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Moscow Exile

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Published by Atlantic Monthly Press on April 18, 2023

About twenty years have passed since 1948, when Joe Wilderness was selling black market coffee in East Germany. Some of that backstory is told in Hammer to Fall. That novel ended in a cliffhanger as Wilderness is shot on a bridge during a prisoner exchange in 1968.

Moscow Exile does not take up the story where Hammer to Fall left off. In fact, more than two hundred pages pass before Wilderness reappears. Moscow in Exile seems to meander but the story’s arc is purposeful. A circuitous path is sometimes the best route to an intended destination. Decades pass in the lives of characters both critical and collateral before their significance to the plot becomes apparent.

We meet the former Charlotte Young after she marries Hubert Mawer-Churchill. She leaves him when she falls for Avery Shumacher, but Hubert’s cousin Winston doesn’t blame her. He gives her a job in Naval Intelligence because of her ability to speak Russian. The job pleases her handlers; Charlotte is a Russian spy.

Charlotte goes by Coky after she marries Avery. He happens to be a wealthy American who is serving as Roosevelt’s eyes and ears in England. She moves to Washington D.C. with Avery when the war ends. After Avery’s unfortunate death, Coky marries Senator Redmaine, an early anti-communist crusader in the style of McCarthy. Coky detests the man but she’s following Moscow’s orders.

The other character of significance in the early going is Charlie Leigh-Hunt. Charlie is also spying for Russia, not so much for ideological reasons but because Moscow’s payments enhance his lifestyle. Charlie’s job, on the other hand, is to spy for MI6. He’s a bit worried because Burgess and McLean have been caught and Philby is on MI6’s radar. He’s shipped to Washington to replace Philby as head of station, the trusting British replacing one Russian spy with another. The CIA is less trusting.

On the voyage across the Atlantic, Charlie sleeps with Coky, having no idea who she is. He later discovers that she’s his new boss. or at least the conduit to his boss on the Russian side. All the more reason to sleep with her again, a practice he continues regularly. When the time comes to scamper to Russia, Charlie’s lifestyle becomes less indulgent, but the KGB officer in charge of him is attractive so he’s able to resume sleeping with the boss.

All of that is an absorbing background story that John Lawton spends half the novel telling. The balance of the story begins with Wilderness waking up in a hospital, having been shot at the end of the last novel. We learn that Wilderness is on a mission. The Russians treat him as a spy and potential defector after he’s taken to Moscow. The Russians don’t want him meeting with Charlie but it is a foregone conclusion that they will meet and share their secrets. The question is whether Wilderness will be able to make his way back to America.

Many of the secondary characters from the last novel resurface, including a British ambassador who would rather be raising pigs, a CIA agent who resembles a pig, and a couple of women who are far more competent than the men they replace. The story eventually circles back to Coky, tying all the plot threads together. There’s even another prisoner exchange on a bridge. What fun would a spy novel be without one?

Lawton has become one of my favorite modern spy novelists. His plots are realistic in that nothing ever goes according to plan. His characters are intelligent but flawed and for that reason interesting. His prose is a mixture of polished literary style and “Bob’s your uncle” colloquialisms. London, Moscow, and Washington D.C. are all described in atmospheric detail without bogging down the story. The plot builds tension after it comes into focus, but Lawton doesn’t depend on fight scenes or on-page violence to keep the story moving. I don’t know whether this novel brings an end to the Joe Wilderness series, but I look forward to reading whatever Lawton writes next.

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What happened to Joe Wilderness?  Read on …

At the end of the third book in this series (‘Hammer to Fall’), Joe Holderness (known as Wilderness) was left on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Fortunately, he survived. The novel opens in 1969, when Joe did not appear at the Glienicke Bridge, and then shifts back to Washington towards the beginning of World War II. Charlotte, a British expatriate and related to Winston Churchill by marriage, has settled in Washington with her second husband. Charlie Leigh-Hunt, friend of Inspector Troy of Scotland Yard, is posted to Washington to replace Guy Burgess who has defected to the Russians. But Guy Burgess was not the only person working on behalf of the Russians.

Mr Lawton builds his story slowly and I needed to pay careful attention to try not to miss anything important. I was reading about Charlotte and Charlie, and wondering when Joe Wilderness would appear. And then, the action shifts to Russia and much of my curiosity was satisfied and most of my questions were answered. This is a rewarding read but I would recommend reading the series in order: character development and history are both important.

If you enjoy spy novels and have not yet read the Joe Wilderness series, I highly recommend it. And now I wonder what will happen next.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Moscow Exile by John Lawton- Intrigue and spies as several operatives try to secure the release and rescue of one of their own. Joe Wilderness is being held behind the iron curtain and his friends and colleagues are trying to get him out. Situations of changing alliances, miscues, and down-right treachery occur. It’s 1969 and the Berlin Wall still stands as does the Bridge of Spies. Another thrilling spy chase by a master. Thank you NetGalley for this ARC!
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For Cold War intrigue John Lawton ranks among the best.  The Moscow Exile takes you from WWII England to Russia and Berlin in the 1960s.  Along the way Lawton introduces Charlotte, related to Churchill through marriage and later the wife of an advisor to the American president.  She becomes a hostess in Washington for gatherings of influential people, but she is also a Russian agent.  Charlie Leigh-Hunt is a British agent who is sent to Washington to replace Burgess after he was discovered spying for Russia.  Charlie must get back into the good graces of American Intelligence.  Unfortunately, Britain has unknowingly replaced Burgess with another spy for Russia.  After working with Charlotte for several years, Charlie is recalled to England and reassigned several times before finally defecting to Russia.

This is a Joe Wilderness novel and he finally makes his appearance well into the story.  Joe was last seen on the Bridge of Spies, wounded and taken by the Russians.  He was there to oversee an exchange of agents, but there was more to his assignment.  It is finally in Moscow that he comes into contact with Charlie, who has the information he needs.  Getting Joe into Moscow, however, was a lot easier than getting him out.

With a number of surprising twists and crisp dialogue, this is a story that will keep you intrigued.  From congressional hearings on unamerican activities to life in Russia under the watchful eyes of the KGB it is a fascinating slice of history, made even more interesting by the entwined relationships of Lawton’s characters.  His fans will be happy to see the return of Frederick Troy in a crucial role.  This book is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and stories of Cold War espionage.  I would like to thank NetGalley  and Grove Atlantic for providing this book for my review.
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Terrific layered historical fiction. I'd not read the earlier books but this made a fine standalone. Lawton has a way with atmospherics and has created complex characters.  And he kept me guessing.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Great read.
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John Lawton’s novels are always a highlight of the spy reader’s year and his latest one, Moscow Exile, is particularly welcomed.

At the end of his last novel, Hammer To Fall (2020), roguish British agent Joe Holderness (known as Wilderness to many) was left on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall and in uncertain health. Now after a three year break we finally get in Moscow Exile, the fourth book in the series, the opportunity to find out what happened to him, although in typical Lawton fashion we have to wait almost half the book for Joe to make an appearance.

After a teasing opening in 1969, in which Joe fails to appear at the Glienicke Bridge (the so-called Bridge of Spies) for his exchange, Moscow Exile moves back to the early years of World War II and Charlotte (Coky) Churchill, who is married to a confidante of her cousin Winston Churchill, before heading to Washington at the start of the Cold War. Charlotte is now married to a rich and influential mover and shaker in American governmental circles, and is gaining fame in Washington as a hostess of some renown. Also in Washington is Charlie Leigh-Hunt, who has been sent by the British Government to replace Guy Burgess at the Embassy, following the latter’s defection to the Russians. The American intelligence community is livid about Burgess and the other British traitors, and not likely to extend much trust to Charlie, but he persists with his attempts to win the Americans over, while doing some spying of his own. Eventually the various storylines head to Moscow and the patiently waiting Joe.

Moscow Exile is an intricately plotted spy novel, that gracefully winds its way through various machinations and surprises to an unexpected conclusion. Close of reading of the story is necessary, and well rewarded, and fans of the series will benefit from prior knowledge about the various characters and their back stories. There is not a lot of action in the opening stages, but Lawton’s stylish prose and his ability to limn a compelling sense of place and time drags the reader happily along.

Like always, the various historical periods are well evoked, and there is the usual blending of fictional and real life characters. Some of the historical figures are expected, such as Burgess, Maclean and Philby, but others, like H G Wells, are unexpected! The presence of Lawton’s other regular series character, Inspector Frederick Troy and his cronies and family, adds a lot to the story and, not surprisingly, Troy plays a pivotal role in the conclusion. Also adding to the pleasure are Lawton’s sparkling dialogue and the wry reflections on why someone becomes a spy.

My only minor criticism, is that Moscow Exile lacks the stunning climax that has been a feature of the first three books, but this is only a trivial concern, and overall it is another outstanding book by Lawton, and one of my favourite novels of 2023 so far.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Grove Atlantic for an advanced copy of this latest entry in the Joe Wilderness series. 

Deceiving a country doesn't seem as bad ad deceiving a friend or a loved one. Government seem so impersonal and honestly care very little for what happens to its citizens, as has been shown really since the end of the Second World War. People are grist for the mill, keeping the powerful in place, the rich wealthier and the machine of capitalism greased with their blood. A statement like this could be considered treasonous to some, to others especially people who live in the shadows watching each other, it might sound cynical or worldly. That's what spying does to a person. A spy makes a persona they present to the world out of bits of this, a dash of the past, lying to supposed friends and lovers. A bit of truth and lies. People spy out of anger at the the system, monetary reasons, patriotism, and ego. However they can never look at the people the without always thinking, what are you trying to get over, what aren't you telling me, and why are we doing this. Questions that get raised a lot in Moscow Exiles, the fourth book in the Joe Wilderness series by John Lawton. 

The book begins in Berlin, on the Glienicke Bridge the so-called Bridge of Spies, the scene of so many spy trades between the West and Russia. The year is 1969 and a trade is being made for a British spy, held in a Moscow prison. The only problem is the representatives from the West are alone. The book then travels back to a time before the war where we meet Charlotte and her husband a government worker who knows powerful people. Charlotte can speak many languages, one that makes her quite helpful to her husband. Now we travel after the war to the start of the Cold War to the United States. Guy Burgess, part of the Cambridge Spy Group has just defected to Russia, and a replacement, Charlie Leigh-Hunt, is sent to the American Capital.  Charlotte is living in Washington DC, with her second husband still with a gift for languages and whole lot more to share. Their actions will soon lead to a cold night in Berlin, a spy trade that might not happen. 

Another very good tale of the Cold War, espionage, deception with a great intermingling of real and fictional characters. Lawton has a real skill in making everything seem real and of the time. The dialogue, the thinking the actions. Even the characters have that cold war paranoia, mixed with the ennui of the class that had won the war and found the peace boring and dull. This is the fourth book in the series, so a familiarity with the series, and Lawton's other books would be helpful. There are a lot of characters, and motivations might be clearer, but it is not necessary. Though I do recommend reading the books as they are all quite good, and tell a fascinating tale of the world of espionage. The plot is very well done, and mixed with a lot of bodyguards of lies to tell it. The mix of real world events and characters meld well with the fictional and I enjoyed how Lawton was able to adapt certain points of history to fit into the story he was telling. 

If readers love stores about espionage, even the history of espionage John Lawton books would be a perfect fit. Lawton does not get the praise he deserves for his stories which are very carefully crafted, and shown, with that mix of cynicism and vague patriotism that most of the best stories about spies contain. A very enjoyable story that keeps the reader thinking well after the last page.
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Espionage and other exploits post-WWII with an engaging set of characters.

What makes someone become a spy?  In this engrossing tale, we find that the answer is far from simple and certainly is not one-size-fits-all.  We meet (or, for those who have read previous novel by John Lawton, are re-introduced to) two groups of people whose paths cross and whose lives become entangled.  The novel begins, and ends, in Prague, on Glienicke Bridge the infamous Bridge of Spies.  There we meet members of group one, Frank and Eddie, whose somewhat shady joint dealings began back in the WWII years.  Joining them is Freddie, aka Lord Frederick Troy.  They are there to exchange a briefcase full of cash for Joe Holderness (Joe Wilderness to many), who has connections to all three men and who has been imprisoned in Russia by General Zolotukhina after a previous spy exchange went awry.  Well, in some ways it went according to plan and in other ways it most definitely did not, but isn’t that the way life goes sometimes?  The General’s son Kostya has connections to Joe, Frank and Eddie, and maybe that has something to do with why the General snatched Joe, but no one is quite sure what the General’s true goal is. A perennial challenge when dealing with spies, you can never be certain that you know what they’re going to do, or why.  Then there is group two, of which Freddie/Lord Troy, former copper, sometime spy and now the British Ambassador to Russia (although he’d really rather just be back on his farm raising pigs) is part.  His brother is Something Important in the British government, and keeps roping Freddie into doing work for Her Majesty’s government.  Freddie’s boyhood chum, Charlie Leigh-Hunt, is another member of this group, as is Charlotte “Coky” Churchill. Schumacher. Redmaine.  All her last name, and all genuine….her husbands just keep dying on her.  Charlie and Coky, members of upper class British society,  both find themselves in DC.  Charlie has been sent there to replace Guy Burgess, at the British Embassy there (Burgess, along with another high ranking Brit named Donald Maclean having been found to be spying for the Soviets).  The American intelligence community is livid, and not likely to extend much trust to Charlie.  Meanwhile, Coky (loosely based on the infamous Pamela Harriman) is living a charmed ex-pat life, a hostess of great renown in political and social circles at her home with husband #2.  But the Soviets still have spies at work in DC, well-placed and above reproach.  The Red Scare is in full bloom, and rightly so.  Who is spying because they are true believers in a communists utopia?  Who’s doing it for the money?  And what other reasons lie beneath the surface?  Betrayal comes in many guises.

As is generally the case with John Lawton novels, Moscow Exile is both full of action and chicanery. Figuring out who is who, and how one relates to another, is part of the fun, and there is much fun to be had.  Wonderful turns of phrase and that uniquely British vein of humor are plentiful as well.  Neither the spies nor those chasing them are fully corrupt or totally above board, but they all have their charm.  This is a fantastic novel of espionage, but it is so much more: a slice of history from a pivotal moment in time, a travelogue, a peak at life in Moscow in the early days of the Brezhnev regime, and an exploration into some of the reasons that people chose to spy on their own country.  It is not at all necessary to have read previous Lawton books in order to throughly enjoy this one, I have read some but not all (and am looking to rectify the omission as soon as I can).  Lawton fans will enjoy this outing, as will readers of Charles Cumming, John Le Carre, and other leading lights of the genre.  I recommend it highly, and many thanks to NetGalley and to Morgan Entrekin of Grove Atlantic for allowing me access to an advanced reader’s copy of Moscow Exile.
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Another masterpiece of historical literary fiction, dressed in the garb of an espionage novel.  This time, the focus is on the 1950s and 1960s, peak Cold War years and, in the US, the Red Scare.

Joe Holderness, a/k/a Joe Wilderness, mostly plays a supporting role in this story, as does Frederick Troy, the lead in Lawton’s other series.  We are more focused on a pair of well-born English citizens and their actions as secret agents of the USSR.  US citizens who spied for the USSR tended to be working class or intellectuals, not members of the upper crust, while so many of the UK’s spies for the Soviet Union came from the upper classes.  I always think that adds a certain emotional/psychological complexity to British espionage novels.

This is a long and complex story, but always fascinating, and engaging both the mind and heart—and sometimes provoking laughter.  Lawton’s books may be classified as espionage—and that’s fair enough—but they are far more about the relationships between the characters.  Lawton and his books deserve to be far better known and appreciated.
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MOSCOW EXILE, by John Lawton is a book full of global espionage and international intrigue.  Spies never really tell the truth and the question in this novel quickly becomes who is lying, whose is telling the truth and the reality that no one is really doing either.
  This book, being part of a series, weighs heavily on the assumption that the reader has met several of the characters before.  There is also large dose of colloquialisms that were not all easily decipherable.  As the book progresses, there is a learning curve so that by the end, the reader knows all of the players. Closer to the end of the book, the faster the revealing twists and misdirections start to layer on top of each other and build to a fun ending.  The way Lawton wrapped his fictional tale are actual history is a lot of fun and convinces the reader that something like this could have happened.
  The benefit of reading the whole series would make the book easier to connect to and enjoy, but I still found MOSCOW EXILE entertaining and I was looking forward to see how all of the characters ended up.
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John Lawton's Moscow Exile failed to capture my interest. I gave up halfway. The prominent character Charlotte simply annoyed me. I regret that I couldn't become more interested.
Thanks NetGalley for the ARC.
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This is billed as the fourth installment in the Joe Wilderness series, but Joe doesn't show up until just over the halfway point. Good things come to those who wait, however, and the first half of the book is compelling in and of itself, in addition to setting the stage for Joe and, in a key supporting role, the lead character of another series by John Lawton, Frederick Troy.

Confused? You might be if you're not familiar with either series. I've read the three previous Wilderness books and two of the Troy books, and even I was confused about some elements of the back story that I'd forgotten. I imagine someone coming in cold would be confused in parts. (What's a scheiber? Who was Cobb?) Even so, it's easy to get happily swept along with Lawton's buoyant prose, vivid mise en scene, and energetic pacing.

What bothered me most was a lack of insight into Joe's emotional life. The guy's trapped in Soviet Moscow for months with no word to or from anyone on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and he doesn't once wonder how his wife and kids are. I know that's not the point of the story, but it distracted me and made me more aware of the tale's artifice.

If you enjoy fast-moving, witty Cold War spy fiction, you'll like Moscow Exile—though you'll like it even better if you read the previous Joe Wilderness books first.

Thank you, NetGalley and Grove Atlantic, for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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From the conclusion of my review that is posted on

Since current political antagonisms seem rooted in an astonishing inability for the two sides to reach any agreement whatever regarding objective fact, the reader of a dystopian novel dealing with people attempting to figure out how to behave during a plague might expect the author at least to drop a hint or two about the degree to which the survivialist characters were justified in their behaviour. Or to put it more plainly - is it reasonable to prepare for a world in which governments are determined to infect large populations with manufactured viruses that will carry off considerable numbers of people and completely destroy all social norms?

The critical question at the heart of this novel is precisely whether Ed Crowe is actually sane. But Morrison won't answer that one. Instead we get a rather loopy reassurance that love is a good thing, especially when embodied in a conventional marriage.

In a piece that appeared in CrimeReads in November of this year, Morrison reveals that he and his wife did in fact become preppers a few years ago. They (like Ed Crowe) weren't all that good at the practicalities, but this novel did come out of the experience. Though they apparently left their bunker behind in time to experience all the stresses of our actual recent plague, Morrison at least still appears to harbour a certain fondness for the sense of superiority that comes with the belief that either the government or anarchist hordes will be out to get you when society founders but you will have your own resources to survive attack. The title of the book promises advice on how to survive everything, but none of its characters are changed in any serious way by their newly adopted way of life, nor do they contemplate any other form of social existence than what got them where they are in the first place. Some one, somewhere should be asking if it's really worth living like this, with no outside stimuli, no books, no music, and (oops) evidently no successful crops. When Adam and Eve took their first faltering steps away from the Eden they had lost, the "world was all before them, where to choose." These survivalists are stuck with one another, behind a razor wire fence they have themselves erected until they run out of dried beans or someone comes by with a bigger crossbow.
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Moscow Exile by John Lawton This is my kind of Espionage novel. Not much happens and this novel takes place over about 50 years! And yet the pace is just right. There is a little “Kiss, kiss” but no “Bang, bang” except for one errant shot. I have read a few of Mr. Lawton’s novels but this was quite a few years ago. In this book the protagonists of his two series: The Troy Series and The Wilderness Series are both involved and end up in Moscow on different sides of the prison walls during the same period. A few of the Cambridge Spies (all but Anthony Blunt) make appearances that adds to a sense that the book is non-fiction. It almost is believable. The overall point of the book seems to be to close up some lose ends from his previous novels. I almost sense this may be Mr. Lawton’s last novel. I hope not but if it is so. Thank you for some excellent reads.
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It is best to savour a John Lawton book slowly and allow yourself to luxuriate in the richness of the language, the intricacy of the plotting, the in-depth characterisation and the manner in which he somehow contrives to bring the narrative to a satisfactory conclusion depose the interweaving of myriad plot lines.

This is no exception. Is it a Wilderness book? Is it a Troy book? Yes to both as they along with other we loved characters such as Frank, Eddie and even the traitorous Charlie Leigh-White, Philby and Burgess all appear.

Sometimes not much seems to be happening and that is when  readers can immerse themselves in the descriptions of time and place and the manner in which real life historical figures and events add verisimilitude to the overall plot.

One minor mistake - perhaps deliberate - is describing the immortal Fred Trueman as a spin bowler - but I believe that the cricket bible Wisden did the same in 1950 so maybe this is another Lawton in-joke.

You have to think when reading his books but this is no bad thing.

We are now up to 1969 and some of the main characters are entering late middle age but hopefully we will be massively entertained yet again within the next few years.
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