Friday, December 7, 2018

Review of Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood

There are certain moments throughout the year that I feel like just completely relaxing and reading a novel I don’t have to think about—one that I know will be entertaining, won’t treat me like an idiot, and yet be effortless enough I don’t have to work out a histogram of literary allusion to decipher meaning. (There are other moments of the year such novels beg.) It should be a novel I don’t care if it contains a bucket of tried and true material as long as the author executes with precision, style, and mood. It should grab me from the first and not let go until the last. And, most importantly, it should be true escape—a world or story so well-packaged as to taunt me when I’m not reading it. Such books typically defined by author (occasionally by surprise)—Paul Di Filippo, Elizabeth Hand, David Mitchell, Ian Macleod, and several others have never let me down. Neither has Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and his second Tom Fox novel, 2018’s Nightfall Berlin (written as Jack Grimwood), doesn’t break any trends.

It is summer 1986 and Tom Fox is on vacation in the Caribbean with his family. Licking mental and physical wounds, he hopes the time with his wife and son under the warm sun will help him recover from the cold, dramatic events of Moskva. (For the record, there is no need to have read Moskva to read Nightfall Berlin.) But if wishes were fishes… Contacted under urgent circumstances, Fox has been specifically named as the person to escort a high level British ex-diplomat who wants to leave exile in East Berlin and return to Britain to stand trial for treason. Reluctantly making the trip to glasnost GDR, Fox arrives on the Soviet side of the Berlin Wall to do his duty. Trouble is, there are behind-the-scenes plans that have Fox pegged as merely collateral damage. His escort mission turned upside down in a matter of hours, Fox finds himself not only on his own in Soviet-occupied East Germany without diplomat papers but in desperate need of getting beyond the Wall. Need and certainty, however, are not always common bedfellows.

A superbly written spy thriller in the tradition of Le Carre, Nightfall Berlin takes all the strengths of Moskva—and Grimwood’s talents in general—and spins them into an intense Cold War drama that reverberates back to WWII and Fox’s youth. Proving the legitimacy of stereotypes is all about execution, the pieces of Grimwood’s story have appeared in novels for nearly the past century but are delivered in such a tight, detailed, perfectly paced parcel that one can’t help getting wholly caught up in Fox’s plight behind the Berlin Wall. Double bluffs, drop boxes, secret cabals, forced suicides, silenced pistols, hidden messages, femme fatales, and more, it’s everything one could want in a spy novel but is never mailed in. Grimwood is simply too suave to let such things happen. Thus, for those moments you just want to forget the world and escape into a dependable, well written book, the second Tom Fox novel Nightfall Berlin delivers in spades. How Grimwood is not on bestseller lists, I’ll never know…

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