The Berlin Exchange by Joseph Kanon

Published: 2022 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Simon & Schuster 3. Prohibited signs [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 4. Friedrich Street checkpoint 1961 [Public Domain] via Flickr

This book is set in the Cold War era of East Berlin in 1963, when prisoner exchanges took place between the Soviets and the West. The main character, physicist Martin Keller has been imprisoned in Britain for betraying secrets, and is now part of a prisoner exchange going to live in East Berlin. Martin’s ex-wife lives in East Berlin with her new husband and son (who is also Martin’s son). Martin is drawn back into his previous relationships and decides that living in East Berlin is not the life he wants.

“All this business, a spy for a spy.”

This espionage thriller has all the tension and suspense expected. No one trusts anyone else, and everyone is careful about what they say. The writer handles this expertly, steering the reader towards the nail-biting finish, and one that is unexpected. Kirkus: thinks it is a “supersophisticated spy thriller from a ranking master. The suspense builds quietly, almost stealthily, before tightening its grip.” and Publishers Weekly praises “a convincing portrayal of spycraft with fleshed-out characters”


“A man in a hat and another shapeless overcoat, his body half-turned. If the street had been busy, Martin never would have noticed him, but now he felt a prickling at the base of his neck. Someone trying to be inconspicuous, betrayed by the empty street.”

“Stephan stopped, looking from one side to the other, trapped in the border’s overhead light. He was there, a matter of steps, guns drawn around him but locked in another standoff, watching him in slow motion, a hair-trigger silence.”

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