cover image Then We Take Berlin

Then We Take Berlin

John Lawton. Atlantic Monthly, $26 (432p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2196-7

This intelligent first in a new series from Lawton (A Lily of the Field and six other Inspector Troy thrillers) opens on the eve of President Kennedy’s 1963 Berlin visit, but the real meat lies in the compelling backstory of John Wilford Holderness, an East London Cockney who joins the RAF in 1946. Aircraftman Wilderness (or “Joe Wilderness,” as he prefers to be called) is cheeky to the point of risking court-martial, but an RAF colonel spots Joe’s potential, sends him to Cambridge, and makes him a spy. Joe is posted in 1947 to Berlin, where he tries to identify former Nazis (while making a packet in black market trading), and falls in love with Nell Burkhardt, a German woman who by 1963 is an aide to Mayor Willi Brandt. Despite a relatively weak subplot about the effort to smuggle a woman out of East Berlin, this is a wonderfully written and generally wise book that will thrill readers with an interest in WWII and the early Cold War era. (Sept.)