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Saturday, November 26, 2016


A Review of Sam Eastland's Berlin Red

It was with great excitement that I learned that Sam Eastland was taking Inspector Pekkala into Berlin in the end days of WW2. Eastland had been one of those authors I was always interested in giving a try but just hadn't got around to. Berlin Red seemed like a great place to start.


And it the beginning of the novel that lost me. The long, long, long beginning. The novel is called BERLIN Red and the blurb promised a tense thriller. The Nazis have perfected an advanced guidance system for the V-2 rockets, the Soviets send Pekkala to Berlin to get it. Already Eastland has my attention as this set up is rife with tremendous possibilities. Even throwing in what has become the tired cliché of someone (in this case, Pekkala) returning to Berlin to save someone he left behind (in this case, the woman he loves) who, of course, is the key spy the Nazis are hunting for leaking key information to the Allies. This tired subplot aside, the premise still held my interest.


So let's get Pekkala to Berlin and the espionage, cat and mouse games can begin. Right? Wrong! I read the novel in ebook format and the little counter tracking my progress revealed what my reading experience had shown me. Our intrepid hero arrives in Berlin after I'd read 71% of the novel! With a title like BERLIN Red, should the reader get through almost three-quarters of the book before the protagonist is even in Berlin?


Not the end of the world - if that 71% is compelling fiction. It isn't. This is a very
talky novel delving into the characters via flashbacks and endless conversations. Almost nothing happens and the style did not keep this reader turning pages. We've got Pekkala's lady love passing info to the Nazis. Hitler listening to the broadcasts where her info is transmitted. A switch in the lead man on the Nazi hunt. The spy's boss and his life with his mistress. And Stalin hell-bent on ruining Pekkala's life. All of these threads grind the narrative to a halt. If this was, say, the first 50 pages to set the stage, it would still be pushing things. I remind you the novel is called BERLIN Red and there is no "Red" until three-quarters of the book has crawled passed your sleepy eyes. And this goes on not for 50 pages but for 275 pages! Where's the autobahn when you need it? I was beginning to wonder if Pekkala would ever reach Berlin.


Eastland creates mildly interesting characters. His period details are distributed well and he has done his research. But Berlin Red is a dull as dishwater read. There are moments of action but they are very few and far between. This is a talky novel and not a very good one.


You can put this one at the bottom end of the Berlin Noir canon.