Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Day Before The Berlin Wall

Event: September 8, 2011; Updated: 16 Oct 11

When I received the British ORTV recent documentary film for Spies Beneath Berlin some weeks ago, I sent a note to author T.H.E. Hill of Voices Under Berlin, who had asked me to review his book after he had read my 2005 Amazon review of British historian David Stafford's 2002 documentary book of that title. Hill sent me an autographed copy of his most recent spy novel, again about Cold War Berlin. My Amazon review follows below.

 (click on images to enlarge)
Cover of Hill's newest novel

Hill's personal note on page i

Back cover to Hill's newest novel
In writing my review of T.H.E. Hill's first novel, Voices under Berlin, I was conflicted, since I was personally involved in the real life event twenty years earlier that he chose to speculate about from archival sources.

Not so with his newest novel. 

Although it was slow starting for me (because of my previous conflict), I gradually warmed to the story and got sucked into the end game of alternative histories and enjoyed the actual version more than the imagined one. Hill's story rings with authenticity as he parades in maddening detail all the German bus stops, corners, cafes, newsstands, taxi rides, apartment buildings, etc. Clearly he is showing off his linguistic skills, but he couldn't do it without the intimate knowledge of the competent professional spook that he once was. I know that he was fabulously competent in Russian from having read his previous novel (Voices) and in personal exchanges with him since. He seems equally competent in German in this newest tome. I am in awe of this skill.

Back to the slow start. Part of my frustration at first was being distracted by wondering about misprints. In the bizarre inner conversations Hill's character has with himself, while functioning as an intelligence agent behind East Berlin lines, the punctuation of the novel seemed strange. It took a while for me to realize this was no misprint, but a clever device (I'd never seen anything like it before) to allow the reader to differentiate between inner conversations and outer ones. This may not make sense to you now, dear reader, but trust me; Hill's punctuation device does work once you realize that it is deliberate. It makes all the difference!

I will leave it to other reviewers to inform prospective readers about the plot: the ins and outs, the traps, impersonations and spontaneous decisions that the hero must brave in risking his life again and again to deliver his desperate strategic message to his superiors. I became gripped by the adventure and glad to have survived it to the end.

My last question to the author: Is your current real wife an actress? 

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