Hammer to Fall by John Lawton

Today I’m delighted to join the blog tour to celebrate the launch of the brand new Joe Wilderness novel from John Lawton, Hammer to Fall. I have an extract from the book to share with you all as soon as we’ve seen what the book is all about:

About the Book

It’s London, the swinging sixties, and by rights MI6 spy Joe Wilderness should be having as good a time as James Bond. But alas, in the wake of an embarrassing disaster for MI6, Wilderness has been posted to remote northern Finland in a cultural exchange program to promote Britain abroad. Bored by his work, with nothing to spy on, Wilderness finds another way to make money: smuggling vodka across the border into the USSR. He strikes a deal with old KGB pal Kostya, who explains to him there is a vodka shortage in the Soviet Union – but there is something fishy about Kostya’s sudden appearance in Finland and intelligence from London points to a connection to cobalt mining 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 skulduggery, of art and politics, a page-turning story of the always riveting life of the British spy.

Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books | Hive

From the Book

I

Peanut Butter

§1

East Berlin: July or August 1948
Das Eishaus: The Egg-Cooling House, Osthafen

“So, Sadie says to Doris—”

“Doris? Что такое дорис?”

“Doris is just a name, Yuri. A woman’s name. Doris, Debbie, Diana . . . doesn’t matter. Just a fuckin’ name.”

“Da. Da. Еврейское имя?”

“What?”

Frank turned to Wilderness, the exasperation beginning to show in his face. Wilderness translated.

“He’s asking if it’s a Jewish name.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah. If you like. It’s a Jewish name. Anyway . . . Doris says to Sadie—”

“No,” said Wilderness. “Sadie was talking to Doris.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake. Who’s telling this gag? You or me? So . . . Sadie says to Doris, ‘My Hymie’s such a gentleman. Every week he brings me flowers.’ And Doris says, ‘Oh yeah, my Jake is such a putz, if he brings me flowers it can mean only one thing. I’ll be spending the night with my legs in the air!’ And Sadie says, ‘Oh, you don’t got a vase?’ ”

Frank laughed at his own joke. All but slapped his thighs. Wilderness managed a smile. He had heard it before. Three or four times, in fact, but Frank was never one to preface a gag with, “Stop me if I told you this one already.”

Yuri looked nonplussed.

The kid next to him, one of those string-bean youths they had nicknamed “Yuri’s Silents,” was smirking. He looked to be about the same age as Wilderness himself, but Wilderness was twenty going on thirty, and this kid was twenty going on twelve. He always looked nervous— scared shitless, as Frank would have it—and perhaps he, a mere corporal, thought it only prudent not to laugh at a dirty joke his boss, a gilded NKVD major with shoulder boards as wide as landing strips, couldn’t get. Yuri got swiftly back to business.

“Sunday? One hundred pounds?”

Frank glanced quickly at Wilderness. Wilderness nodded.

“Sure. One hundred pounds of finest PX Java.”

Yuri stuck out his hand. He liked to shake on every deal. Even though they’d been trading coffee, butter and anything else the Russians had on their shopping list for months now, he shook every time as though resealing a bond between them. Wilderness did not think Yuri trusted Frank Spoleto, but then he wasn’t at all sure he trusted Frank either.

They were about halfway back to the jeep. Wilderness could see Swift Eddie at the wheel, deep in a Penguin paperback, oblivious to all around him. And he could hear footsteps running behind them.

He turned. It was the “Silent.” His great flat feet slapping down on the pockmarked tarmac.

“I am sorry. I mean not to surprise you.”

He was a Kolya or a Kostya . . . one of those abundant Russian diminutives foisted onto children and rarely abandoned as adults. He had the look of an adolescent, features scarcely formed, his face dominated by bright blue eyes that seemed far too trusting to work for an NKVD rogue like Yuri. His Adam’s apple bobbed above his collar. His long fingers disappeared into a pocket to produce . . . an empty jam jar.

Frank said, “What’s on your mind, kid?”

“Can you get me this?”

Wilderness said, nipping in ahead of Frank, “Our deal is with Major Myshkin. We don’t undercut him and we don’t deal without him.” Frank rolled the jar in his hand, showed Wilderness the label.

“I don’t think Yuri will give a damn about this, Joe.”

The label read, COUSIN KITTY’S GEORGIA PEANUT BUTTER. And then, egregiously,YUM, YUMMY YUM YUMS

“Is true,” said Kolya/Kostya. “The major will let me buy.”

Wilderness shrugged. Who was he to stand in the way of a deal, however petty?

“Can you get it?” he said to Frank.

“Sure. If not this brand, then something like. If there’s one kind of peanut butter coming out of Georgia, there must be fifty. If this is what he wants. I’ll find something. God knows why he wants it. The stuff sticks to your teeth like Plasticine.”

“Is . . . личное дело . . . personal, yes?”

“Whatever. Fifty cents a jar, OK. And greenbacks. Capisce? None of those Ostmarks you guys print like toilet paper. US dollars, right?”

“Of course,” the kid grinned. “Grrrrinbaksy.”

“How many jars?”

“Hundred.”

“A hundred?”

“A hundred . . . to begin with.”

“OK, kid, you got yourself a deal. Now shake on it, just like your Uncle Yuri, and me and my partner here will head back to civilisation.”

They shook, and Kolya/Kostya said, “Major Myshkin not my uncle. I am Kostya—Konstantin Ilyich Zolotukhin.”

As they climbed into the jeep, Frank had his moan.

“Do any of them have a sense of humour? ‘Uncle’ was just a tease. And Yuri . . . what in hell happened to him? It was as though I’d asked to fuck his grandmother.”

“Maybe he doesn’t like Jewish jokes.”

“Never thought of that. Do you reckon he’s Jewish? I mean, what kind of a name is Myshkin?”

“A Russian name,” Wilderness replied. “And you can bet your last dollar it’s not his real name. By the bye . . . how much does a jar of peanut butter cost back home?”

Frank’s hand sliced the air, tipping an imaginary fried egg onto an imaginary plate.

“Around twelve cents.”

“That’s quite a markup.”

“Markup from what? We steal the stuff. And how would the kid ever know the right price? He’s going to hop on a plane to Shitcreek, New Jersey, and hit the local grocery store?”

“I meant. Fair play. That’s all.”

“Fair play. Jeezus. Joe, this is no time to grow a conscience. If he’ll pay fifty cents then we collect fifty cents.”

If that has you interested to find out more about this book and how much money they do make on the Peanut Butter, you can buy a copy at any of the stores above.

About the Author

John Lawton is a producer/director in television who has spent much of his time interpreting the USA to the English, and occasionally vice versa. He has worked with Gore Vidal, Neil Simon, Scott Turow, Noam Chomsky, Fay Weldon, Harold Pinter and Kathy Acker.

He thinks he may well be the only TV director ever to be named in a Parliamentary Bill in the British House of Lords as an offender against taste and balance—he has also been denounced from the pulpit in Mississippi as a “Communist,” but thinks that less remarkable.

John Lawton spent most of the 90s in New York—among other things attending the writers’ sessions at The Actors’ Studio under Norman Mailer—and has visited or worked in more than half the 50 states—since 2000 he has lived in the high, wet hills of Derbyshire England, with frequent excursions into the high, dry hills of Arizona and Italy.

He is the author of 1963, a social and political history of the Kennedy-Macmillan years, six thrillers in the Troy series and a stand-alone novel, Sweet Sunday. In 1995 the first Troy novel, Black Out, won the WH Smith Fresh Talent Award. In 2006 Columbia Pictures bought the fourth Troy novel Riptide. In 2007 A Little White Death was a New York Times notable. In 2008 he was one of only half a dozen living English writers to be named in the London Daily Telegraph‘s “50 Crime Writers to Read before You Die.” He has also edited the poetry of D.H. Lawrence and the stories of Joseph Conrad.

He is devoted to the work of Franz Schubert, Cormac McCarthy, Art Tatum, and Barbara Gowdy.

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