Spies, diplomats, and lovers cross paths in Berlin in this Cold War–era novel.
Flanders (The Northwest Country, 2016, etc.) follows his First Trumpet trilogy with an engrossing tale of intrigue and duplicity. It’s 1959, and young American diplomat Dillon Randolph has been transferred to Berlin after his last posting resulted in a scandalous affair with an ambassador’s wife. Determined not to disappoint his distinguished family again, he agrees to avoid romantic entanglements in Germany. Luckily for readers, desire can’t be dictated, and he finds himself immediately drawn to East German actress Christa Schiller. However, she’s working for the Stasi (the East German secret police), and she’s agreed to lure Dillon into another scandal in order to protect her imprisoned younger brother. In the midst of these developments arrives Feliks Hawes, a British intelligence officer who’s been tasked with identifying the source of Secret Intelligence Service leaks from Berlin. The divided city, as U.S. security officer Lars Swanson claims, is positively “crawling with spies,” and Flanders continuously expands the novel’s scope to deliver a disorienting, heady mix of Soviet, East German, American, Hungarian, and British characters, each with his or her own agenda. As Christa remarks, “You can never be sure who is informing, who will guard your secrets, and who will trade them for their advantage.” The love-story plotline offers some of the book’s stalest lines (“Confronted by her beauty, he realized that he still desired her, that he wanted nothing more in that moment than to kiss her lips”). However, it also provides subtle commentary on how beauty can blind people, with each lover underestimating the other. Similarly, several intelligence officers miscalculate the Soviet Union’s dedication to isolating its sector of the city. In this uncertain period before the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall, characters move from one side of the city to the other as easily as they shift alliances—unaware of the life-altering change in store.
A complex and tightly paced historical thriller.