Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood
When you describe a novel to a friend and you use the words: “world wearing spy”, most people kinda switch off or, these days, think Matt Damon’s Bourne or (shudder) Daniel Craig’s Bond. What they are missing is that those are not “world weary spies”. I could go on a bit about that, but I won’t. The world weary spy has a great pedigree going back to, in my opinion, John Buchan’s Richard Hannay. Closer to home we have Le Carre’s many characters of this mould like Alec Lemas and Smiley himself. Fleming's Bond in The Man With The Gold Gun is perhaps peak-Bond, post brainwashing and on a suicide mission, we have Bond distilled to his essence. To get a character like his right takes skill. Jack Grimwood has nailed it with Tom Fox.
Nightfall Berlin takes place a number of months after the events of Moskva. In Moskva, Army Intelligence Major Tom Fox, sent to Moscow to be kept from the questioning of Parliament following an “altercation” in a Boston bar, finds himself trying to recover the kidnapped step-daughter of the Ambassador. Now Fox, under orders from his father-in-law, is dragged back from holiday with his family to escort home a defector who fled to East Berlin. The defector, who now wants to return, has written a memoir that could name names of those involved in a high ranking paedophile ring. Fox finds himself in East Berlin when, without a cover, everything goes wrong. To make things worse, everyone thinks he has the memoir that could derail the landmark Nuclear Disarmament talks between East and West. Fox has to get across The Wall, not just for his life, but that of his son, who has been abducted because of the memoir. The paedophile ring reaches to the highest levels, but also reach into Fox’s own past and also further back, once again, to the dark days of Berlin after the fall.
Grimwood’s Tom Fox books work so well because we do not have a central character that is a step ahead or behind the reader. We figure things out with Fox and Grimwood doesn’t often pull a fast one that doesn’t make a lot of sense, which happens far too often in spy novels (and anything directed by J.J. Abrams). By surrounding Fox with influential and informed supporting characters in London and Moscow, we see the disparate threads start to come together in a way that supports the story and our commitment to it. There are no mystery boxes and no wasted words, everything along the journey is relevant. By doing this, Grimwood is treating us like grownups and, as such, gives us a disconcertingly relevant and adult plot.
With it’s 1980’s setting, not only is the technology scaled back, but the institutionalism is ramped up. The old boy network is hard at working covering trails and ensuring that there is no whiff of scandal. The plot nods to the dossier that Geoffrey Dickens MP handed to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1984 and then disappeared into the depths of the Home Office. We still don’t really know what went on and this adds to the depth of the plot. Grimwood doesn’t hold back from taking his tale to dark places, he equally has the class not to over exploit the situations he creates. We are left shocked and very uncomfortable with not only what Fox finds, but what he has been through.
Nightfall Berlin is a beautifully constructed thriller with a wonderfully layered lead. Jack Grimwood makes sure that his tale grips from the off and that hold only tightens with each turn of the page. I’m already looking forward to whenever Tom Fox returns.