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Berlin, 1963. East End-Londoner turned spy Joe Wilderness has had better days. He is sitting in a West Berlin jail, arrested for shooting someone he thought was about to kill him. His old boss, Lieutenant Burne-Jones of MI6, comes to Berlin to free him, but only under the condition that he rejoin British Intelligence. The knowledge that Wilderness gained of Berlin’s underworld while working the black market just after World War II will prove useful to Queen and country now that the city has become the epicenter of the Cold War, dividing the world in two with its wall.
On the other side of the Iron Curtain, another MI6 man, Geoffrey Masefield, is ruing the day he first agreed to be a spy. In the beginning, it had all seemed so simple, so glamorous: the international travel, the top secret files, the vodka, the women. . . . But now Masefield is stuck in Lubyanka, the KGB’s Moscow prison, waiting for a lifeline from his former employer. Meanwhile, over in England, a Russian spy is pining for his homeland. Having lived as Bernard Forbes Campbell Alleyn for years and taken a wife and had two daughters under that alias, he’s now been exposed as KGB Captain Leonid Liubimov. Arrested for treason and then for espionage, he is in prison at Wormwood Scrubs, London. The only ticket out for these two men is a spy exchange.
Posted back to Berlin, Wilderness is to oversee the exchange of Masefield and Liubimov, but his black market nous hasn’t diminished. There’s money to be made and ten thousand bottles of fine Bordeaux that Wilderness hasn’t forgotten about. A brilliantly evocative novel from a writer regularly compared to John le Carré, The Unfortunate Englishman is a gripping tale of Cold War espionage, and the best laid plans of unfortunate men.
John Lawton worked for Channel 4 for many years. He is the author of Then We Take Berlin, the first in the Joe Wilderness series. He has also written seven novels in his Troy series, the standalone Sweet Sunday, a couple of short stories, and the occasional essay. He writes very slowly and almost entirely on the hoof in the USA or Italy, but professes to be a resident of a tiny village in the Derbyshire Peak District.