Summary and book reviews of Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton

Then We Take Berlin

by John Lawton

Then We Take Berlin
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2014, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

3

He'd never flown the Atlantic before. He'd flown plenty of times. His years in the RAF had seen to that. He'd scrounged flights almost like hitching car rides. But he'd never done a long haul. It was the stuff of Sunday colour supplement advertising. "International" was a positive in the adman's world. It implied you were beyond the pettiness of nations, that you were post post-war, that you moved in a world peopled by the likes of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, that you sat in the VIP lounge at airports, and had a bag emblazoned with the name of the airline. Things like that were coveted. It was chic to be seen with a cheap plastic holdall marked BOAC, chic-er still to be seen with the one Wilderness now had bearing the Pan Am logo.

Frank hadn't been mean with him. Whatever Frank's faults—lies, tricks, half-truths, cheapness was not one of them. First class all the way. The hostess handed him a package as soon as he took his ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Have you ever come late to a party thinking you missed most of the fun, only find out that the best was yet to come? Well, I seem to have come late to John Lawton’s party because this is the first book of his that I’ve read. And it is so good that I will now pick up his previous seven (Frederick Troy) books. What’s more, I look forward to his next book about John Wilfred Holderness, aka Wilderness, aka Joe.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review...this is a wonderfully written and generally wise book that will thrill readers with an interest in WWII and the early Cold War era.

Booklist

Starred Review. 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 cocktail - bracing, deliriously delicious, but carrying the slightly bitter aftertaste of dreams gone bad.

Kirkus

Starred Review. A wonderfully complex and nuanced thriller, first in a new series, by the creator of Inspector Troy

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Beyond the Book

The Post World War II German Black Market

To say that by the end of World War II Germany was in tatters is a massive understatement. Infrastructure services were at a standstill, craters gaped where centuries-old buildings had once stood, the economy was based upon currency – the Reichsmark – that was essentially worthless. Worse, the government was forced to ration everything from cigarettes to milk. Everything that sustains life was in drastically short supply. Thanks to human ingenuity, however, where there is a demand there is someone willing to step up and become a supplier. This miasma of need proved to be rich soil that nourished an equally rich black market.

Berlin children in rubble.Since the government's system of rationing was based upon earned return for labor performed rather than...

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