All posts tagged espionage

Leaving Berlin – Joseph Kanon

Published January 9, 2016 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

From the bestselling author of Istanbul Passage, called a “fast-moving thinking man’s thriller” by The Wall Street Journal, comes a sweeping, atmospheric novel of postwar East Berlin, a city caught between political idealism and the harsh realities of Soviet occupation.

Berlin 1948. Almost four years after the war’s end, the city is still in ruins, a physical wasteland and a political symbol about to rupture. In the West, a defiant, blockaded city is barely surviving on airlifted supplies; in the East, the heady early days of political reconstruction are being undermined by the murky compromises of the Cold War. Espionage, like the black market, is a fact of life. Even culture has become a battleground, with German intellectuals being lured back from exile to add credibility to the competing sectors.

Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer, fled the Nazis for America before the war. But the politics of his youth have now put him in the crosshairs of the McCarthy witch-hunts. Faced with deportation and the loss of his family, he makes a desperate bargain with the fledgling CIA: he will earn his way back to America by acting as their agent in his native Berlin. But almost from the start things go fatally wrong. A kidnapping misfires, an East German agent is killed, and Alex finds himself a wanted man. Worse, he discovers his real assignment is to spy on the woman he left behind, the only woman he has ever loved. Changing sides in Berlin is as easy as crossing a sector border. But where do we draw the lines of our moral boundaries? Betrayal? Survival? Murder?

Filled with intrigue, and the moral ambiguity of conflicted loyalties, Joseph Kanon’s new novel is a compelling thriller and a love story that brings a shadowy period of history vividly to life.

What did I think?:

Leaving Berlin is the last novel that was picked for the Richard and Judy Autumn book club 2015 here in the UK and I approached this book with slight trepidation I’m afraid to say as I’m not really a huge fan of espionage novels. Could this book change my mind? Well, it had its moments for sure and there were some points where I thought I was going to give it four stars but then others where I have to be honest, I was fighting to stay awake. I kept reading because of those four star moments but unfortunately it has averaged out to be an “okay” read for me.

The premise is instantly intriguing – a Jewish writer who fled to America to escape the Nazi’s is back in Berlin and treated almost like royalty by the city’s culture team who are desperate for young novelists, playwrights etc to come back to Germany and develop a new country, pure and dignified and as far away from fascism as they can possibly imagine. The country is completely divided (just before the wall went up which thoroughly separated the country in two), the Russians have taken control of the East side and a new brand of politics, socialism, is creeping across the nation.

Coming home to post World War II Berlin is a big shock for our writer, Alex Meier, but none so big as the reason he is actually here – as a spy for the CIA in America who have a vested interest in what the Soviet Union is up to. If he completes his mission, Alex is guaranteed a safe return to America and the opportunity to be with his young son is too huge a chance not to take up. Almost immediately things do not go entirely according to plan and Alex finds himself a wanted man in a very dangerous time where questioning authority can still lead to curious disappearances. Furthermore, discovering that he has to spy on the only woman he has really loved, Irene, who is involved with a top Russian serviceman is a huge blow for Alex but again, something he has to weigh up against the chance of getting back to America and being with his son. Then, when an enemy of the state and former friend of Alex’s appears, desperate for his help, he has to seriously think about where his real loyalties lie.

This book had oodles of potential and I’m sorely disappointed that I was let down in parts. There were some intriguing characters, particularly Alex and Irene but there were others that just seemed to pass me by, perhaps there were too many or some that didn’t hold my interest, I’m not sure but it did drag down occasional passages which greatly affected the flow of this novel, in general. Don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic action-packed sequences that made me hold my breath in anticipation but then it was followed by dialogue that seemed clunky at times and a bit unbelievable at others. I’ve only just started learning about the history of Germany post World War II and it’s absolutely fascinating which is what drew me to reading this book initially, and it’s also pretty obvious the author has done his research, but overall I just wish it had held my attention the whole way through. However, I think fans of espionage will absolutely love this offering from Joseph Kanon.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe – for fans of the genre.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art



A Colder War – Charles Cumming

Published April 29, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

MI6’s Head of Station in Turkey is killed in a mysterious plane crash. Amelia Levene, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, wants the incident investigated – quickly and quietly.

The only man she can trust is Thomas Kell, a disgraced spy searching for redemption.

Arriving in Istanbul, Kell discovers that MI6 operations in the region have been fatally compromised: a traitor inside Western Intelligence threatens not just the Special Relationship, but the security of the entire Middle East.

Kell’s search for the mole takes him from London, to Greece, and into Eastern Europe. But when Kell is betrayed by those closest to him, the stakes become personal. He will do anything to see this operation through – including putting himself, and others, in the line of fire…

What did I think?:

Okay, confession time. Espionage novels really aren’t my thing, but I was prepared to give this one a shot, firstly because I’ve never read any of the authors work before and secondly because it was chosen for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club this year. I follow their recommendations religiously and 9 out of 10 times they get it right for my personal reading interests. Unfortunately this time, I was sorely disappointed. As the story begins, the chief of MI6, Amelia Levene, also known as “C,” is having a terrible time. A few agents abroad in Greece, Turkey and the Middle East that have defected to working for the West have been killed and rumours are flying around that there is a mole within the service. To add to this, one of her British agents Paul Wallinger (whom she was having a long-standing affair with) has been killed in a light aircraft crash yet the manner of his death is arousing her suspicions.

Enter former agent Thomas Kell who is not actively working in the service after an enquiry into events that happened in the authors previous novel, Foreign Country. Amelia is not only Thomas’s boss but a good friend and she asks him to find out all he can about Wallinger’s fatal “accident.” There are a lot of mysteries to be solved that Thomas is keen to get to the bottom of including why Wallinger, a notorious womaniser, was doing in Greece in the first place. As Thomas begins to unravel all the messy details of Wallinger’s life and last movements he begins to realise that he has become embroiled in something a lot bigger than just a plane crash. Furthermore, when he becomes romantically involved with Wallinger’s beautiful daughter Rachel he finds it difficult to separate his emotions from the job he has to do which could prevent him from achieving the results he needs.

For me, this novel proved quite tricky to read, especially in the beginning where I found the pace excruciatingly slow and didn’t really understand what was going on. I did get used to the writing style eventually but it took a good third of the book for the action to pick up and for me to get a handle on the plot. It’s obvious that Charles Cumming is a talented author who can write well but it felt like the reader had to be a bit of an expert on spy lingo and procedures which I definitely fall flat on! The characters were interesting enough – I would have liked a bit more focus on the Chief of MI6, Amelia who seemed like the most intriguing character and I would have been curious to learn more about her mindset as a strong, intelligent woman who although married, had recently lost her lover in hazy circumstances. I do think that many people will enjoy this novel, especially if you enjoy a good spy read. Personally, I’m sorry to say it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):