One of my great loves are 1970’s conspiracy thrillers, The Parralax View being perhaps my favourite movie of all time. Alan J Pakula, the director, also directed Klute, and of course All The Presidents Men, the three movies forming a loose trilogy that summed up the disillusion, distrust and paranoia many American were beginning to view their government through. One can add to this mix The Conversation, where Gene Hackman played a freelance surveillance expert who stumbles upon a sinister conspiracy.
To Die In Vienna, while set in contemporary Europe, has a very similar vibe to those 1970’s movies, an in particular to The Conversation. Like Gene Hackman’s character in the movie, Freddie Mackin, the protagonist of the novel, is a freelance surveillance expert. He’s on a job in Vienna, surveilling Jiang Cheng, a Chinese academic and programming specialist. Cheng leads a highly structured and mundane life; Freddie has no idea why he’s been contracted to spy on the man.
Freddie is a man with a tragic past; prior to working freelance he was an operative for S8, a shadowy outfit on the frontlines of the War on Terror. An ambush occurred in Yemen and Freddie’s has been haunted by it ever since. He turned his back on that kind of work and became a recluse, putting his skills to use for the corporate world. Freddie’s struggle to come to terms with his trauma has him draw solace from watching the simplicity and peacefulness of Cheng’s life and he has developed a fondness for his target.
One day, out of the blue, everything changes. Agents of some kind take Chen, seize Freddie’s surveillance equipment and come after Freddie. What has Chen done to cause this? What has Freddie seen, through the surveillance, to put his life in danger? So begins a cat and mouse game, Freddie doing his pursuers, all the while trying to learn what it is he has seen so that he might ensure his own survival, and yes, perhaps get justice for Chen.
This is a brilliant book, If you like intelligent thrillers with well-rounded characters you’ll like this; if, like me, you loved the paranoid 70’s movies, you’ll love it. This is a thinking person’s thriller - there’s little action, though when it comes, it’s handled well - it’s a slow burner, but gripping nonetheless.
It was no surprise to learn that To Die In Vienna has been snapped up by Hollywood. Apparently, Focus Features (part of Universal) have purchased the rights and Jake Gyllenhaal is slated to play Freddie. Having read the book, I for one will be buying tickets for the cinema once the movie adaptation comes out.
5 out of 5 stars