The Arms Maker of Berlin

( 5 )

Overview

An unflinching thriller from Dan Fesperman that takes us deep into the White Rose resistance movement during World War II.
 
When Nat Turnbull’s mentor, Gordon Wolfe, is arrested for possession of a missing WWII secret service archive and then turns up dead in jail, Nat’s quiet academic life is suddenly thrown into tumult. The archive is a time bomb of sensitive material, but key documents are still missing, and the FBI dispatches Nat to ...
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The Arms Maker of Berlin

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Overview

An unflinching thriller from Dan Fesperman that takes us deep into the White Rose resistance movement during World War II.
 
When Nat Turnbull’s mentor, Gordon Wolfe, is arrested for possession of a missing WWII secret service archive and then turns up dead in jail, Nat’s quiet academic life is suddenly thrown into tumult. The archive is a time bomb of sensitive material, but key documents are still missing, and the FBI dispatches Nat to track them down. Following a trail of cryptic clues, Nat's journeys to Germany, where he soon crosses paths with Berta, a gorgeous and mysterious student and Kurt Bauer, an arms billionaire with a dark past. As their tales intersect, long-buried exploits of deceit emerge, and each step becomes more dangerous than the last.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Compelling . . . nonstop action.”—The Baltimore Sun

"'Intelligent thriller' is almost an oxymoron . . . Which may be why novels like Dan Fesperman's are so rare . . . Fesperman just can't help drawing on his experience as a journalist covering foreign conflicts. And that experience puts the meat on the intricate bone structure of his thriller plots. You come away from a Fesperman novel not only abuzz with the exhilaration of the chase, but also aware that you've absorbed something of the complexity of the world's conflicts . . . Fesperman's characters in The Arms Maker of Berlin, particularly Bauer, are smartly imagined and subtly drawn."—San Francisco Chronicle
 
"A smoothly accelerating thriller . . . Fesperman is a skillful, unpretentious writer who deftly incorporates his extensive knowledge of the period." —Boston Globe
 
"Well-crafted entertainment that also delivers complex truths about warfare and survival." —Kirkus Reviews
 
"Fesperman convincingly evokes the fraying Reich in 1944 . . . Readers who like a bit of history with their thrills will be thoroughly satisfied." —Publishers Weekly
 
"Fesperman writes well. His characters are believable, and the strong and credible plot will specially appeal to fans of World War II espionage fiction."—Library Journal
 
"This one is definitely not your out-of-the-box spy caper, thus highly recommended . . . In the jaded world of the post-modern spy novel, there are no good guys or bad guys, no black or white—just a thousand shades of gray. This combination of anomie and espionage can get tiresome after awhile, but in Fesperman's newest novel, he spices things up."—Booklist (starred) 

Publishers Weekly
Four missing documents from WWII provide the fuel for Fesperman’s fine stand-alone thriller. The FBI hires Nat Turnbull, a Nazi expert at a second-tier New England university, to find the documents, but Nat soon discovers that the agency has reasons other than historical integrity for wanting them found: to keep a lid on certain war-era sins committed by a German industrialist whose enormous company has been a major weapons supplier to the West. As Turnbull shuttles between Europe and the U.S., he manages to stay a step ahead of a mysterious killer who’s knocking off anyone who may know something about the missing files. Fesperman (The Prisoner of Guantánamo) convincingly evokes the fraying Reich in 1944, a time of shifting allegiances when many Germans focused on positioning themselves for a Hitler-less future, though the who and why of all the recent killings remain somewhat murky. Still, readers who like a bit of history with their thrills will be thoroughly satisfied. (Aug.)
Library Journal

History professor Nat Turnbull, who specializes in the German resistance, is called in to examine four boxes of World War II archives stolen by his onetime mentor. But key files are missing from the boxes. When his mentor is found dead in jail, the FBI hires Nat to track down the missing files. The trail turns out to be dangerous, as an aging Berlin arms dealer fights to hide evidence of his collaboration with the Nazis. VERDICT Winner of the John Creasy Memorial Dagger Award and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, Fesperman (The Prisoner of Guantánamo) writes well. His characters are believable, and the strong and credible plot will especially appeal to fans of World War II espionage fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/1/09.]—DK


—David Keymer
Kirkus Reviews
Thriller veteran Fesperman (The Amateur Spy, 2008, etc.) sets his protagonist to track the lives of six people caught up in World War II through a dangerous present-day archive. The author finds new life in old clues (invisible ink, a book holding a pressed rose) as he constructs an intricate plot. Nat Turnbull, a professor of modern German history, learns that Pennsylvania police stormed into the home of his mentor, Gordon Wolfe, and removed files containing the records of intelligence work Wolfe did concerning German resistance efforts during World War II. Waiting in the shadows of the library where Turnbull works stands an FBI agent who wants him to examine the files, which reputedly contain explosive secrets about the war. Turnbull discovers that four folders-the most important ones, of course-are missing. Conveniently enough, Berta Heinkel of Berlin's Free University appears, offering to help Turnbull find the documents. Can he trust her? (Can German women in spy novels ever be trusted?) He thinks not when he finds someone has made off with vital laptop files in his hotel room while he was across the hall having sex with her. Heinkel sets Turnbull after Kurt Bauer, survivor of a German munitions family much like the Krupps. In ongoing flashbacks, which sometimes overlap and repeat points from the main plot, Bauer joins and ultimately betrays the German resistance movement known as White Rose. Then Bauer crosses to Bern, Switzerland, which here seems nearly as central to war activity as Berlin. Personal motives outweigh ideological ones as Bauer plays one side against the other to keep his family, which has Jewish ancestry, out of the concentration camps. In a poignant denouement,Turnbull brings together five of the six survivors caught up in Bauer's plotting, their war wounds forever tender. Well-crafted entertainment that also delivers complex truths about warfare and survival.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307388728
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Series: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 855,506
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.
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Read an Excerpt

ONE

The biggest hazard of studying history,” Nat Turnbull once told his wife, “is that if you spend too much time looking backward, you’ll be facing the wrong way when the forces of the here and now roll forward to crush you.”

As if to prove the point, his wife filed for divorce the following week, catching Nat completely by surprise. Five years later he was again facing the wrong way, so to speak, when a pair of phone calls summoned him urgently back to the dangers of the present. He was three stories underground at the time, asleep at his desk in the stacks of the university library. An unlikely location, perhaps, for the beginning of an adventure in which lives would be lost, but Nat was trained to appreciate that sort of irony.

The first call arrived just as a dark dream of another era goose-stepped across his brain. His cell phone jolted him awake, squirming in his pocket like a frog. Opening his eyes to utter darkness, Nat realized he must have slept past closing hour. It wasn’t the first time. He kept a flashlight for these emergencies, but it seemed to have disappeared. No use groping for the lamp, either. Security would have cut the power by now. Library budgets weren’t what they used to be at Wightman University.

The phone twitched again as he fumbled in his pocket. He was addled, groggy, a miner regaining consciousness after a cave-in. What time was it? What day? What century? Mandatory question in his line of work. Nat was a history professor. Specialty: Modern Germany. At Wightman that covered everything from the Weimar Republic of 1919 onward, and while Nat was in love with the sweep and grandeur of the whole era, neither friend nor foe was under any illusion as to his true calling. He remained as thoroughly haunted by the long shadow of the Third Reich as those Hitler-centric folks on the History Channel. In Nat’s treasure hunts, X never marked the spot. A swastika did, or some pile of old bones. Dig at risk of contamination.

He snicked open the phone, and the blue glow offered a beacon of hope until he saw the incoming number. Gordon Wolfe, his onetime master and commander, calling at 1:04 a.m., meant Nat was about to be subjected to an angry tirade or a teary confessional, and either would likely be served in a marinade of French cognac and Kentucky bourbon. He answered with a vague sense of stage fright.

“Gordon?”

“No, it’s Viv. Gordon’s in jail. You have to get up here.”

“Jail? What’s happened?”

“They took him away. Him and some archives. They took everything.”

“Gordon’s archives? All of them? Where are you, Viv?”

“Blue Kettle Lake. Our summer place.”

The Adirondacks. Of course. That was where the old Minotaur always retreated when the going got tough, and lately the going had been unbearable.

“The police handcuffed him the moment we walked in the door. You’d have thought he was John Dillinger. They’re saying he stole it, that he stole everything, which is nuts.”

“Stole what, Viv? Slow down. Start at the beginning.”

By now the phone light had switched off. Nat, sole survivor of the European Research Collection, again sat in the darkness of carrel C-19 in the basement stacks of Hartsell Library. He had often boasted he could find his way out of here blindfolded. Tonight he might have to put up or shut up.

His nose could have told him the approximate location—musty leather bindings, chilled concrete, the chemical reek of spooled ?microfilm—a bouquet that probably explained why he had just been dreaming of a similar place across the Atlantic. Except there all the writing was in German and the records were haunted by so much industrialized horror that you never got comfy enough to nod off.

In his dream he had been visiting the place during wartime, a quarter century before he was born. He was descending a narrow stairway as bombs crashed overhead, and he was vaguely excited, as if on the verge of a huge discovery. Yet at each passing level the light dimmed, his dread deepened, and a grim realization took hold: The closer he got to his goal, the greater the risk that he would lose his way or be buried in rubble, forever irretrievable by family and friends.

Guilt having its say, no doubt. Work had consumed the better part of Nat’s last two decades, dating back to his undergraduate years, when a dynamic professor named Gordon Wolfe had infected him with a virulent strain of historical curiosity. The affliction had now outlasted the aforementioned marriage, a procession of careless affairs, and the upbringing of a daughter who had just finished her sophomore year at Wightman. This being a party-hearty Thursday following final exams, Karen was probably seated at this very moment with her friends around a noisy table, polishing off a celebratory pitcher of beer.

Nat had canceled a dinner date to come to the library. It seemed necessary at the time. But so far the only fruits of his labor were an unscheduled nap, and now he had learned that Gordon Wolfe was in jail in upstate New York, where the old man apparently would remain until Nat could talk Gordon’s wife, Vivian, down from the high ledge of hysteria. Judging from her voice, she had been perched there quite a while.

“It was some old files,” Viv said. “Gordon says they were planted. That’s all I could get out of him before they took him away. They bumped his head on the goddamn patrol car. We didn’t even have time to take off our coats. When we turned on the light there was a pile of boxes sitting there, right on the kitchen table. Then a bunch of FBI guys came in from the living room.”

“The FBI? Good Lord. What kind of files?”

“I don’t know. Something from the war. Gordon can tell you. I got the idea he’d seen them before, just never at our house.”

“Two boxes? Ten?”

“Four. They moved everything to the sunroom before I got a good look, and now I can’t even get in there. I’m a prisoner in my own house.”

“You see any labels? Any markings?”

“A few stickers. Ask Gordon. But first we’ve got to get him out. They haven’t set bail, but I can take care of that. I want you here for the arraignment. We can ride over together, tell the judge it’s all a lie.”

Unless it wasn’t. Frame-up or not, what in the hell was Gordon Wolfe doing at the age of eighty-four with a missing archive at his summer home in the hills? Especially if it was the archive, the one Gordon had forever mooned about to both students and colleagues in his less-guarded and more-imbibed moments. More than sixty years ago he had been one of the few wartime caretakers of that trove. Then, after the war ended, four boxes full of information had slipped through everyone’s fingers, disappearing somewhere between the Alps of Switzerland and the towers of midtown Manhattan.

Gordon had been looking for this lost treasure ever since, and during particularly acute outbreaks of gold fever he sounded like an old prospector around a campfire. He had even brought up the subject at his long-overdue retirement party, a melancholy event six years ago when everyone but Gordon had been at a loss for words, stifled by the awkward knowledge that Wightman was nudging him not so gently into the box marked “Emeritus.” What was it Gordon had said that day as he blustered on? Some bold proclamation while he waved his drink, his blocky head thrust forward like that of a reckless boxer, punch-drunk and asking for more. Now Nat remembered:

“Oh, it’s out there, all right. Nobody burned it. Nobody bombed it. But somebody took it, and I wish I knew who, ’cause it’s got secrets you can’t find anywhere else. Not a dud among ’em. Live ammunition. Pick it up and it might go off in your hands. Boom!

Whereupon he sloshed bourbon onto the tie of the assistant dean for students.

Gordon’s mother lode was a trove of wartime gleanings from an American OSS station in Bern, Switzerland, which had been a listening post in a zone of tense but genteel neutrality. Right on Hitler’s doorstep, as historians such as Nat liked to say. It was run by Allen Dulles, the genial, pipe-smoking Lothario who a few years later became one of the first chiefs of the CIA, making him the nation’s ranking Cold Warrior. The missing boxes were only a fraction of the voluminous files Dulles collected during the war, of course. And much of his other work had been well documented, most notably in accounts of the German double agent Fritz Kolbe, who smuggled secret documents out of the Nazi Foreign Ministry by taping them around his thigh.

Gordon ended up working for the OSS literally by accident. Dulles arrived in Switzerland by train only hours before Vichy France shut its borders in late ’41. Cut off from reinforcements, he cobbled together a staff from borrowed diplomats, marooned American bankers and ?students, disaffected expat Junkers, a Swiss financier’s wife who was a former Boston debutante—who, conveniently, also became his ?mistress—and American airmen whose bombers crash-landed in Switzerland.

Gordon was one of the downed airmen, selected by Dulles mostly because of his fluency in German. It saved him from spending the rest of the war in a Swiss internment camp, although by his own account he was little more than a clerk, translating speeches and making sure Dulles never ran out of paper clips. Gordon compensated for this lack of espionage glamour by telling hair-raising tales of his missions as a ball turret gunner in a Flying Fortress on bombing runs over Germany. To drive home the point, he wore a battered leather flight jacket and walked with a limp—the result, he said, of a flak burst and a bad parachute drop.

This image of dashing-flyboy-turned-spy-clerk-turned-scholar might have followed him to the grave if not for a bit of “gotcha” journalism that had appeared only a week ago in Wightman’s campus newspaper, the Daily Wildcat.

Gordon’s B-17, it turned out, hadn’t been shot down at all. It hadn’t even dropped a bomb during its final flight. It flew plenty of other dangerous missions, but Gordon was making his maiden voyage as a last-minute replacement. Somewhere between England and the target city of Regensburg the pilot got lost, ran low on fuel, circled into the Alps, and finally brought the plane to rest in a Swiss meadow, where the unscathed crewmen were immediately surrounded by milk maidens and lowing cattle. Gordon’s limp, the Wildcat said, was either the exaggerated by-product of a childhood illness—the very malady that kept him out of the infantry—or an outright affectation.

Although Gordon was retired, he was still a well-known figure around campus, not least for a series of free lectures he delivered every summer to the townsfolk, complete with colorful descriptions of his aerobatic derring-do. But there would be no speeches this summer, and a book contract that was to have been his scholarly swan song had already been canceled.

Now, if Viv was to be believed, you could add an arrest at the hand of federal agents to his roll of dishonor. And who knows, maybe the man was guilty. Because if he had finally tracked down the missing boxes, then Nat could well imagine him hoarding them, at least for a while. It was easy enough to guess how the old fellow would have justified it, by garrulously referring to his temporary possession as a “finder’s fee.”

“So can you come?” Viv was insistent.

Nat sighed. He wanted to tell her to call a lawyer. Then he could get a full night’s sleep and drive up tomorrow, if at all. Let the old bastard stew away in jail, especially after everything that had happened between them. But Viv headed him off at the pass.

“Gordon won’t let me call a lawyer. He said to get you instead. It was the last thing he said as they put him in the car. ‘Get Nat. He’ll know what to do.’?”

“Since when did Gordon make sense in this kind of situation, Viv?”

“I know. But for what it’s worth, he was sober. Mostly, anyway.”

“We haven’t spoken in years, you know. Unless you count those late-night calls he likes to make.”

“I know that, too. I’m sorry. Gordon’s sorry, if it makes any difference. And not just ’cause he’s in trouble. He’s said it a lot lately.”

Sure he had. But in spite of himself, Nat experienced a tug of old loyalties. Or maybe he was still just eager to please—student to teacher, apple in hand.

“Okay. I’ll come.”

“Thanks, Nat. I’ll never forget it. And I’m sure Gordon won’t.”

Yes, he would, probably within minutes. But Nat had endured that before. Besides, there were other motivations. If the boxes were what he suspected, he might get first crack at them.

“I’ll leave right away,” he said. “Don’t wait up.”

Viv hung up, and Nat found himself back in the dark, inhaling the stale, silent breath of all those books and ledgers. They, too, seemed to rest at night, the cells of a drowsing giant who might roll over at any moment and crush him with the weight of their lore. Nat believed there was more than just physical heft to these materials. They retained a spirit as well, some gusty breath from the souls of their creators. It wasn’t that he believed in ghosts. It was more a reflection of how thoroughly he let such materials inhabit his mind.

But more practical matters beckoned. He was already dreading the long drive. Six hours minimum, meaning he would have to stop for breakfast, maybe a nap. Good thing he’d nodded off here. With any luck he would make it in time for the arraignment, although he realized now that Viv hadn’t given him a time or place. He tapped the desktop like a blind man, groping for his things. Then the phone throbbed again. Viv with the logistics, no doubt.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    One of those OLD Style reach and grab you spy/war/thriller/morality stories!

    Well this is one of those books that I read in about 2-3 days over the busy Holidays! It kept me rivitted to my seat and the pages just flew by! It touches on many of my favorite genres- WW2 spys, the fall of the wall, Stasi, Gestapo, how honest Germans survived in horrific regimes, as well the great descriptions of the sitws in Germany and Switzerland! Having been to teh Europeam locations of the story, it was very very easy to follow the visual images. But I think it would be if you had never left the USA as well!
    This book has 4 differednt lines going on at one time and is well woven. And, it is believable! many thanks to the writer!
    Ta-ta!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This should be must reading for ideologues

    WWII history professor Dr. Nat Turnbull specializes in the German resistance movement. He is shocked when he learns his former advisor octogenarian Dr. Gordon Wolfe was arrested by Pennsylvania police for possessing stolen archival information from the 1940s.

    Nat sees some of the findings and realizes what Gordon had squirreled away is incredible as none of the documents can be found elsewhere as far he knows. However, he also finds a gap in what the police took and assumes Gordon, for whatever reason, hid part of the cache of data. When Gordon is found dead in his cell, the FBI asks Nat to investigate Gordon's strange clues. As he begins to uncover the secrets of the White Rose Resistance buried for decades, Berlin's Free University Professor Berta Heinkel offers to help him. He soon distrusts everyone including the German visitor and the FBI as the evidence point towards a cover-up to protect a German weapons manufacturer, Bauer, who apparently hid his WW II activity so that he could keep his Jewish family members from the camps.

    This should be must reading for ideologues as family motives easily supersede everything is this poignant clearly timely and profound thriller. Although Turnbull is the superstar of the tale from the opening shocker to the final denouement with five survivors at his side, Bauer owns the story line then and now. He did what he had to for his beloved ones to survive war and the Final Solution; choices are not simple Bushian for or against as the Neocons proclaim and Congressman Tim Ryan has recently affirmed, but instead complex and complicated as Bauer made choices that has haunted him in life and will do so until he dies.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2010

    WOW

    Great book. Attended his recent book signing and discusion at the Poisen Pen book store in Scottsdale. Mr Fesperman has a lot to teach us. Strongly recommend all his books

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 19, 2010

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    Posted November 1, 2010

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    Posted November 2, 2011

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