Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton

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Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: An elegantly told tale of house breaking, safe cracking and smuggling as an MI6 man tries to make his fortune in occupied Berlin.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: December 2013
Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1611856125

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Do we really need another Cold War-era thriller? Especially one that also covers the already saturated Second World War years? Well yes, if the thriller in question is John Lawton's new offering, 'Then We Take Berlin'. Despite sounding like a chant from a mob of England football fans rampaging through Germany in the 1980s, Then We Take Berlin tells the story of cockney John 'Joe' Holderness, better known as Wilderness to all of his female acquaintances.

A life of petty crime seems to be his fate after spending his teenage war years learning his trade as a petty thief. When not honing his craft breaking into houses and cracking safes in London's more illustrious locales, Wilderness spends most of his waking hours reading, devouring everything his local library can push his way.

The two sides of Wilderness's life combine when he is called up for National Service with the RAF. The youngster shows a lack of respect towards his superiors and the petty rules of military life but despite the insubordination an M16 talent scout spots Wilderness's razor sharp intellect and takes him on as the service's resident cat burglar.

A transfer to occupied Berlin ensues where his official day job is interviewing ex-Nazis. After teaming up with Eddie, a British artillery man, fast talking yank Frank Spoleto and a mysterious Soviet wide boy known as Yuri, black market smuggling soon takes precedence.

Fast forward 15 years to 1963 where Wilderness receives an unlikely invitation to New York from Spoleto, despite being out of the intelligence game for years. The American has one last job to finish in Berlin but instead of coffee it's a person that needs smuggling across the border. Has the former M16 man still got it in him to take up the challenge?

In Wilderness, John Lawton has created a believable central character, one that meets the conventions of a thriller but never lapses into stereotype. The action moves along at a decent lick and the portrayal of occupied post-war Berlin is thoroughly convincing. The supporting cast add plenty to the proceedings and the book is very well written. So what was it that made Then We Take Berlin ever so slightly disappointing? In short, the ending. Let's just say that there's plenty of scope for a follow up. That conclusion aside, Then We Take Berlin has plenty to offer. In addition to a sequel, I wouldn't be surprised to see a TV version appear in the not too distant future.

You might also enjoy A Lily of the Field by John Lawton and Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood.

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