Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Unfortunate Englishman

by John Lawton

The second book in the new series featuring Joe Wilderness, a portrait of 1960s Berlin and Khrushchev’s Moscow, centering around the exchange of two spies, a Russian working for the KGB, and an unfortunate Englishman.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date March 14, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2635-1
  • Dimensions 5" x 5"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date March 01, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2399-2
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

Having shot someone in what he believed was self-defense in the chaotic streets of postwar Berlin, East End Londoner turned spy Joe Wilderness finds himself locked up with little chance to escape. But an official pardon from Burne-Jones, a senior agent at MI6, who also happens to be Wilderness’s father-in-law, means he is free to go. His return to London is brief, for another assignment from Burne-Jones puts him into the line of danger again. His newest operation will take him back to Berlin, where he spent several years working the black market after the war, the city that is now the dividing line between the West and the Soviets. Khrushchev and Kennedy are playing a game of chicken, gambling with the fate of millions of German lives.

On August 13, 1961, barbed wire is laid down, separating the Soviet sectors from the rest of the city. This wire will become a wall. With an old paramour at threat in the divided city, and the inscrutable Khrushchev developing plans for something that could change the fate of the Cold War, Wilderness is thrust into matters well beyond his control. And meanwhile, MI6’s new man in Moscow has to improvise some quite unusual techniques in order to get the information he needs . . .


“[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, Phillip Kerr, Eric Ambler, David Downing and Joseph Kanon.” —Steve Dougherty, 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.” —Patrick Anderson, Washington Post

“Quite possibly the best historical novelist we have.” —Peter Rozovsky, Philadelphia Inquirer (Best Books of the Year)

“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)

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

“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.” —Marcel Berlin, Times (UK)

“Lawton [is] possibly one of the most under-appreciated British espionage writers . . . Nowhere as heroic as Le Carré or Deighton, Lawton confronts the absurdities and weaknesses of his highly fallible characters alongside the dangers of the Cold War. Endearing and all too human, as if Smiley was both morally flexible and at times a figure of fun!” —Maxim Jakubowski, Love Reading

“John Lawton . . . manages to weave together all the elements of a le Carré-style Cold War thriller with the tough strands of good old-fashioned criminality. Joe Wilderness is every bit as brave, clever, devious—and anti-heroic—as the most famous black marketeer of all—Harry Lime himself.” —David Prestidge, Crime Fiction Lover

“Lawton’s characters are so intriguing, they will undoubtedly send the reader looking for the first in the series, Then We Take Berlin. The Unfortunate Englishman is a spy novel in the best le Carré fashion . . . the chillingly realistic mind-games, intrigue, and political maneuvering of the Cold War era . . . Beautifully done and well written. Lawton deftly picks up the loose ends of the story and weaves them into a captivating narrative that keeps the reader hooked . . . An informative and entertaining read.” —Kelly Saderholm, Killer Nashville (Book of the Day)

“[A] stylish new espionage thriller . . . Joe is as smart, conflicted and cynical as any Raymond Chandler character . . . It’s hard to find a more fascinating time and place than Cold War Berlin, but Lawton still uses his narrative skills to transform history into gripping fiction . . . Lawton is a master at weaving the historical facts into the threads of his fictional story and bringing both to vivid life.” —Read Me Deadly

“[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.” —Irma Heldman, Open Letters Monthly

“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 humor and his pragmatic take on morality and honor.” —Declan Burke, Irish Times

“For those who want a bit of substance to their thriller reading . . . This is an atmospheric and convincing novel . . . The plotting is complex . . . [and] enjoyable, and few authors are as good as Lawton in framing their novels around interesting historical facts . . . Wilderness is a very engaging hero . . . The period detail is subtle and convincing and there are also some nice touches of humor and fascinating glimpses of real historical figures . . . A treat from beginning to end.” —Jeff Popple, Sydney Morning Herald

“[Lawton’s] gritty espionage thrillers perfectly evoke Cold War politics and carry on the legacy of the early spy fiction masters . . . As we move further away from the complexities of the Cold War, we can embrace the clear-eyed, cynical spies, bumbling bosses, and exploited networks associated with John le Carré while still glorying in the honeypots and gadgets of Fleming . . . Like Le Carré and Joseph Kanon before him, Lawton brilliantly captures one of the most complex cities of the world at its most divided time. I highly recommend reading the series.” —Molly Odintz, bookseller, BookPeople


Named a Best Book of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer


Soviet MIGs and helicopters were orbiting Vienna. A sky-high riposte to the overblown motorcade that had been Kennedy’s journey from the airport. More Stars and more Stripes than anyone could ever be bothered to count.

“Lest there be any doubt,” Jack said softly.

Before Wilderness could say anything the Russian limousines swung into the drive, and the Secret Service parted like waves to let John Fitzgerald Kennedy trip lightly down the steps to greet Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, far from lightly swinging fat little legs from the car. Fred Astaire meets Oliver Hardy.

“The drugs must be working today,” Wilderness heard Dashoffy whisper.

Khrushchev seemed to Wilderness to take in everything in a slow, sweeping turn of his very round, very bald head. For a moment he could even kid himself that their eyes had met, but then the Russian leader was gladhanded by the president of the USA with a hearty “How are you?” –a phrase that needed no translation, but got one anyway, and no answer.

They posed for the press.

For some reason Khrushchev had chosen to wear his wartime medals on his civilian suit. Wilderness did not doubt that Kennedy had won some medal or other in the same war—he had vague recollection of something about rescuing his crew after the sinking of a boat he had commanded in the Pacific—and he doubted it had occurred to JFK to wear it. It was move two in gamesmanship . . . first the MIGs, now the medals. First the might and the metal, now the superiority of age over youth, of suffering over privilege.

If Khrushchev had taken them all in with a curiosity amounting to suspicion, JFK only had eyes for Khrushchev and regarded him with an intense gaze amounting to scrutiny. Wilderness wondered about the lives they had led. Had Kennedy ever met a man like Khrushchev before? A Ukrainian peasant, illiterate until well into his twenties, who had survived in a political pit that had seen many of his contemporaries eaten by the bear. He was certain Khrushchev had met rich aristocrats before—if only to shoot them.

And they were both of them bound by good manners, smiling for the cameras, smiling for the watching world. It meant nothing and would count for nothing.