Category Archives: Berlin

Review of The Honest Spy by Andreas Kollender, Steve Anderson


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.


Review of A Darker State (Karin Müller #3) by David Young


Excellent and compelling crime novel with the added bonus of being set in the former East Germany.

This is episode 3 of this fascinating police procedural, however each book works as a standalone.

What sets it apart from others is the unusual location, combined with the ideology, bureaucracy and secrecy that Oberleutnant Karin Müller and her team have to deal with

In this story Müller has been promoted to run a serious crimes unit and quickly has a difficult case on the border with Poland.

This story lives up to its title, showing a darker side of the GDR that challenges Karin’s belief in the GDR and her personal loyalties as well as the looming influence of the Stasi blocking enquiries and influencing the investigation. There’s various different timelines at play here, so you need to keep your wits about you, but I found this a real page turner.

David Young knows East Germany well. There’s some great details that would appear insignificant to many not familiar with the period or the politics. As a result the book portrays a fascinating landscape where David Young’s research captures well the feel (and the smell!) of 1970’s East Germany. It’s well worth reading his notes at the end about how the book developed and his research.

However, it’s worth not losing sight that it’s also a great crime novel with a richly detailed and complex female lead. According to David he’s contracted for another two books and I’m very much looking forward to the further adventures of Karin Müller.

If you like police procedurals, strong female characters, along with an Orwellian landscape then I recommend this.

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

Review of The Wall Between by Jesper Bugge Kold


A gripping and moving story of the former East Germany.

Andreas lives in Copenhagen and receives a letter informing him that his father who he has never met has been stabbed to death in Berlin, and that he has inherited his flat. Keen to understand more about the father that his mother wouldn’t speak of he travels to Berlin to discover more.

Jesper Bugge Kold combines multiple timelines and characters to produce a brilliant story of the GDR, the Stasi and relationships. This book reminded somewhat of the film “Life of Others” and anyone who liked the film or is interested to the former East Germany should read this.

It’s tautly written but with some almost cinematic descriptions of Berlin. I found it an absolute page turner and read it within a day which is unusual for me.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of ” The Cleaner” by Elisabeth Herrmann

I’m always wary of any title with “unputdownable thriller” in it , however this lives up to the billing.

Judith Kepler is an industrial cleaner. Got some serious stains?, she’s your woman. However one job results in her questioning her past and regenerating some uncomfortable memories.

This is a great thriller, with a strong female lead. The story keeps you guessing with the threads of Stasi, W German intelligence and cold war politics intertwining to provide with a very entertaining and stimulating read.

Highly recommended

Review of ” Stealing the Future: An East German Spy Thriller (East Berlin Series Book 1)” by Max Hertzberg

A fascinating alternative history of the two Germanys as well as a gripping thriller.

Max Hertzberg has come up with a fascinating alternative history of 1989 and after for Germany. It’s 1993, the Wall is open, however East Germany hasn’t been subsumed into West Germany. It has decided to stay independent and run the country via a grassroots participatory democracy, resulting in decentralising most decision making to neighbourhood committees in which everyone participates. However, all is not well in the new GDR as dark forces are trying to destabilise it.

The story revolves around Martin Grobe, a former dissident and now part of the Republicschutz, a post 9th Nov 1989 counter-espionage service which has responsibility for monitoring attempts to undermine the new East Germany. He is investigating the murder of prominent politician at a mine in West Silesia, a region looking to join West Germany.

The author certainly knows Berlin and East Germany well and captures the period in great detail even down to way the 1980s era S-Bahn train doors operate. However, what brings the story alive are the characters struggling to keep alive their dream of freedom, justice and equality in the face of corruption, West German pressure for unification and the dark forces that enforced the old regime.

Whilst some may see this book as some sort of left wing fairy tale I found the book stimulating and vastly different from standard spy thriller fare with its parallel exploration of political self-determination and de-centralisation of power.

Further books in the series are planned and I for one will be keen to follow how Grobe and the “new” East Germany fares further into the 1990s.

This book is currently free (as of Jan 2016) on Smashreads, link here…

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of “The End of Law: A Novel of Hitler’s Germany” by Therese Down

A powerful novel of moral choices in the Third Reich

The book revolves around the relationship of three people: Walter Gunter, a classic violent and sadistic SS Officer ; his wife, Hedda who is naive at first, but grows stronger as the book progresses; and conscience stricken SS officer, Karl Muller.

The Muller character is a fascinating one , an engineer and trainee doctor he is also part of T4, an SS managed program of euthanasia for the mentally ill and disabled. From a catholic upbringing he is repulsed by his work and decides to disrupt the program.

The character Muller is based on Kurt Gerstein a German SS officer who gave information to the Swedish diplomats as well as to members of the Roman Catholic Church with contacts to the Pope in an effort to inform the international public about the Holocaust.

The novel itself did seem slightly overlong, but did describe the moral dilemmas of cooperation and resistance to the Nazis effectively and powerfully through its characters. The tension builds well in the last third with the lead female character’s realisation of the complicity of her wider family in the T4 program.

It wasn’t until I reached the end of the book that I found out it was based on real people. Indeed I had initially thought the storyline a little far-fetched, however the end notes are particularly useful giving context and background to the non-military German resistance to the Nazis which are often overshadowed by the Stauffenberg Hitler assassination plot.

A powerful and well written novel.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of “Motherland” by Jo McMillan

A moving mother-daughter tale of belief, doubt and loss of innocence.

It’s 1978 and thirteen year old Jess Mitchell is the daughter of one of the few communists in Tamworth, a sleepy Midlands town. Jess and her mother Eleanor valiantly try to sell “The Morning Star” newspaper and socialism to Saturday shoppers in the local precinct.

Via Party contacts Jess’s mother is invited to spend a summer teaching in East Germany, and she and Jess leap at the chance to see what “real existing socialism” looks like. In East Berlin her mother meets widower Peter and his daughter, Martina and a world of new possibilities seem possible.

However, the East German State disapproves of the relationship and Peter is dispatched for two years of “solidarity” work in Laos. Jess discovers how friends can become enemies and the consequences non-cooperation with the State.

The book is apparently based to some degree on the author’s own experiences and the descriptions of extreme left wing politics of the early 80’s certainly ring true. Her descriptions of East Berlin and the GDR show a detailed knowledge of not only the locations, but also the way the GDR state worked to ensure total cooperation.

Jo McMillan has written an excellent moving story that works well on various levels. The book provides some great insight into life in the UK and the GDR in the early 80s, with the Party and the GDR state casting an increasingly insidious shadow as the story progresses. However, what holds the book together is the relationship between Jess and her mother and particularly the heart wrenching belief her mother has in the benevolence of the GDR State regardless of the cruelty dealt to her own personal happiness.

The final scenes will stay with me for some time…