Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Grove Press

Moscow Exile

A Joe Wilderness Novel

by John Lawton

From “quite possibly the best historical novelist we have” (Philadelphia Inquirer), the fourth Joe Wilderness spy thriller, moving from Red Scare-era Washington, D.C. to a KGB prison near Moscow’s Kremlin

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date April 16, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5803-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date April 18, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5802-4
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date April 18, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5804-8
  • US List Price $28.00

In Moscow Exile, John Lawton departs from his usual stomping grounds of England and Germany to jump across the Atlantic to Washington, D.C., in the fragile postwar period where the Red Scare is growing noisier every day.

Charlotte is a British expatriate who has recently settled in the nation’s capital with her second husband, a man who looks intriguingly like Clark Gable, but her enviable dinner parties and soirées aren’t the only things she is planning. Meanwhile, Charlie Leigh-Hunt has been posted to Washington as a replacement for Guy Burgess, last seen disappearing around the corner and into the Soviet Union. Charlie is soon shocked to cross paths with Charlotte, an old flame of his, who, thanks to all her gossipy parties, has a packed pocketbook full of secrets she is eager to share. Two decades or so later, in 1969, Joe Wilderness is stuck on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, held captive by the KGB, a chip in a game way above his pay grade—but his old friends Frank and Eddie are going to try to spring him out of the toughest prison in the world. All roads lead back to Berlin, and to the famous Bridge of Spies…

Featuring crackling dialogue, brilliantly plotted Cold War intrigue, and the return of beloved characters, including Inspector Troy, Moscow Exile is a gripping thriller populated by larger-than-life personalities in a Cold War plot that feels strangely in tune with our present.

Praise for Moscow Exile:

Barry Award Finalist for Best Thriller
Named a Best Mystery/Crime Novel of 2023 by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

“John Lawton’s reputation as one of the best authors of espionage fiction is burnished by Moscow Exile . . . Kim Philby, H.G. Wells and Andrei Gromyko are among the other real-life figures who enliven these pages, which seem to hold all the action and intrigue of an old Len Deighton trilogy. With its dalliances that transcend political alliance, the book sometimes has the feel of a drama by Noël Coward—who himself makes a cameo appearance. Mr. Lawton’s mordant wit is worthy of an Evelyn Waugh dark comedy . . . Wheels spin within wheels and love occasionally conquers ambition in this capacious chronicle, which proves that high-level spycraft can be as dangerous as it is farcical.”—Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

“[A] lush historic novel . . . The resilience and determination of his Charlie, Coky, and eventually Joe Wilderness provide a strong portrait of Lawton’s real-life sense of espionage: calculating, well-armed, self-defined.”—New York Journal of Books

“A must for those who enjoy leisurely paced historical spy novels . . . Intricately plotted . . . Gracefully winds its way through various machinations and surprises to an unexpected conclusion . . . Lawton’s stylish prose and his ability to limn a compelling sense of place and time drags the reader happily along.”—Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

“A fast romp through the exploits of British intelligence agents who played for Mother Russia . . . In the world Lawton creates, no one ever really disappears forever—they reappear just when they’re most needed (or not, as the case may be) . . . What’s next for Joe Wilderness? Countless readers are looking forward to his next adventure.”—Criminal Element

“Beautifully written and cut with flashes of sardonic wit, it is, nominally, the fourth of Lawton’s ‘Joe Wilderness’ novels, but also features members of the Troy family from his primary series which has been delighting the discerning reader for more than twenty-five years now and as a body of work, is shaping up to be one of the most impressive achievements in spy-fi.”—Shots

“Lawton brings the band back together for another virtuoso performance in what continues to be an espionage series of uncommon depth and breadth . . . Lawton infuses the entire troupe with sparkling life, using crackling dialogue and rapier wit to bring a Technicolor sheen to the moral ambiguity of the Cold War.”—Booklist (starred review)

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 John Lawton:

“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

“Wickedly seductive entertainment . . . John Lawton is creating some of our finest, and some of our most enjoyably ambiguous historical fiction.”—Washington Post

“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.”—Seattle Times

“[Lawton] 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.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Intricate plotting, colorful characters, and a brilliant prose style put Lawton in the front rank of historical thriller writers.”—Publishers Weekly

“Constantly entertaining . . . The spying is well mixed with humor.”—Times (UK)

“Lawton’s books contain such a wealth of period detail, character depiction, and background information that they are lifted out of any category. Every word is enriched by the author’s sophistication and irreverent intelligence, by his meticulous research and his wit.”—Literary Review


Excerpted from Moscow Exile © 2023 by John Lawton. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Bit of a Prologue
West Berlin: The American Sector Glienicke Bridge, September 28, 1969

Frank was wondering if he should buy shares in the Glienicke Bridge. Or maybe buy a small lot just inside the American sector. Put up his own shack. Find out what fishing was for. Become the CIA’s answer to Elmer Fudd. He seemed to end up here far too often, three times in as many years, freezing his balls off at midnight and some. Why did the fuckin’ Russians have to do everything at midnight? What was wrong with two in the afternoon? Back in time for tea. What was wrong with four in the afternoon? Back in time for dinner. Midnight, fuckin’ midnight and his stomach was talking to him. It was saying, “Jack Daniel’s and a hot dog! Jack Daniel’s and a hot dog!” over and over again.

He had only himself to blame. It had been his idea. Perhaps taking it to the British had been a mistake. They’d been responsive, couldn’t deny that, but they no more trusted him than he trusted them.

And the British were late.

He looked at his watch. The hands weren’t moving. Fuckin’ Rolex. He had only himself to blame, choosing a Madison Avenue status symbol over something that actually worked. Next time a Longines. Maybe the British weren’t late?

He was expecting Eddie Clark. MI6 had insisted on one of their own being present so had prised Eddie out from behind his desk, as the one man they trusted for a positive identification. That Eddie regarded Frank Spoleto as the spawn of Satan didn’t seem to figure.

He was also expecting some diplomat or other. They trusted Eddie so far and no farther—what was clear was that they didn’t trust him with the money. So there’d be a diplomatic bagman. So there’d be a talking suit, a talking suit chained to a briefcase full of the folding stuff, just like a Pinkerton agent.

He wasn’t.

When the Merc pulled up, Eddie got out of the driver’s seat and opened the rear door for the bagman, who wasn’t chained to anything. He was a little guy, no taller than Eddie—a snazzier dresser: silk scarf, pigskin gloves, black cashmere overcoat, collar turned up against the night air.

The bagman picked up a nifty-looking attaché case and the two of them approached Frank.

“What kept you?”

Eddie looked at his watch. He appeared to have one that worked. “We’re bang on time.”

“You’re late!”

“No we’re . . . oh fuck you. I might have known you’d start summat. Frank, this is—”

“Forget it, Ed, let’s just get out there and get this done.”

Frank walked off and hearing no footsteps turned and glared at Eddie. The bagman spoke: “It’s fine, Eddie. Stay here. I can handle this.”

“I’m supposed to ID him.”

“Damn right you are,” Frank yelled.

“I can do that,” the bagman said.

Frank wasn’t sure just who he was talking to, but the bagman joined him with a witheringly polite English fuck-you: “Lead on, Mr. Spoleto. I’m at your service.”

“In about fifty yards we’re gonna meet the US border guards. Do not call me by name.”

“Then what do I call you?”

“Colonel. Just call me Colonel.”

“Colonel who?”

“I forget. Murphy, Moriarty. Something Irish. Just stick to ‘Colonel.’”

Fifty yards on, a uniformed US Army captain saluted and raised the barrier. Frank returned the salute.

Another fifty yards and they’d be at the centre of the bridge. There was a three-quarter moon peeping in and out of clouds and the river mist danced around them playing now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t.

“Are they there?” the bagman asked.

“No idea. Maybe they keep time as well as you. But let’s take it slow for now. Nice ’n’ easy.”

“Whatever you say.”

“You say you can make the ID?”

“Of course.”

“So you knew him?”

“I did.”

“Hmm. So, what’s your name?”


“I don’t ever recall him mentioning any Freds.”

“Then call me Troy. He always did.”

“So—Mr. Troy.”

“Actually it’s ‘Lord Troy.’ Not that it matters.”

“Damn right it doesn’t. Why’d they send a lord? I thought you guys just wore ermine and sat around on wool sacks.”

“Simple. I put up the money.”

“What? All twenty-five grand?”


“You think he’s worth twenty-five grand?”

Troy did not answer. They’d reached the middle, the line over the Havel that marked the border between West Berlin and East Germany—and there were no Russians and, worse, no Joe Wilderness.

A Bit Less of a Prologue
Poland, West of Oswiecim January 1945

Auschwitz was remote now, no smell of burning flesh, no film of grease at the back of the throat. Vienna remoter still. No music. She could not recall a day without music. Silence was . . . unheard. They were alone, painted onto a fairy-tale landscape, at one with a mute, near- translucent nature—two children, Kay and Gerda, waiting/not waiting for the appearance of the Snow Queen on her silver sleigh. Silent upon a plain in Poland.

Méret recognised this for what it was—the onset of madness, a mad- ness she had held at arm’s length, at bow’s length, for the best/worst part of a year.

Magda broke the spell.

“Why . . . why aren’t we dead?”

Méret put an arm under Magda, lifted her to her feet.

She looked back at the German soldier. Motionless, expressionless, his rifle held carelessly, pointing at nothing.

“He’s Wehrmacht. He’s not SS. Maybe he just doesn’t care anymore.” And they followed the soldier’s footsteps in the snow.

Inside the shepherd’s hut, half the roof had collapsed, and he was gathering wood and straw from the debris to light a fire. Méret scooped a clear space on the ground, and the soldier turned out his pockets for scraps of paper and a box of matches. Between them they fuelled the fire well into the night. Their eyes never meeting.

When he was ready to sleep, the soldier slipped his arms from the sleeves of his greatcoat and sat inside it like a wigwam, head down, below the collar, snoring. Méret copied him, buttoned her greatcoat around both of them—Méret a human blanket for Magda, Magda a human blanket for her—and slept.

She awoke alone. No soldier. No Magda. It was light.

She heard feet on snow.

Magda put her head in the door.

“He’s gone,” she said. “He was gone before I woke up.”

And as she spoke, Méret heard a diesel engine and watched Magda turn in the doorway and vanish.

“Magda? Magda?”

Then feet, running feet crunching across the snow, and Magda’s scream.

Méret stood in the doorway. Half a dozen men in quilted, white winter overalls, giant babies in romper suits with tiny red stars on their foreheads, were standing around watching as a comrade ripped Magda’s rags from her body and fumbled at the zips on his white suit.

Magda screamed. Méret stood rooted to the spot, facing Russian troops, wrapped in a German greatcoat.

Behind the troops, two officers approached without urgency. One short, one tall, major and lieutenant. The short major put a revolver to the rapist’s right ear, and what she said needed no translation.

The man spat, cursed and ignored her.

She shot him in the head, turned her gun on the spectators and waited until they slowly turned away and walked back to the road.

The tall lieutenant came right up to Méret.

“At last. I was beginning to think we’d never find you,” he said in flawless German.

It was as though he was talking to a wayward child lost now found in a street market.

“Don’t worry. You’re safe now. Both of you.”

Her own helplessness appalled her. She let the man take her by the arm, hustle her past Magda. The woman major was helping her dress. The rapist lay sprawled on his back, blood melting the snow around his head.

She wanted to see Magda’s eyes, to look her in the face, but they moved too quickly.

The lieutenant opened the rear door of an armoured half-track and gently pushed her in.

“Trust me,” he said. “Your friend will be fine.”

A minute later the woman major joined them, and the half-track started up—a fug of smothering heat and diesel.

“Where is Madga? I want to see Magda.” The man answered.

“She’s fine. No harm will come to her.”

Even Less of a Prologue
Hampstead, London June 1941

Charlotte had had a problem—with God and Marx and Stalin. On the night of June 21, 1941, Hitler had solved it for her. Her conscience was no longer conflicted. She poured herself a very large gin and lime, sat back, kicked off her shoes, stretched her legs, flexed her toes and smiled as two and a half million German troops invaded Russia—Barbarossa.