“The East German Spy Mistress” takes us to the beginning of the Cold War and is co-authored by Natalia Pastukhova and Peter Morris. The book takes us on a lively journey through the Middle East, the UK and everywhere in between, as we follow the exploits of numerous spies and the intrigue in which they operate during the early 1950s.
While the characters in the book are not developed, there is enough there for you to start to follow the exploits of different groups of spies, specifically East German spies as they try to infiltrate the British military. Now this is fertile ground for both fiction and nonfiction books, but here I felt that we get a different perspective because Natalia seems to have her finger on the pulse of many of the communist era intrigues, and so we get a book that comes to us from a bit of a different point of view. No matter how the two of them co-wrote this book, to me it works. While I don’t know a lot about any of the characters, I know enough to follow them around, and half the time I feel like I am going back to the Mad Magazine comics of Spy vs. Spy.
The book moves at a frenetic place as the story goes from one spy, or diplomat, or military personnel to another. We may be at an airfield in one paragraph, and then in a cafe in Libya in another paragraph. It is a bit hard to follow, but if you have patience after about the first 50 pages things all start to flow in a very understandable and convincing way. What I particularly liked about this book is that no one succeeds exactly as they plan to succeed. Everybody seems to have a mission, a secret plan or plot, and most time things go awry and many times the characters end up dead. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be rooting for anybody in this book but for me I’m just rooting for an enjoyable story. I don’t think you’re going to get any state secrets revealed in this book, but I think you’ll have a good time, and as I mentioned previously the best laid plans of most all of these individuals never seems to go as planned. In that regard I feel that the book reminds me of the writings of Donald Westlake and specifically his classic “The Hot Rock.” In Westlake’s books, as here plans are made and plans always seem to go amiss.
My biggest criticism of the book is the last chapter, which is the longest chapter in the book, in which action moves at a breakneck pace moving from one location to another and all of this is accomplished without any sort of break in the book. By that I mean there are no divisions within the chapter to help us realize that we are going back and forth between characters and locations. Somehow by the end the “East German Spy Mistress” succeeds, sometimes in spite of itself, and sometimes in spite of the best efforts of those characters. I’m not sure what the authors have in mind for their next book, but this book has ended in such a way I can easily see a sequel being made because there are a lot of potential loose ends which could be tied-up in future exploits of the East German Spy Mistress.