I think Then We Take Berlin might be a crime novel without a crime – in the sense that crime is the norm, crime is the context and almost everyone in the book is a criminal of some sort. Hence there is no detection and no detective, save for a fleeting appearance from Commander Troy towards the end of the book.
Years ago I was asked in an interview to define the difference between crime and a thriller, and , thinking of the great god of crime writing (Robert B. somebody or other) I replied … in a thriller we all know who did what and to whom, we are not waiting on a solution to a mystery, we’re asking ourselves how and when will justice,usually the rough kind, will get meted out. Or, more succinctly, when will Spenser suckerpunch the bastard?
In TWTB the question is …. how long till this bunch of crooks fukkit up? They are all black marketeers and smugglers in the Berlin of easy pickings, the Berlin of 1948, and they are Joe, Frank, Eddie and Yuri … an RAF corporal, a US captain, a Lance-Bombardier Artillery and … an NKVD Major. They steal and sell anything they can get their hands on and turn a commonplace racket into big business. When a C47 lands at Tempelhof half of whatever it is carrying, coffee, soap, sugar, whisky, champagne … even caviar … will just vanish … to reappear in the homes of party apparatchiks back in Moscow. What can possibly go wrong?
Well … no spoiler alert in saying upfront that of course something goes wrong.
Years pass, the four rogues go their seperate ways … Eddie to the Yard, Frank to The CIA and Joe to MI6 … but when Frank calls Joe back to Berlin, the Berlin of no pickings, the Berlin of 1963, for one last job … waving one huge wad of funny money … the question might just be … "but where is Yuri?"
John Lawton’s Then We Take Berlin is published by Atlantic