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Book Review: The Day Before The Berlin Wall by T.H.E. Hill

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T.H.E. Hill has come up with another spy action thriller that’s a sizzler, an even better story than his highly lauded first novel, Voices Under Berlin.

You know it’s not gonna be the best of days when you awaken on the floor of a cathouse, your head seeping blood, and your pockets empty.

And, oh yeah! You’re on the wrong side of the line that is about to become the Berlin Wall.

This is not your run-of-the-mill East Berlin whorehouse. This one also served our protagonist, “Dieter,” as he is known on that side of the wall, as a dead drop. And today, it truly was a dead drop. As Dieter gets his bearings and balance back, he discovers the body count is one for sure, a second strongly possible, and then him, although his body still has an erratic and racing pulse. But his problems are just beginning.  His immediate goal is to insure that pulse keeps beating, preferably on the West Berlin side of the sector border.

From there, it’s a nonstop rush of errors, blind alleys and the everyday onslaught of a never-ending list of things that can go wrong when you’re trying to sneak out of enemy territory. Murphy’s Law in spades, nonstop, but told tongue in cheek, yet with an innate knowledge and confidence that comes only with frequent involvement in clandestine operations.

The point for any writer is “the hook,” the opening paragraphs, which quickly tell the story of whether your new book will allow you to eat lunch, not to mention breakfast and dinner, in the foreseeable future. The hook, if properly baited and set, insures you’ll get plenty of fish on the line. The Day Before The Berlin Wall insures you do from page one. Hill’s masterful setting of the hook is an art in itself. Add to that the simple fact that he knows of what he speaks, from personal experience, and there are hooks aplenty, and unavoidable.

This is a very pleasant ride, not one you’ll rue. It’s a roller coaster of action, stealth and charm, taking place in one of the more charming cities in Europe, Berlin. It’s the Cold War, ancient history for many, as fresh as yesterday for a few. Hill’s one of the few. He lived this story, or a version of it, anyway. No fiction writer can come up with that. You know this is a true story, or perhaps a meld of several true stories, told in such a way as to get by the censors of the various three-letter agencies.

Looking for the real thing in spy stories? Look no further. “Dieter” is no James Bond, but then again, there never was a real James Bond, was there? Life in the always fast lane is portrayed in such a way as you’ll swear you’re in Dieter’s shoes.

One of his assets certainly dead, one more most likely dead, and Dieter trying to prevent a third death: his own. That’s the essence of the story. Throw in a report from the asset who is “most likely dead,” that has to get back to the free side of Berlin, and you’ve got a spellbinding tale of espionage, guile and balls that brooks no retreat from the series of head-on, right-now problems of the “simple” extraction of a spy from East Berlin. Told with the flair of somebody’s who’s roamed the streets and Allées of Berlin enough to have the city map etched into his brain, told concurrently with a master spy’s calm analysis, his play-by-play on what the reader is absorbing.

Hill’s become even more comfortable in his storytelling, which spells a treat for any lover of spy fiction (is it really fiction?). This is Hill’s second novel. His first, Voices Under Berlin, is the winner of six book awards.

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About Lou Novacheck