Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Well, old boy, I suppose that's it for us. I suppose now I'll have to go home. In a way, I'm glad to see you here. Tonight of all nights. Some of them are saying there'll be no more secrets, from now on. But you and I both know that's not true."
Fresh from the fiendish mind of WASTELAND's Antony Johnston emerges an espionage thriller so hypnotic that I read it from cover to virtual cover in one rapt sitting, my mesmerised eyes wide open, my mouth somewhat agape. But to cap it all off, the dénouement proved so satisfying, so staggeringly devious that I just shook my head, rolled my eyes and Tweeted:
"You sly bastard!"
October 1989, and Berlin is both bleak and freezing. Protesters are massing by the Berlin Wall separating Allied West from the Communist East where the Stasi have informants installed in every work place, every block of flats. Communism is crumbling, tensions are rising, and old allegiances are so far from certain that MI6 don't even trust their own officers. Left there too long with no Embassy to watch over them, some are suspected of having gone native. And now... now MI6 have a problem.
Three days ago an undercover agent codename BER-2 suddenly went radio silent; last night he was fished out of the river. He was on his way to deliver a list sourced from an agent called SPYGLASS, a Stasi officer who claimed that list contained every name of every officer in Berlin, be they British, American, French, even Russian. That list has now gone missing. MI6 suspect KGB officer Yuri Bakhtin who left for Moscow the day of BER-2's death. The thing is, he never arrived. Desperate for the list not to surface on the black market then fall into enemy hands, MI6 dispatch Lorraine Broughton, a fresh pair of eyes, to meet with BER-1 in Berlin. An experienced spy fluent in Russian, Broughton's German is relatively weak, but that's because she has no former ties to Berlin: no friends, no family and no former colleagues to muddy her loyalties. Or help her out in a crisis.
To make matters worse BER-1, David Perceval, proves to be an old fashioned chauvinist: haughty, dismissive and barely cooperative. Lorraine Broughton is very much on her own and surrounded by agents on all sides. If she's going to achieve her mission and survive on either side of the Berlin Wall, she will need to get creative and use the city itself - and the events unfolding within - to her maximum advantage.
The art by Sam Hart is riveting. Reminiscent in places of ZENITH's Steve Yeowell at his peak, it is startlingly stark, with huge swathes of black shadow cast across offices and officers alike. His close-ups are intense, while outside in bleakest Berlin his figures drift like ghosts though the municipal parks, and I guess they are ghosts in a way. Sometimes they're eroded by the blinding light into mere outlines of heads, hats, coats and scarves while the trees in both background and foreground loom large in silhouette. I love the way Broughton's shoulders and hips cast shadows under the small of her back and down the length of her skirt. His instinct is mighty impressive.
To see what I mean you read extracts from THE COLDEST CITY on the book's slickly designed, dedicated website: http://www.thecoldestcity.com