Reviews of Winter Work by Dan Fesperman

Winter Work

A novel

by Dan Fesperman

Winter Work by Dan Fesperman X
Winter Work by Dan Fesperman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2022, 352 pages

    Dec 12, 2023, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

An exhilarating spy thriller inspired by a true story about the precious secrets up for grabs just after the fall of the Berlin Wall - from the acclaimed author of The Cover Wife

On a chilly early morning walk on the wooded outskirts of Berlin, Emil Grimm finds the body of his neighbor, a fellow Stasi officer named Lothar, with a gunshot wound to the temple and a pistol in his right hand. Despite appearances, Emil suspects murder. A few months earlier he would have known just what to do, but now, as East Germany disintegrates, being a Stasi colonel is more of a liability than an asset. More troubling still is that Emil and Lothar were involved in a final clandestine mission, one that has clearly turned deadly. Now Emil must finish the job alone, on uncertain ground where old alliances seem to be shifting by the day.

Meanwhile, CIA agent Claire Saylor, sent to Berlin to assist an Agency mop-up action against their collapsing East German adversaries, has just received an upgrade to her assignment. She'll be the designated contact for a high-ranking foreign intelligence officer of the Stasi, although details are suspiciously sketchy. When her first rendezvous goes dangerously awry, she realizes the mission is far more delicate than she was led to believe.

With the rules of the game changing fast, and as their missions intersect, Emil and Claire find themselves on unlikely common ground, fighting for their lives against a powerful enemy hiding in the shadows.


February 1990

In winter, the forest bares its secrets. Hill and vale are revealed through disrobing trees. Mud and bone arise from dying weeds. Woodpeckers, taking notice, pry deeper on leafless limbs and rotting logs. Their drumbeat goes out like a warning.

Emil Grimm, out for a morning walk, exulted in all of it. Being a German of a certain age, he loved getting into the woods, and as a professional keeper of secrets he was impressed by any display of full disclosure.

The trouble was that this year's unveiling hadn't confined itself to the trees. His employer—indeed, his country—was being stripped as bare of its cloaking as the oaks and beeches. All because a concrete wall in Berlin had been knocked to the ground a few months earlier, a shocking act of defiance that had set people loose in ways forbidden for nearly thirty years.

Freedom of movement was fine by Emil. Long overdue, in fact. But the attendant bustle and bother were letting light and air into places ...

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The author creates complex, multi-layered characters. Emil in particular is drawn with nuance, establishing a fine balance between the man who's lost a friend and the man who's a ruthless, calculating spymaster. Although the book isn't exactly a page-turner, the narrative pace is excellent and I found the story engaging from start to finish. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed Winter Work. Its focus on a pivotal moment in world history makes this a great selection for anyone interested in the time period, and its complex plot will appeal to readers who enjoy espionage thrillers...continued

Full Review (746 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Winter Work is a gripping, tightly plotted old-school spy novel...Claire [Saylor] makes a welcome return from Fesperman's last book, The Cover Wife...Berlin—'spying's most storied theme park'—is vividly rendered, as is a time of convulsive change and the hopes, anxieties, and machinations of those caught up in the chaos.

New York Times
[A] well-paced thriller...Fesperman accurately depicts the corrosive effect of life under a surveillance society...Most Cold War spy novels focus on the Manichaean ideological struggle between East and West; this one successfully explores a grayer era, when neither side in the conflict understood quite what was happening and the old rules of the game evaporated in a matter of weeks.

Booklist (starred review)
The story leads to an exciting conclusion—a thoroughly surprising spin on the typical spies-on-the-run finale—but it is the relationships among the principals that give the novel its depth andpower. Like Joseph Kanon in The Berlin Exchange, Fesperman builds his story around the inner lives of his characters, an approach that transforms typical espionage tropes into universal human drama.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An engrossing, deep-in-the-weeds thriller.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] superb spy thriller...The action builds to a deeply satisfying denouement. Cold War-era spy fiction doesn't get much better than this.

Author Blurb Joseph Kanon, New York Times bestselling author of Istanbul Passage and The Good German
Winter Work vividly captures those chaotic first months after the Berlin Wall came down, with East Germany in free fall and once feared Stasi officers running for cover—into the hands of their former enemies. An entertaining thriller about a society turned upside down.

Author Blurb Mark Greaney, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sierra Six
Dan Fesperman is one of my favorite thriller writers, and Winter Work is a brilliant addition to his magnificent oeuvre. Intelligently written and plotted, based on fact as gripping as any fiction and only improved by Fesperman's deft writing, Winter Work left me spellbound and hungry for another pass at his older books to relive these intense adventures.

Author Blurb Olen Steinhauer, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Tourist
Winter Work is just fantastic. With a meticulous eye for detail and a true feel for the unsettled tension of the times, Fesperman pulls the reader deep into the chilly world of an empire crashing with an utterly compelling story. Out-of-work Stasi officer Emil Grimm is one of the best characters I've read in years.

Reader Reviews

Mahendar Roy

A thrilling tale of espionage set in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Very good to get this interesting information about Germany.

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Beyond the Book

East Germany's Secret Police: The Stasi

Black, red and yellow flag of East GermanyThe main character in Dan Fesperman's spy thriller Winter Work is a colonel in East Germany's HVA, a unit of the infamous East German security service commonly referred to as the Stasi.

After World War II, the United States and the USSR vied for influence over Europe, with most countries in the western half of the continent joining NATO, while eastern countries aligned with the USSR. Germany was split into two countries, with the western half becoming the democratic Federal Republic of Germany (FDR or West Germany) and the eastern section the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany).

In early 1950, East Germany formed the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit ("Ministry for State Security"), also known as the Stasi....

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