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Bonne écoute !
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 21st century.
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Enjoyable and humorous, but it ends in a cliffie!!
This is a fast moving book, and it covers several characters and timelines, so you need to pay attention. I liked it very much, and I hope there will be more Joe Wilderness books in the future. This was my first book by John Lawton, and I'll be looking for more novels by this talented writer. The narration is fabulous, but there are a fair amount of short passages in various foreign languages with no obvious translations, so that was frustrating.
This book ends in a HUGE cliffhanger, with absolutely no warning, so that was frustrating, too. I just started the second book in the series and it starts up exactly where this one left off, which is good. Now I'm wondering how book two will end, especially as there is not yet a book three available... We'll see, I suppose.
I recommend this book to those who like WWII/Cold War espionage stories, mysteries, and suspense with a heavy dollop of black humor. I LOVE Joe, he's an interesting and original character, half con man and half scholar, who can't seem to get much of a break. He's a Cockney bloke at heart no matter what sort of international intrigue he finds himself in the middle of, and I loved every minute he was 'onstage'. Michael Caine 50 years ago would have been perfect for the part!
The other characters are also well-drawn and interesting, no one is a cookie cutter. The narrator does a great job giving everyone a unique voice, his accents and foreign language passages are also exceptional.
Be prepared to go back and forth in time from the point of view of more than one character, and to keep track of all various threads (and characters) the author is weaving together. It's pretty labyrinthine at times, but it will eventually make sense.
As for that cliffhanger...I need to call a foul on that. There needs to be some kind of warning for the reader about that since many readers hate cliffies and won't read one until the series is complete. I don't mind them myself, but a heads up would have been nice. So, this is me, giving all of you that heads up...you've been warned!
In spite of that, it's a fun book, with lots of great descriptions of post WWII Berlin, plenty of snappy dialog, and action galore. A great book for a rainy weekend!
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- David S
Excellent suspenseful story and well read,
Excellent suspenseful story and well read, with good use of accents to distinguish the characters. I will purchase the next in the series now,