a resurgence of the rivalry between Britain and Russia to the heights of the tension seen during the Cold War. The battle heats up when Ivanov, a Russian billionaire, is murdered. His enrolment as an agent for Britain was known only to four people at the very centre of Government, so the implication is that one of them must have betrayed him.

Despite a superficial resemblance, this is not Tinker, Tailor. Only one of the four people involved is a spy, the others are top civil servants: the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Head of the Foreign Office, and the Cabinet Secretary. Emma Lockwood, National Security Advisor, is charged with exposing which one is the mole and calls in ex-spy Solomon Vine, who has been out of play for several years.

Vine interviews each of the suspects but finds them all skilled at deflecting enquiries directed at any dubious episodes in their past. He follows up clues left by Ivanov, and by his suspects when they start dying too. The truth is difficult to disinter from amongst years of obfuscation, but a message gleaned from his quarry suggests that a major coup is in the offing, something which would deal a blow to the free world comparable with the Western undermining of the Soviet system which led to its collapse, so time is of the essence.

Maintaining a convincing story is always a challenge in spy fiction, and not everyone will feel that this one meets the test. ‘Russian wet work was immaculate, its practitioners…ghosts in every way’, for example, the plentiful evidence from the Skripal affair plainly contests this assertion, as does that from several other executions believed to have been directed from Moscow. And open murders of senior foreign government figures is a serious step up, especially when the pay-off suggested here is arguably disproportionate to the risk.

However, for anyone able to suspend disbelief for such matters, there is plenty to like, especially for spy aficionados. Vine is acutely conscious of the need to throw pursuers off his scent, and the exercise of his tradecraft is fully detailed. The clues he unearths are obscure, incomplete and frequently call for remarkable intuitive leaps.

Vine makes a believable spy, a man conditioned by his upbringing to rely entirely on his own resources and with few human weaknesses. He is acutely aware of the potential for using the play of emotion in others and uses his insights to analyse interactions, but easily detects and deflects the attempts of others to manipulate his own feelings. His ability to focus under the most extreme pressure marks him out as someone exceptional, whose mental process is intriguing throughout.

Reviewed 29 April 2023 by Chris Roberts