Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Hammer to Fall

by John Lawton

The third Joe Wilderness spy thriller from a master of the genre, moving from icy Finland to tumultuous Cold War Prague, Hammer to Fall is a tale of vodka smuggling and a legendary female Red Army general who is playing a dangerous game

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date February 16, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4852-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date March 10, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4812-4
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date March 10, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4813-1
  • US List Price $26.00

It’s London, the swinging sixties, and by all rights MI6 spy Joe Wilderness should be having as good a time as James Bond. But alas, his postings are more grim than glamorous. Luckily, Wilderness has a knack for doing well for himself even in the most unpromising postings, though this has gotten him into hot water in the past. A coffee-smuggling gig in divided Berlin was a steady money-maker but things went pear-shaped when he had to smuggle a spy back to the KGB instead. In the wake of what became an embarrassing disaster for MI6, Wilderness is reprimanded with a posting to remote northern Finland, under the guise of a cultural exchange program to promote Britain abroad. Bored by his work, with nothing to spy on, Wilderness finds another way to make money, this time by smuggling vodka across the rather porous border into the USSR. He strikes a deal with his old KGB pal Kostya, who explains to him there is, no joke, a vodka shortage in the Soviet Union, following a grain famine caused by Khrushchev’s new agricultural policies. But there is something fishy about why Kostya has suddenly turned up in Finland—and MI6 intelligence from London points to a connection to the mining of cobalt in the region, a critical component in the casing of the atomic bomb. Wilderness’s posting is getting more interesting by the minute, but more dangerous too.

Moving from the no-man’s-land of Cold War Finland to the wild days of the Prague Spring, and populated by old friends (including Inspector Troy) and old enemies alike, Hammer to Fall is a gripping tale of deception and skullduggery, of art and politics, a page-turning story of the always riveting life of the British spy.

Praise for Hammer to Fall:

Named a Best Book of the Year by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

“A witty, melancholy, first-class work.”Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

Hammer to Fall continues the saga of Joe Wilderness, a roguish and immensely appealing combination of MI6 agent and sometime smuggler . . . This terrifically written and well-paced balancing act between the absurd and the deadly serious has some especially droll subplots.”—Adam Woog, Seattle Times

“An entertaining read, with an intelligent backdrop of cold-war geopolitics.”—Financial Times

“In this third Joe Wilderness spy thriller, John Lawton’s MI6 protagonist is on the move from Germany to Finland. Not your typical James Bond-style spy, Wilderness’ postings get more interesting by the minute. He ends up in Czechoslovakia just before the Soviets send in tanks to quash the 1968 Prague Spring uprising. Lawton is a master of the genre, and his writing is not only historically accurate, but also rich, ribald, cynical, informed, inventive, and hilarious.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A rich cacciucco of a novel, almost a menu degustation of politics, class, history (the Prague Spring of 1968), and impressive spy ‘tradecraft,’ with a gripping climax on a famous bridge of spies in Berlin, and it is all written with a knowing wit by an author in total command of his historical research. Fans of vintage British thrillers (surely there are some out there) will spot the homages made to Gavin Lyall, John Le Carré, and Len Deighton.”—Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

“John Lawton’s British detective fiction has reached the height of being predictably stirring, powerfully written, and cleverly knit together in terms of both plot and the painful personal wounds of World War II . . . The final scenes lead dramatically to a high-tension Cold War quandary that promises more to come in this entertaining series.”—New York Journal of Books

“John Lawton infuses Hammer to Fall with ironic, dispassionate humor . . . Wilderness is a lightning rod for trouble and danger—and his sardonic, deadpan approach to life’s vicissitudes adds to the pleasure of reading Hammer to Fall.”—Criminal Element

“From Berlin, surviving on airlift support, to Finland, England, and ultimately, Prague in the spring of 1968, MI6 spy Joe Holderness, aka Wilderness, gets into and out of a number of compelling spots of trouble in this installment of his story . . . By turns witty, erudite, and exciting and supporting a host of interesting characters, imaginary and historical . . . Not one sour note. A terrific thriller: fun, satisfying, and humane.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Lawton scores another hit with his third Joe Wilderness novel . . . Terrific writing, a complex plot with a twist ending, and a roguish lead will have readers eagerly awaiting his next adventure.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lawton does a brilliant job of incorporating backstory here, deepening our understanding of and feelings for rule-breaking Joe, who cares more for people than governments, while delivering a jaw-dropping finale that will leave readers palpitating for more.”—Booklist (starred review)

“A delight. Lawton’s ongoing recreation of Cold War chicanery is one of the great pleasures of modern spy fiction.”—Mick Herron

Praise for Friends and Traitors:

Top 12 Mystery Novels of 2017, Strand Magazine

Friends and Traitors is Lawton’s latest entry in the series, and one of the best. Part murder mystery, part spy tale, the book has a streak of wonderfully dark humor throughout . . . Lawton’s writing here is as sharp as ever . . . It is a wickedly seductive entertainment and more proof, if anyone needed it, that John Lawton is creating some of our finest, and some of our most enjoyably ambiguous historical fiction.”—Benedict Cosgrove, Washington Post

Friends and Traitors is the latest in [Lawton’s] splendid Inspector Frederick Troy series, an artful blend of two ever-popular subjects: espionage and British police work . . . It’s an extraordinary story—both in history and Lawton’s bold re-imagining. It’s been told many times before, in both fiction and non-fiction, but Lawton has a fresh approach, shaping Friends and Traitors as more of a character study than a standard-issue thriller.”—Adam Woog, The Seattle Times

“Mr. Lawton, as in his previous Inspector Troy novels, is a master of creating a feeling of time and place, of amalgamating true-life events into his imaginative plot, of bringing every character, real or fictitious, major or minor, vividly to life. His writing is enormously colorful, his descriptions, whether of people, places or events inevitably convincing . . . Reading this narrative is like watching a newsreel and being sucked into the action. The surprises keep coming, not merely up to the last chapter but even to the novel’s very last line.”Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friends and Traitors represents much more than a police procedural or spy thriller . . . The author does a superb job of portraying the mood, class culture and tensions that existed in England and Europe during that era.”Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine (starred)

“The lives of Scotland Yard detective Frederick Troy and real-life historical figure Guy Burgess, the English traitor who spied for the Russians, intersect in Lawton’s superb eighth Inspector Troy novel . . . [a] smart, fascinating historical thriller.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Our fascination with the Cambridge Five—British spies recruited to serve the Soviet Union while still at university—continues unabated into the twenty-first century; recently attention has shifted [to] Guy Burgess, perhaps the most compelling character of the lot . . . Lawton traces Burgess’ flamboyant life as a dissolute and indiscreet diplomat whose wit and charm somehow managed to shine through the alcoholic haze that constantly enveloped him . . . Burgess emerges as a thoroughly engaging antihero.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Burgess makes a delicious antagonist in this eighth installment in the franchise . . . Lawton, who writes with rueful acumen, puts a human face on the moral and political complexities of the Cold War.”—Kirkus Reviews


Praise for The Unfortunate Englishman:

“[Then We Take Berlin and The Unfortunate Englishman] are meticulously researched, tautly plotted, historical thrillers in the mold of World War II and Cold War fiction by novelists like Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, Eric Ambler, David Downing and Joseph Kanon.”Wall Street Journal

“[A] superlative Cold War espionage story . . . Lawton’s gift for memorable atmosphere and characters, intelligent plotting and wry prose put him solidly at the top of anyone’s A-list of contemporary spy novelists.”—Adam Woog, Seattle Times

“A stylish spy thriller . . . as essential as the Troy books . . . Both series benefit from the excellence of Lawton’s writing . . . All these adventures arrive gift-wrapped in writing variously rich, inventive, surprising, informed, bawdy, cynical, heartbreaking and hilarious. However much you know about postwar Berlin, Lawton will take you deeper into its people, conflicts and courage . . . Spy fiction at its best.”Washington Post

“[A] stylish, richly textured espionage novel . . . With The Unfortunate Englishman, Lawton shows himself to be the master of colorful, unpredictable characters . . . His crowning achievement is Joe Wilderness [who is] loaded with personal charm and animal magnetism . . . Lawton brilliantly weaves real historical events into the narrative . . . His novel is a gripping, intense, inventive, audacious, wryly humorous, and thoroughly original thriller.”Open Letters Monthly

“Outstanding . . . 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.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lawton gets the Cold War chill just right, leading to yet another tense exchange across a Berlin bridge, but unlike, say, the film Bridge of Spies, the principals here are not freighted with moral rectitude but, rather, exude a hard-won cynicism in conflict with dangerously human emotions. The result is a gripping, richly ambiguous spy drama featuring a band of not-quite-rogue agents that will find genre fans reaching for their old Ross Thomas paperbacks to find something comparable.”Booklist (starred review)

“Wilderness is the perfect Cold War protagonist. With his second adventure (Then We Take Berlin, 2013), Lawton bids fair to build a compelling rival to his seven-volume Troy series.”Kirkus Reviews

“Even reviewers have favourites and John Lawton is one of mine. Nobody is better at using historical facts as the framework of a really good story.”Literary Review (UK)

“The tone of unsentimental realpolitik means The Unfortunate Englishman earns the right to that le Carré-esque title . . . A complex and beautifully detailed tale, a full-blooded cold-war spy thriller given an added dimension courtesy of Wilderness’s quirky humour and his pragmatic take on morality and honour.”Irish Times

“Berlin and Moscow again, joined by London in The Unfortunate Englishman, a cleverly misleading title, one of the many twists in John Lawton’s constantly entertaining Cold War saga . . . The spying detail is well mixed with humour.”Times (UK)