Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood

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Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Denise Ramsay
Reviewed by Denise Ramsay
Summary: A thoroughly capable and highly entertaining thriller.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 451 Date: May 2018
Publisher: Michael Joseph
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978071818581

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I have heard it said that the best way to begin to tell a story is to create a multi-dimensional character, imbued with compelling layers of detail - be it backstory, character quirks or behaviours. The point seems to be that in creating a character in such a way you begin to reflect the truth of life wherein people are by definition multi-dimensional and thus, you bring your story to life. In Major Tom Fox, Grimwood has successfully created just such a character. In one man he gifts us an exciting and honourable figure who somehow simultaneously manages to present as damaged and flawed. Grimwood provides some character history for Fox which clearly informs the actions of the character but I would suggest that rather than any written history provided for Major Fox, it is in the way he interacts with the other characters and drives the action of the story that we come to know him.

His dialogue isn't always lengthy but in his assessment of situations and judgement of his fellow man we get an idea of his moral compass and capacity for honour and brevity or indeed at the other end of the scale, the same capacity for violence and subversion. This is the second outing for British intelligence officer Major Tom Fox, who this time is tasked with arranging the smooth repatriation of a well known and well placed defector. So begins an absolutely thrill packed journey which sees Fox fight man and country to complete his mission whilst trying to hold his fragile integrity intact.

Grimwood's evocation of East Berlin in 1986 is captivating. His descriptions have a filmic quality and as a reader I very quickly felt transported back in time, despite really knowing very little about the history. I could feel the barbed wire scratching at my skin and the utter bleakness of a place described in such detail where concrete and unification were the order of the day. Yes, it is the job of an author to transport you to other times and places but with Grimwood I felt none of that jarring and deliberate effort we sometimes get at the beginning of a book when we are trying to lose ourselves in its pages. With this novel, the effort was little or none and I was a very willing traveller.

As for the book's supporting cast, it would have been very easy to fill the pages with caricatures of the Stasi agents, defectors and spies we know from films and comic books but Grimwood manages to sidestep the obvious traps and presents characters less predictable and customary than their traditional counterparts. More than once I was genuinely surprised by either the actions or words of a particular character and found the book all the more enthralling for it. High level tension is all well and good but it behoves a good author to provide his or her reader with the opportunity to be taken aback, take stock and return to a story with renewed interest and vigour. Grimwood uses regular flashbacks to tell the story which leap across characters and time frames. With so many of the aforementioned I wondered how on earth he was going to pull all these threads together into one cohesive ending. As it turned out, Grimwood manages it fairly seamlessly and expertly and though there was no great moment of resolution, the ending was satisfying - if a little hurried - and I am definitely keen to encounter Major Fox again on a new adventure.

I think had I read Fox's first outing in Moskavo, I would certainly have been better versed in the covert world he inhabits, but I believe Nightfall Berlin is a good enough thriller to stand on its own merits. That being said, I'm interested enough in the character that I shall definitely be heading back to read the first Fox novel. Having enjoyed such films as The Lives of Others or more recently Atomic Blonde, I was keen to see if such stark and oppressive overtones would transfer well to book form. I think this book certainly showed that they do and that such conditions can provide a fine landscape for a solid and intelligent thriller. This is definitely a good fit for anyone looking for a traditional thriller but will also appeal to those of us who are might be looking for a literary dip into a place and period of time that was so shrouded in secrecy. Brilliant.

If you enjoyed Nightfall Berlin and would like to read similar titles then I would recommend The Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington which looks at the last years of the GDR.

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Buy Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood at


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