Leaving Berlin

Title:                      Leaving Berlin

Author:                 Joseph Kanon

Kanon, Joseph (2015, 2016). Leaving Berlin: a novel: New York: Washington Square Press

LCCN:    2015478203

PS3561.A476 L43 2016

LC Subjects

Date Posted:      November 2, 2017

Reviewed by Jefferson Flanders[1]

Leaving Berlin may be the most suspenseful of Joseph Kanon’s historical spy thrillers, a beautifully-crafted and evocative novel set in the ruins of 1949 East Berlin. Kanon’s The Good German[2] took place a few years earlier, in 1945 Berlin, and he has an affinity for the city and its culture (just as novelist Alan Furst does for Paris between the wars.)

The novel’s protagonist is Alex Meier, a German-Jewish author who has spent the Second World War in Hollywood but has now run afoul of Congressional investigators who want him to “name names,” which as a matter of principle he won’t. No longer welcome in America, Meier finds himself warmly welcomed by the Soviet authorities ruling Berlin. But Meier has struck a secret, Faustian bargain with the CIA—in exchange for his eventual readmission to the U.S., where his twelve-year old son lives, he will spy on the Russians and their German Stalinist helpers.

Meier is not the only literary exile returning to post-war Berlin; Kanon includes two real-life figures—Bertolt Brecht, the German Marxist poet and playwright, and the anti-Fascist writer Anna Seghers (the pseudonym adopted by Anna Reiling)—who have also decided to live under Communism in the hopes of building a new society, a Workers’ Paradise.

Meier finds a city full of contrasts. Berliners can still travel between the Soviet, American, French, and British sectors. At the same time, however, the Soviets are trying to force the Allies to leave by cutting off access to the food and coal necessary for the city’s very existence. The West has responded with the Berlin Airlift, and the sight and sound of airplanes flying overhead is a constant reminder in Leaving Berlin of a growing Cold War tension that Meier can’t escape.

The novel explores the moral and psychological costs of betrayal. The CIA expects Meier to spy on his German friends from the past, including the beautiful aristocrat Irene von Bernuth, once his lover; the German secret police (the K-5, later known as the Stasi) are recruiting informants; and the Russians are setting the stage for a purge of Party members who suddenly find themselves labeled as counter-revolutionaries because they’ve made the wrong joke.

Kanon has fashioned a suspenseful and engaging story against this backdrop. As Dieter, a former Berlin cop now working for the Americans, and one of the more appealing characters in the book, explains to Meier “in this business at some point you have to trust somebody.” Who Meier can trust—and how the personal can trump the political—becomes the fascinating question at the heart of Leaving Berlin, and one that commands the reader’s attention until the very last page.

[1] Flanders, Jefferson, “Top Spy Thrillers and Espionage Novels of 2015,” accessed at http://www.jeffersonflanders.com/2015/04/top-spy-thrillers-espionage-novels-of-2015/

[2] Kanon, Joseph (2001). The Good German: a novel. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

The Killing Floor

Title:                      The Killing Floor

Author:                   Lee Child

Child, Lee (1997). Killing Floor. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    96034452

PS3553.H4838 K55 1997


Date Posted:      January 2, 2017

Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is an anti-hero. He is not really in espionage, not even a spy. He is a drifter, formerly head of a military police unit. In Killing Floor, Reacher is just passing through Margrave, Georgia, and in less than an hour, he’s arrested for murder. Not much of a welcome. All Reacher knows is that he didn’t kill anybody. At least not here. Not lately. But he doesn’t stand a chance of convincing anyone. Not in Margrave, Georgia. Not a chance in hell. But readers should know differently.

While most people are familiar with Tom Cruise’s recent role as Jack Reacher, the story that takes place during the film is not based on the first book in the series. The Killing Floor is the first book that sets up the Jack Reacher universe. He is a rare bird, a lone-wolf counterintelligence agent. Reacher would rather be left alone. Instead of carrying luggage, he tosses dirty clothes and replaces with new.

When this story story begins, Jack has just stepped off a bus in Georgia and decided to get a little bit of breakfast when the police show up and arrest him for murder. With a fairly tight alibi in place he is quickly released but won’t let go of some of the clues that he has overheard while in jail and decides to take up the hunt for the real killer.

Jack Reacher is a force of nature in The Killing Floor, he is capable of unleashing devastating violence when provoked and also possesses an analytical mind that just might rival Batman, the Dark Knight himself. As Reacher uncovers more clues and gains a better prospective on the nature of the crime, we see just why Lee Child has himself a blockbuster series.

The book is to be enjoyed, and for at least half the book, what in the world is going on is a mystery. The perceptive reader, however, will recognize the truth about halfway through the book. It’s like eating a peanut. One just continues to read it to confirm suspicions and to see how Child wraps up the book. It is definitely an author’s first book, but as far as firsts go, it is pretty good. Future books are better.



Trojan Odyssey

Title:                                      Trojan Odyssey

Author:                                   Clive Cussler

Cussler, Clive (2003). Trojan Odyssey. New York: Putnam

LCCN:             2003058502

PS3553.U75 T76 2003


Date Posted:                        November 6, 2014

This book ended the adventurous careers of Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino, as Sandecker moves to vice president, and Dirk to head up NUMA. At last they are too old, after this adventure, to continue in their mayhem ways. It’s a long book and a decent read, although it seems to be two books in one to me.

Review of Trojan Odysseyby Mary Connealy.[1]

There is a touch of Dirk Pitt in the soul of every man who longs for adventure.

I could search through the whole book and not find a better quote to reflect this novel. I’d change one thing though. I wouldn’t say man. It works for a woman, too.

In the Trojan Odyssey, the 20th in a series of Dirk Pitt novels, Clive Cussler grabs you and takes you on another thrilling adventure. The whole gang is back, after three novels with a new hero and two non-fiction books, Clive Cussler returns to his roots.

Dirk Pitt, Al Giordino, Admiral Sandecker, Rudi Gunn and the rest of the gang are all as brave and daring as ever in Trojan Odyssey.

Cussler, as always, manages the difficult task of creating a bad guy who has a plan to rule (or destroy) the earth. He puts the world in peril, always by way of the sea, then lets Dirk Pitt snatch the planet from the jaws of disaster.

Cussler has a style that is uniquely his. He begins his novels with a long ago myth. Then he jumps to some other, seemingly unrelated scene. He drags you into one of his stories, takes you to a moment of climax and jumps to another story.

I always think, “No don’t leave them there, hanging by a thread!” Then, before you know, you’re completely hooked by the new situation. The writing style keeps you on the edge of your seat until all Cussler’s stories collide.

Cussler’s fearless master of the sea is Dirk Pitt. He appears in Trojan Odyssey, but he doesn’t appear until Chapter 9. Of course, he shows up right in the nick of time. Cussler has such sure disaster heading your way that you’re going to think the catastrophe is the basis of the story. Then Dirk shows up.

Oh, my gosh, Cussler’s going to let them live. BUT HOW?

A little side note: at first, if you’re not a Cussler fan, you think… “Dirk Pitt? What kind of dumb name is that?” By the end, I promise, you’ll be wanting to name your first child Dirk. Pitt is the bravest, strongest, smartest hero that has ever wise-cracked his way through the pages of literature.

If you’ve never read Cussler before, you have a real treat in store for you because a body of work this rich is still out there waiting for you. If you’re a fan, then you can’t miss Trojan Odyssey because big things are in store for Dirk.

Between his bold characters and fast-paced writing, there’s no escape from a Cussler novel. In the end, you snap the book closed and think, “I’ve got to learn to SCUBA dive, or join the Navy, or at least go ice skating.” You need an adventure. You need the water. Cussler makes you long for adventure.

The rating Sleep Robber doesn’t go far enough for Cussler. Because I laid awake a couple of nights AFTER I’d finished the book, trying to figure out how to arrange a SCUBA diving adventure along some coral reef. I’ve heard the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is nice! Brace yourself. And don’t plan a winter vacation until after you’re read Trojan Odyssey. You’re going to want an adventure under the sea.

[1] This article originally appeared in the Lyons Mirror-Sun newspaper. See more at: http://www.numa.net/2011/10/review-of-trojan-odyssey/#sthash.soFuORdO.dpuf

The Machiavelli Covenant

Title:                      The Machiavelli Covenant

Author:                  Allen Folsom

Folsom, Allan (2007). The Machiavelli Covenant. New York: Forge

LCCN:    2006048610

PS3556.O398 M33 2007


Date Updated:  June 26, 2015

Nicholas Marten, the ex-LAPD detective who played a major role in Folsom’s The Exile (2004), pursues an international conspiracy in this frenetic page-turner long on action but short on plausibility. When an old love of Marten’s, Caroline Parsons, dies of a mysterious infection shortly after her congressman husband and son perish in a plane accident, her dying words set Marten on the trail of a South African bioterrorist. The former cop soon finds himself allied with another man trying to foil a cabal bent on creating a new world order—the U.S. president himself, John Henry Harris. Harris flees his Secret Service protection after rejecting the plan of virtually his whole cabinet to assassinate the leaders of France and Germany and replace them with people willing to launch biological warfare on most of the Middle East. Unconvincing hairbreadth escapes and the failure to explore underlying political issues make for a routine thriller.


Title:                      Floodgate

Author:                 Alistair MacLean

MacLean, Alistair (1983). Floodgate. London: Collins

LOC:       84149000

PR6063.A248 F55 1983

Date Posted:      August 7, 2013

As is true for all the later books of MacLean, this one is formula driven, and far from his best writing.

An organization calling themselves the FFF (“Fighters For Freedom”) start breaching dykes in order to force the Dutch government to force the British government to pull all their troops out of Northern Ireland. It is the task of Peter van Effen, a detective-lieutenant in the Amsterdam police, to find and stop the FFF.

The story is weak and the plot very thin, with the “love interest” and Van Effen’s sister serving no real purpose. The ending falls apart as an explanation for the ludicrous behavior of all involved is offered. Too much explanatory dialogue, naïve villains, no claustrophobic tension and without the signature plot twists this is a very weak MacLean.

The Cry of The Halidon

Title:                  The Cry of The Halidon

Author:                 Robert Ludlum

Ryder, Jonathan (pseud. for Robert Ludlum) (1974). The Cry of The Halidon. New York: Delacorte Press

LCCN:    74001108



Date Updated:  April 16, 2015

Taut with international intrigue and frenetic action, Robert Ludlum’s novels are generally highly entertaining and rich with suspense. The standard of The Cry of the Halidon, however, is well below his usual.

Unlike most of his other books, The Cry of the Halidon is rarely suspenseful and does not build to a recognizable climax. The plot is typical Ludlum fare, with Alexander Tarquin Mcauliff selected by a company—Dunstone Limited—to head a survey team deep into the Jamaican forests. Minutes after successfully attaining the survey assignment, he is approached by British Intelligence and informed that the motives of Dunstone are far from honest.

Naturally, he finds himself involved not only with British Intelligence, Dunstone, and the rebel factions of Jamaica, but also with a third faction, an organization known only as the “Halidon.” While initially this may seem gripping and interesting, the text quickly becomes confused and rambling. With so many hostile organizations and no primary antagonist, it is frequently difficult to comprehend the plot, let alone the actions of the main character.

Although the novel does become more interesting at its conclusion, I found The Cry of the Halidon to be ultimately unsatisfying, with its more suspenseful elements overwhelmed by a confusing plot, a sprawling diction and a lackluster climax.