Category Archives: Eastern Europe

Review of The Wooden King by Thomas McConnell


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 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 District VIII: A Thriller by Adam LeBor


Adam LeBor has created a fascinating character in Gypsy murder detective Balthazar Kovac. Even though he’s a policeman, he’s on the outside, not trusted by his colleagues and shunned by his own family.

When Kovac gets a text message with a photo he’s drawn into a web of government, international organized crime gangs and the ghosts of the Soviet and Nazi era that still haunt Budapest.

LeBor describes the gritty back alleys of District VIII with a knowledge seemingly of having walked these streets on the ground, and his knowledge of the Romany community with its customs and practices adds an extra layer of authenticity and gives the book a rich atmospheric feel.

His characterisations are strong too with menacing criminals, corrupt politicians and truth seeking journalists all described in compelling detail.

I greatly enjoyed this book and found it to be quite a page turner. I will be looking out for further works by this author.

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 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 ” 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 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Wow, what a book! Historical fiction at it’s very best.

Ruta Sepetys has put together a taut and gripping novel that has as it’s backdrop the harrowing exodus of German and Baltic civilians from the Red Army advance into East Prussia.

Told from the view point of its young characters this brilliant novel shines a light on one of the war’s most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff where by one estimate, 9,400 people died, which makes it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history.

At first I did find the device Sepetys uses of switching between each characters narrative a little confusing, but you soon get to know them intimately as their secrets and back stories are revealed. The chapters are very short, but keep you wanting more. With a particularly poignant ending this is a book I will remember for some time.

As well as being a gripping story it is also extremely well researched with notes at the end showing where the reader can find further information on the historical background.

This is the first book that I have read by Ruta Sepetys but will definitely be looking out for further titles.

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.

he Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James's, 1932-1943" by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

Review of ” The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, 1932-1943″ by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

A remarkable and rare insight into 1930s and 40s Anglo-Soviet relations.

Editor Gabriel Gorodetsky has compiled a fascinating account of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom using the never before published in English diaries of Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky.

Gorodetsky provides excellent background detail to the events that Maiskey describes making it easy to understand some of the diplomatic language as well as highlighting areas in the diaries where Maisky is somewhat “economical with the truth”. In order to “correct” Maisky’s account Gorodetsky has checked the diaries against various collections including private papers and reports of the Foreign Office.

Particularly interesting are the periods from before the Soviet non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the intense anti-Soviet hostility as a result of this and the Winter War with Finland through to the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941

Maisky comes across as a humorous, affable fellow who succeeded in walking a tightrope between maintaining his integrity as a professional diplomat and surviving the vagaries of Stalin’s regime. Whilst adhering to the Soviet cause he independently tried to influence events in his own way by reporting back to Moscow his ideas as though they’d been presented by British politicians.

There’s some great candid pen portraits of Churchill, Chamberlain, Eden, and Halifax, Beaverbrook as well as Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw.

Recommended for anyone interested in politics , diplomacy and the characters that made the key British decisions of World War 2.

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.