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Review of BERLIN: Caught in the Mousetrap (The Schultz family story Book 1) by Paul Grant

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An amazing debut

Paul Grant’s debut book is set in Berlin just as the wall is built in 1961 and realistically captures the febrile atmosphere within the city as the political tensions ramp up in both halves of the city.

We’re quickly introduced to a variety of characters including American reporter Jack, his girlfriend Eva who resides in East Berlin, as well as Colonel Hans Erdmann of the People’s Army and KGB spymasters, Burzin and Dobrovsky.

Grant has clearly done his research and fleshes out details of the city and his characters with easy to read, but punchy prose. He doesn’t put a foot wrong with his knowledge of the history and his eye for descriptive detail.

I’m sometimes wary of self-published work, but this is real quality with characters you care about and a pacey plot that keep you turning the pages. This is a well crafted thriller that delivers great insight into the creation of the Berlin Wall alongside a compelling story.

I’m looking forward to reading the prequel “reaping the Whirlwind”

Review of The Wooden King by Thomas McConnell

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A dark wartime tale showing the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

Set in Czechoslovakia, 1939, Viktor Trn has to decide resist the Nazi hold on his country or ride out the war hoping that he and his family survive.

I found this book hard to get into. Thomas McConnell’s prose is not initially easy to follow, but once you get into the swing the language he uses cleverly constructs images and ideas.

As the war progresses Trn has to make decisions that go against his beliefs, but ultimately he wants to protect his young son.

McConnell explores the quandary of how we would react under similar circumstances in understated way that illustrates the extraordinary lengths people go to protect those they love.

At times it’s very dark and does take you on a roller coaster as Trn navigates his way across the turmoil of invasion and occupation.

I received this book from the publisher, but was not required to write a positive review.

 

Review of In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies by Howard Blum

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As good as any fictional spy thriller

Howard Blum tells the fascinating story the race to capture the Soviet spy ring that passed the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. The main characters are codebreaker Meredith Gardner and FBI agent Bob Lamphere, and Blum details how Gardner cracked fragments of the key Soviet codes, with Lamphere piecing them together to capture the Soviet spies.

The book reads like a novel and at places I did question how much this was based on fact or the authors suppositions, but at the end of the book Blum does assure the reader that all conversations or thoughts in the characters heads are backed up by documentary evidence.

It’s a pacey read, and to use a cliché quite a page turner. Although I was aware of many of the characters such as Klaus Fuchs, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Blum does provide rich character background that give more depth and insight than a dry analytical account of the process involved.

The book ends with the execution of the Rosenbergs which Lamphere and Gardner were unable to prevent without disclosing that the codes had been broken.

A fascinating account of the early days of espionage in the Cold War.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not required to provide a positive review.

 

Review of Air Officer Commanding: Hugh Dowding, Architect of the Battle of Britain by John T. LaSaine

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Great account of the man in the right place at the right time

LaSaine’s biography of Dowding is an even-handed account of the man who saved Britain from invasion in 1940. He details in a readable way Dowding’s foresight and organisational genius without which Britain would have had no organised air defence system to defeat the Luftwaffe in 1940.

Despite Dowding being nicknamed “stuffy”, LaSaine does breathe a little into the personal life of the man behind the austere exterior seen in official photos. However, the book is heavily focussed on his military life and particularly the politics and intrigue amongst the senior commanders of the RAF. I would have liked to have known more about his personal life, but possibly there is little archival material to work from aside from his belief in spiritualism.

What is undeniable is that Dowding was loved by “The Few” amply demonstrated by a photo in the book of him in a seemingly incongruous bowler hat and suit with a WAAF on one arm and surrounded by pilots. (see below)

Overall an insightful and useful addition to the expansive Battle of Britain bookshelf.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Review of A Divided Spy (Thomas Kell #3) by Charles Cumming

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Intelligent and well paced thriller

Kell is a former MI6 officer retired from the service and damaged by personal tragedy. In this book he’s tracking down a Russian agent he believes to be behind the murder of his girlfriend.

Now this might sound like the start of whizz bang all action thriller, but Charles Cumming’s style is much more thoughtful with rich depth to his characters and a slow burn. The story has loads of tradecraft detail for the espionage fan and Kell is a likeable and believable character.

I won’t giveaway the plot, but suffice to say there’s some twists and turns that keep your interest just when you think you ‘ve got the plotline sussed.

All in all an entertaining read that makes you want to read more of the Cummings canon.

I was given a copy of this book to review by the publisher, but wasn’t obliged to provide a positive review.

Review of The Honest Spy by Andreas Kollender, Steve Anderson

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Well written fictional account of relatively unknown WW2 spy.

Written by German author Andreas Kollender, this book is based on the life of Fritz Kolbe a member of the German Diplomatic Service during World War 2 who had access to top secret information. He provided this information to the Allies for ideological reasons and not for personal gain and smuggled hundreds of top-secret files to American intelligence from 1943 onwards, continuing undetected until the end of the war.

Allen Dulles, who became head of the CIA , but then an OSS officer in Switzerland said of Kolbe “No single diplomat abroad, of whatever rank, could have got his hands on so much information as did this man; he was one of my most valuable agents during World War II.”

Although based on Kolbe, the book doesn’t follow his personal life exactly and certainly creates a fiction that allow the author to portray more depth to the man in his personal life and struggles with his conscience.

The book is framed within a fictional post-war interview with a pair of journalists and starts with Kolbe in South Africa at the declaration of war which is interesting in itself, showing how German embassy and legation staff were treated upon the outbreak of war.

There’s good colour to the OSS station on Berne with some of the early career of Allen Dulles being illustrated as well as the contrasts between life in neutral Switzerland versus late war Germany.

Steve Anderson has translated this book from the German and he’s done a great job as the text flows well and moves along at a good pace. Whilst I’d not call it an absolute page turner, the author keeps the tension as the fear of capture and death increases with each day.

If I had to criticise anything it would have been the use of Kolbe’s real name alongside an obvious fiction. Although all history is subject to someone’s interpretation, I have mixed feelings around taking the name of a real person of honour and heroism and creating fiction around them, especially as a fictitious name appears to be used for Kolbe’s friend in Bern.

That being said, this was as entertaining read and a good insight into the quandaries and challenges that faced Kolbe during World War 2.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, but was not compelled to write a positive review.