The Berlin Exchange

Mysterious Book Report No. 486

by John Dwaine McKenna

What happens to a traitorous American, a scientist who spied for the Soviet Union and gave up our atomic bomb secrets, when he’s released after ten years in a British prison in the U.K., swapped for a busload of political prisoners and sent to East Germany?  That’s the opening premise of The Berlin Exchange, (Scribner, $28.00, 320 pages, ISBN 978-1-9821-5865-1), by Edgar Award winning and best-selling author Joseph Kanon.  It’s a tale that takes place in 1963, at the height of the Cold War—when the arms race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was measured in megatons—as the two super powers perfected evermore insanely destructive nuclear weapons.

His name is Martin Keller.  He’s a physicist whose primary ambition is to meet and be reunited with his son Peter, who’s now 11 years old. He lives with his mother, Keller’s ex-wife Sabine and her new husband, a lawyer named Kurt Thiel, who facilitates prisoner exchanges.  But as Keller crosses from west to east at an out of the way checkpoint usually reserved for East German VIPs, someone tries to assassinate him.  And even though his physics are ten years out of date, the attempt makes Keller realize that he’s still in play, the spy game is still afoot and his most valuable asset is an expired U.S. passport.  The atmosphere is tense, dangerous and depressing, with an improbable, unreliable and untrustworthy protagonist who’s trying to figure out how, where and why he fits into the noir and nightmarish landscape . . . and stay alive at the same time.

The novel twists, turns and slithers through the repressive and nightmarish communist controlled part of the city . . . where one is never quite sure of friend or foe as it builds to an electrifying and stunning ending.  Mr. Kanon is at the top of his game with this supremely well researched, finely crafted and utterly intriguing period espionage  thriller!!


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