Then We Take Berlin (Joe Wilderness Series #1)by John Lawton
Joe Wilderness is a World War II orphan, a condition that he thinks excuses him from common morality. Cat burglar, card sharp, and Cockney wide boy, the last thing he wants is to get drafted. But in 1946 he finds himself in the Royal Air Force, facing a stretch in military prison . . . when along comes Lt Colonel Burne-Jones to tell him MI6 has better use for his
Joe Wilderness is a World War II orphan, a condition that he thinks excuses him from common morality. Cat burglar, card sharp, and Cockney wide boy, the last thing he wants is to get drafted. But in 1946 he finds himself in the Royal Air Force, facing a stretch in military prison . . . when along comes Lt Colonel Burne-Jones to tell him MI6 has better use for his talents.
Posted to occupied Berlin, interrogating ex-Nazis, and burgling the odd apartment for MI6, Wilderness finds himself with time on his hands and the devil making work. He falls in with Frank, a US Army captain, with Eddie, a British artilleryman and with Yuri, a major in the NKVD and together they lift the black market scam to a new level. Coffee never tasted so sweet. And he falls for Nell Breakheart, a German girl who has witnessed the worst that Germany could do and is driven by all the scruples that Wilderness lacks.
Fifteen years later, June 1963. Wilderness is free-lance and down on his luck. A gumshoe scraping by on divorce cases. Frank is a big shot on Madison Avenue, cooking up one last Berlin scam . . . for which he needs Wilderness once more. Only now they're not smuggling coffee, they're smuggling people. And Nell? Nell is on the staff of West Berlin's mayor Willy Brandt, planning for the state visit of the most powerful man in the world: "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
Then We Take Berlin is a gripping, meticulously researched and richly detailed historical thriller a moving story of espionage and war, and people caught up in the most tumultuous events of the twenty-first century.
A Publishers Weekly “Big Book” of Fall 2013
“John Lawton’s stylish spy thriller, Then We Take Berlin, is a splendid introduction to John Wilfrid (Wilderness) Holderness, born a Cockney guttersnipe, trained in various criminal enterprises by his grandfather and transformed into a British intelligence operative during World War II. . . .[An] enthralling story of Wilderness’s adventures in espionage and Lawton’s harrowing descriptions of life in the battered nations of Europe in 1945, when the war was over but never seemed to end.”New York Times Book Review
“Lawton’s gift for atmosphere, memorable characters and intelligent plotting has been compared to John le Carré, but his dry humor also invokes the late Ross Thomas. . . . Never mind the comparisonsLawton can stand up on his own, and Then We Take Berlin is a gem.”The Seattle Times
“A dangerous assignment in East Berlin is fraught with complex memories from postwar Europe. . . . A wonderfully complex and nuanced thriller.”Kirkus Reviews
"Lawton captures both the immediate postwar and midcentury landscapes perfectly, stirring elements of Graham Greene, John le Carré, and the great Ross Thomas' too-little-known McCorkle and Padillo novels into a superbly well-built Cold War cocktailbracing, deliriously delicious, but carrying the slightly bitter aftertaste of dreams gone bad."Booklist (starred review)
“This intelligent first in a new series from Lawton (A Lily of the Field and six other Inspector Troy thrillers) opens on the eve of President Kennedy’s 1963 Berlin visit, but the real meat lies in the compelling backstory of John Wilford Holderness, an East London Cockney who joins the RAF in 1946. . . . A wonderfully written and generally wise book that will thrill readers with an interest in WWII and the early Cold War era.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Anyone familiar with Lawton’s Inspector Troy series of mysteries already knows that he is a master of time and place. Every rationed meal, every stolen car, every bit of cat burglar craft is perfect. His Berlin is as gritty as brick dust, populated by wraiths on the make in baggy clothes from years of starvation rations and vitamin deficiencies. Everyone does what they have to in order to survive and morality is a very situational concept indeed. As the years advance, some of the characters become wiser with their experience, some merely older but Berlin survives, rebuilding but unchanging. . . . Absolute dynamite in a trench coat with cigarettes, coffee and nylons stuffed in the pockets. Don’t miss this one!”I Love A Mystery
"Lawton builds a wonderfully convincing picture...writing with remarkable authority. . . as usual with Lawton's books, it's rather more than the sum of its parts."Spectator
"While Lawton's previous novels were distinguished by their precise and elegant prose, Then We Take Berlin offers, courtesy of its Cockney protagonist, a cruder but equally effective vernacular style underpinned by mordant black humour."Irish Times
"Lawton's up there with Philip Kerr and Alan Furst. Yes, he's that good."The Sun
“Absolute dynamite in a trench coat . . . Don’t miss this one!”I Love A Mystery Newsletter
“A thriller that is sure to have any fan of John Le Carré’s Smiley novels gripped.”Crime Fiction Lover
“[Then We Take Berlin] is a stand-alone novel outside [Lawton’s] wonderful ‘Troy’ series, set in Berlin in 1963 . . . it is extremely good.”Deadly Pleasures
“Anyone familiar with Lawton’s Inspector Troy series of mysteries already knows that he is a master of time and place. Every rationed meal, every stolen car, every bit of cat burglar craft is perfect. His Berlin is as gritty as brick dust, populated by wraiths on the make in baggy clothes from years of starvation rations and vitamin deficiencies. . . . Absolute dynamite in a trench coat with cigarettes, coffee and nylons stuffed in the pockets. Don’t miss this one!”W. J. H. Reed, I Love A Mystery
“A very captivating read.”Fantasy Book Critic
A dangerous assignment in East Berlin is fraught with complex memories from postwar Europe. London, 1963. John Holderness gets a late call from expansive Frank Spoleto, a big New York advertising exec, offering him a well-paying job. So close is their bond that Holderness, known as Wilderness due to his raucous past, agrees without further details. After reminiscing with Wilderness about their days together at MI6, Frank asks him to get his partner Steve's beloved Aunt Hannah out of East Berlin. A flashback to 1941 presents Holderness at 13. His mother, Lily, has just been killed in a pub by a Luftwaffe air raid. His violent father, Harry, is away in the service, so Wilderness moves in with his granddad Abner and his sexy, much younger wife, Merle. Abner and Wilderness make a decent living as burglars. When Abner dies after a big job, Merle helps Wilderness avoid prosecution. As the war draws to a close, Wilderness is called up to serve. Contemptuous of authority, he barely escapes court martial, rescued only by his impressive scores on intelligence tests. Fast tracked into the spy game, he uses his criminal skills to avenge himself on colleagues who irk him. Then he falls in love with Nell, a young German woman deeply scarred by the war. And when he undertakes Frank's caper nearly 20 years later, whom should he encounter but...? A wonderfully complex and nuanced thriller, first in a new series, by the creator of Inspector Troy (A Lily of the Field, 2010, etc.).
Meet the Author
John Lawton is the author of ten novels, including Second Violin, Flesh Wounds, and Bluffing Mr. Churchill. His thriller Black Out won a WH Smith Fresh Talent Award, A Little White Death was named a New York Times notable book, and his latest novel A Lily of the Field was named one of the best thrillers of the year by Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times. He lives in Derbyshire, England.
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Then We Take Berlin is an exceptional historical thriller that is also a deeply moving story of post World War II Germany - the destructive power of war on humans and places and all that was considered normal. As a thriller it is excellent with a new character, Joe Wilderness, taking centre stage along with some old friends from the Inspector Troy series showing up. Bravo Mr. Lawton! This is an outstanding novel.
Enjoyed this so much!