Review: The Arms Maker of Berlin – Dan Fesperman

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, espionage
Hodder & Stoughton
First published: 2010
ISBN: 9780340961285
Pages: 432

A ruthless arms billionaire and a disgraced history professor share a terrible secret. 
Nat Turnbull is dragged abruptly from his quiet academic life when his former mentor Professor Gordon Wolfe is arrested for stealing top secret archive documents dating back to the Second World War. 
Coerced into examining the archives for the FBI, Nat finds intriguing references both to Wolfe’s activities in an Allied intelligence office in Switzerland during the war, and to a mysterious student resistance group in Berlin known as the White Rose. 
Following Wolfe’s cryptic clues to Europe, soon Nat is in a desperate race to unlock the truth, before it gets him killed. 

Spies and the second world war. Who doesn’t love stories about one or the other?

Spies in the Second World War? Getting better.

Spies today and spies in the Second World War – Now that’s a match made in some sort of secret (service) heaven for me.

So The Arms Maker of Berlin had ticked all my right boxes even before I began reading it. And I wasn’t disappointed when I finished. Actually, I was disappointed, but only that I had finished it.

What’s it about? Hard to pin down without writing a review nearly as long as the book itself, really. Events in Nazi Germany in the closing months of the Second World War, love and betrayal – on may levels – the ripples this causes through the various protagonist’s lives through the intervening, post-war partition of Germany, to re-unification and into today’s international espionage world.

I found the book really quite moving and genuinely thought-provoking. Yes, there are spies; war-time spies, cold-war spies, the start of the CIA, the Stasi in East Germany and the current international espionage wars of today. It is also about a much more intimate picture of love and emotion and what the emotions caused by love, made people do when under almost unimaginable pressures, like the Second World War. People finding that love and war makes it almost impossible for them to do right, for doing wrong. And about how the effects of World War II, still reach out to today; the emotional ‘ripples’ from that period, are still being felt.

The book’s timeline moves back and forth between the early 1940’s and the present day and you will have to pay attention. But it then pays dividends as the story develops and secrets, motives and why people did what they did, gradually become clear.

As I say, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and whilst the cover comment about Dan Fesperman being the new John le Carré, is inappropriately wide of the mark, this is nonetheless one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

You can buy The Arms Maker of Berlin from The Book Depository

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