Then We Take Berlin started off slowly, very slowly. First impressions are, however, deceptive because once the story picked up, I didn’t want to put it down. And this is after not being totally sure I’d finish it at all.
John Holderness, referred to simply as Wilderness or Joe throughout most of the book, is a burglar, trained at his grandfather’s knee. His criminal mindset, one that hardly ever includes actual violence against another man, is something that carries through his life from the age of thirteen, when he moves in with his grandfather in 1941, until he’s in his mid-30s in 1963. It’s how he exists. He doesn’t hide it and even when one girlfriend asks him to hide it, he’d rather be open and honest with her.
I like Joe/Wilderness, I really do. I cheered for him in hopes that he’d succeed on his con games and related adventures. I chastised him when he hooked up with the American Frank Spoleto because, as the NKVD major kept telling him, Spoleto was easy to pick out as scum. And I wanted Joe’s relationship with Nell, who saw so incredibly much in her short life, to succeed. I hated Frank more for his role in the relationship.
What I missed in the story was Wilderness’ real job. He was in Berlin to act as an intelligence agent and help issue documents clearing the Germans of having had anything to do with the Nazis. After awhile, though, he hardly ever went to work. And no one seemed to care.
I feel like the author missed another three or four story lines that I want to read by making Wilderness what he did, officially, and then sweeping it under the rug hardly to ever be thought of again. Oh well, maybe Lawton will write more about Wilderness and his life as “Her Majesty’s resident cat burglar” (paraphrasing there). I’d read it. In a heartbeat.
I was lucky enough to receive this book through a Goodreads Giveaway.
This is the review I posted on Goodreads, copied word for word by me.