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Having shot someone in what he believed was self-defence in the chaos of 1963 Berlin, Wilderness finds himself locked up with little chance of escape. But an official pardon through his father-in-law Burne-Jones, a senior agent at MI6, means he is free to go - although forever in Burne-Jones's service.
His newest operation will take him back to Berlin, which is now the dividing line between the West and the Soviets. A backstory of innocence and intrigue unravels, one in which Wilderness is in and out of Berlin and Vienna like a jack-in-the-box.
When the Russians started building the Berlin wall in 1961, two 'Unfortunate Englishmen' were trapped on opposite sides. Geoffrey Masefield in the Lubyanka, and Bernard Alleyn (alias KGB Captain Leonid Liubimov) in Wormwood Scrubs.
In 1965 there is a new plan. To exchange the prisoners, a swap upon Berlin's bridge of spies. But, as ever, Joe has something on the side, just to make it interesting, just to make it profitable.
The Unfortunate Englishman is a thrilling tale of Khrushchev, Kennedy, a spy exchange... and 10,000 bottles of fine Bordeaux. What can possibly go wrong?
At the start of Lawton's outstanding second Joe Wilderness novel (after 2014's Then We Take Berlin), the former MI6 agent accidentally shoots and kills a nuclear physicist he's trying to smuggle out of East Berlin in 1963. When Alexander Burne-Jones, Joe's old boss, springs Joe from a West Berlin jail, Joe agrees to go back to work for MI6. Meanwhile, the British spy agency recruits an unassuming Englishman, metallurgist Geoffrey Masefield, and sends him into the field to find where the Russians are hiding their nuclear missiles. Flashbacks bring to life postwar Berlin, where Joe engaged in the "smuggling of coffee, sugar, penicillin, morphine, and anything else that could be nicked." Real historical events the building of the Berlin wall, J.F.K.'s visit there lend verisimilitude to Joe's attempt at one last big scam. Intricate plotting, colorful characters, and a brilliant prose style put Lawton in the front rank of historical thriller writers.