The Girl in Berlin

Written by Elizabeth Wilson
Review by Bruce Macbain

In 1951, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, both high-level British diplomats, were exposed as Soviet spies and fled to Moscow. At the same time, Sir Anthony Blunt, one of the leading art historians of his generation, came under deep suspicion. Burgess and Maclean are only mentioned in this cold war thriller, and Blunt appears only briefly, but their well-known history lends an air of verisimilitude to the cloak-and-dagger goings-on.

When a refugee German scientist (who may, or may not, have written an explosive memoir) is found murdered in a London cemetery, Special Branch agent Jack McGovern is dispatched to Berlin to investigate his background. Also involved in the plot is a homosexual communist, Colin Harris, who wants to return from East Germany to England and bring with him an attractive young German woman whom he has offered to marry. Are they spies? And what is the woman’s connection to a child prostitution ring that flourished amidst the rubble of post-war Berlin? The action alternates between London and Berlin – both locales vividly portrayed by the author – and draws in a large cast of supporting characters ranging from the naïve Dinah Wentworth, a worshipful student of Sir Anthony’s, to the morally and sexually ambiguous Feierabend, who is both a female impersonator and a double agent. Woven through all of their stories is the patrician and inscrutable inspector Kingdom, who keeps appearing in the unlikeliest places.

This is a good read that will keep you guessing right up to the end.