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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The Wall is the highly accomplished, debut historical thriller from the gifted John Marks, a former journalist and Berlin bureau chief for US News and World Report. A provocative and intelligent roller-coaster ride, The Wall is as much a history lesson as it is gripping entertainment. Set in Eastern Europe in November, 1989, The Wall spins a complex and intriguing web of political intrigue, espionage, and deception during the cataclysmic moment in history when the Iron Curtain -- and Communism -- came crashing to the ground. Marks's first-hand experience and vivid characterizations catapult The Wall into a league of its own; it's a frighteningly plausible story set during an extremely precarious, unpredictable, and fascinating period in European history.
The Wall opens with a bang -- literally. Nester Cates, an African-American military captain, is called to a military stronghold named "the Box" just moments before one of its computer terminals mysteriously explodes. Cates is soon brought before his superior -- the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Major Coogan -- who wants to know what happened and, more specifically, why Cates had abandoned his own position to be there. To make things worse, an eerie and enigmatic "owl" (military slang for CIA official) named Carlton Styles begins to interrogate Cates, not about the explosion, but about his best friend and military counterpart, Stuart Glemnik, who has not been seen for several days. He also quizzes Cates on extremist Jiri Klek, one of the world's most wanted men who has been linked to terrorist activities in Munich, Lebanon, Beirut, and West Berlin. Rumors are circulating that Klek is currently in East Berlin and Styles, a victim of one of Klek's attacks, wants revenge.
Klek's rumored presence, the disappearance of Glemnik (who already has a shady reputation for his autonomous nature, unorthodox political opinions, and anarchic tendencies), and Cates's unexplained presence in the Box seconds before a top-secret terminal suddenly explodes make Styles extremely suspicious. Instead of placing Cates under arrest for treason, Styles decides to cut Cates "a break." Cates has 24 hours to locate Glemnik; if he fails to do so, he will be implicated as an accomplice to the evening's brutal attack. But finding Glemnik will be not be easy, especially because he, along with his communist West German girlfriend Uta, has defected to East Berlin.
The Wall follows numerous, well-drawn characters as they attempt to locate Stuart Glemnik and uncover the secret behind an elaborate conspiracy during the final days of Communism and the chaotic, early days of Democracy. One is Glemnik's brother Douglas, a down-on-his-luck but likable entomologist from Texas who's been visiting Stuart for the past several months. Douglas's life is in peril after Styles -- who has never mentally recovered from Klek's explosion -- becomes convinced that Douglas is the notorious terrorist. Another is Jodie Blum, a young and ambitious American journalist who, fascinated by Douglas's plight, accompanies him on his journey from Dresden, East Germany, to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest in a desperate struggle to locate Glemnik. With several others along for the ride, Jodie and Douglas run amuck through the Eastern block countries, not only ducking the nefarious men who are looking to bring them in, but also coping with the increasing violence that perestroika has spawned.
Among The Wall's most unique and valuable characteristics is the vibrant, historical color it supplies. As a journalist, John Marks covered the reunification of Germany, the transition of Communist East Germany to capitalism, and the transformation of Eastern Europe into a region of struggling democracies. He saw the mixed feelings of elation and fear on the faces of the populace when the Iron Curtain fell, he saw the demonstrations, some peaceful and some horribly violent. In addition to being a beautifully constructed novel, The Wall adds substance to the headlines. Along with stunning prose and wonderfully developed characters, Marks captures the sights, smells, and emotions of the time, and weaves them together to create an authentic, unique and breathtaking thriller.