The time is the 1950s, the place is Berlin

Voices Under Berlin
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Voices Under Berlin

Read the Wikipedia article on Voices Under Berlin.

Hollywood Book Festival Award Winner, Military Writers' Society Book of the Month, Branson Stars & Flags Book Award Winner, Puss Reboots Top 10 Books for 2009, PODBRAM Best Historical Concept, NIEA Book Award
2011 Indie 500 Booklist

Midwest Book Review says:

One of the things that sets this novel apart is "the author's combining a genuine gift for humor with a deft literary astuteness in telling a story that fully engages the reader quite literally from first page to last. Simply stated, "Voices Under Berlin" is a terrifically entertaining 312-page read and an enthusiastically recommended addition to community library collections and personal leisure time reading lists."

You can read the whole review here.

• Sarah Sammis, the author of the book blog "Puss Reboots," has included Voices Under Berlin on her Top 10 Books Reviewed for 2009. See her original comments below.

Voices Under Berlin is among the twelve books selected for the PODBRAM Annual Book Awards for 2009, winning the title of Best Historical Concept. PODBRAM is a very selective POD Book review site that strives "mightily to be the best of the POD bloggers," by offering legitimate book reviews. PODBRAM's efforts in this direction have indeed been successful. PODdy Train characterized PODBRAM as "the leader in indie review sites on the net today." PODBRAM has gained this reputation because in order to acquire a review there, a "book must pass the gatekeeper's initial examination, be specifically selected by one of our reviewers, and then survive our legendary book strip-search and dunking tank." The books that do "are the best of the best."

• One of the first ten books on The 2011 Indie 500 Booklist.

John Quirk, a member of the real-life Berlin Tunnel team, says that T.H.E. Hill is "an author who knows his spooks (and, coincidentally, can write a hellofa good novel)."

• The Original Monterey Mary at the Berlin Tunnel, Eugene N. Kovalenko, says:

"It occurred to me only in writing this review that I was not only the ORIGINAL 'Monterey Mary' at the Berlin Tunnel site, but the ONLY ONE during its entire operational life! I am going to buy a boatload of Hill's book to send copies to my family, friends and various acquaintances."

Read his entire insightful review here.

• Robert T. Browne, Colonel (retired), U.S. Army, author of Experiences with the CIA 1950’s Berlin Spy Tunnel, says:

"Voices Under Berlin is an excellent read, and it holds the interest of those who enjoy military and spy stories.  The author expertly mixes factual material based on his personal experiences in the military intelligence field with an intriguing bit of fiction that makes Voices a solid spy novel.  If you know a bit about Berlin, the old Soviet regime, and/or Russian/U.S.-British clandestine operations during the Cold War, you will find yourself especially glued to seeing what happens in each succeeding chapter of Voices, and surprised at the ending of the story.  This was my reaction, having been an Army lieutenant and Russian linguist attached to CIA who worked on the actual Berlin spy tunnel operation. I have captured some of those happenings in the book, Experiences with the CIA 1950’s Berlin Spy Tunnel, which details my involvement and the work of a number of my associates on that very successful intelligence program."

• From a thread on the Discussion Boards:

I've recently read two novels about the ASA experience. The first was James Crumley's One to Count Cadence about the early exploits of the ASA in Nam. The second was Voices Under Berlin by THE Hill (an obvious pseudonym). … I thought it was hilarious how some of the SIGINT/linguist jokes and eccentricities have virtually remained unchanged in sixty years, be it linguist vs analyst clashes, clueless LTs, oversensitive OPSEC folks who throw out the "need to know" card at every single turn, reclassed soldiers deriding "overeducated" DLIers for not being "real soldiers," etc. I can assure you the same situations are being played out in Iraq and Afghanistan as I type this. :-)

I encourage anyone currently in SIGINT to read up on this stuff. It will make you smile a bit knowing that people have been going through the same crap you did as a SIGINTer for the past 60 years!

Posted by: 98GCM, Thu 05 February 2009 05:29 PM

Tim Crook, a Senior Lecturer in Communications at Goldsmiths University of London, and author of The Secret Lives of the Secret Agent: The Mysterious Life and Times of Alexander Wilson (Kultura Press, 2010), posted this review on Amazon:

"This is an outstanding spy novel that gives suspense, mystery and the full force of espionage genre treatment for the people who fight and fought the listening and eavesdropping wars of intelligence. The agents and psychological warriors burrow into the tunnels of not only physical geography to intercept, listen and translate but they also fathom and crawl through the burrows of the enemy's psyche and nervous system. This is a novel written with skill, authority, and by somebody who knows what he is talking about. Its qualities and enlightening perspectives have motivated me to investigate and acquire more of T.H.E. Hill's fiction and non-fiction."

• CaptnDelta writing on Forum Deutsche Einheit German Flag says:

"It is surprising that it hasn't been made into a movie. … It's too bad that it's only availabel in English." (Ueberraschend nur, das es dazu noch keinen Film gibt. … Schade das dieses Buch nur in Englisch gibt.)

Dr. Wesley Britton, author of Spy Television, Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film, and Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage, writing in his live journal entitled thespyreport, says:

"It’s not often, these days, to get the news that a spy novel has earned a prestigious award. But Voices Under Berlin, a comic novel by T.H.E. Hill, about the goings-on around the Berlin Tunnel in the early 1950s, was among the award winners at the 2008 Hollywood Book Festival. . . . We cannot recommend the book more strongly, and will be pleased to help promote this outstanding contribution to insightful and original espionage humor."

Permanent link to the first journal entry.

In his introduction to an interview with T.H.E. Hill, Britton calls Voices Under Berlin "A Spy Novel that Breaks All The Molds.”

Throughout the Cold War, the divided city of Berlin was the epicenter of spy films and literature, especially in the hands of masters like John Le Carré and Len Deighton. For decades, we saw and read about Western agents sneaking in and Eastern defectors sneaking out of East Berlin—over, under, and through the most iconic symbol of the times—the Berlin Wall.

But T.H.E. Hill’s new 2008 Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary has nothing to do with such spy vs. spy duels in Germany. Instead, his subject is the long-neglected Berlin Tunnel of the 1950s and the cryptographers, linguists, and analysts sifting through intercepted intelligence from East Germany to the masters in Moscow. Better—Voices Under Berlin is, in fact, perhaps the funniest spy book ever written. It’s not a parody or satire of the 007 mythos nor is it a continuation of themes in the novels by the likes of Graham Greene or Eric Ambler poking fun at the ineptitude of clandestine services. Still, in the tradition of Greene and Ambler, Voices Under Berlin contains many literate qualities that make it a work of special consideration, worthy of an audience much broader than that of espionage enthusiasts or those interested in Cold War history.

From Britton's own condensation of the "Introduction" to the interview in a second journal entry.
Read the whole "Introduction" and interview here.

Sgt. Mom writing at Blogger News Network, says:

The narrative [is] enlivened with many seemingly vintage photos of places, objects and people relevant to the story, as well as accounts of a staggeringly varied number of practical jokes. Never underestimate the creative lengths to which extremely intelligent and bored military personnel will go to amuse themselves, especially when confined to spending hours and hours on duty, in the main just watching for something to happen. … Voices Under Berlin is well worth the time, to a veteran and non-veteran alike, for a glimpse into another world, another war, half a century ago.

Read all of her detailed, and insightful review here.

• a reviewer on Amazon says:

"Fascinating story told with humor and dry wit so common to the breed of the 'intelligence' soldiers of the era. With great insight into the mysterious workings of the US Army and particularly the intelligence services, THE Hill provides an entertaining, comic romp through Cold War Berlin that left me laughing and shaking my head. Long live T'berg."

Don Lehmann of Viva USAFSS says:

Hill's Voices Under Berlin use of the Berlin Tunnel Operation, in his novel, as a vehicle for heralding SIGINT collection operations is clever indeed. . . . [T]he style and presentation is unique and humorous which make for very enjoyable and interesting reading. . . . If you are a former spook or just like spy novels, you won't be disappointed.

Read the whole of his perceptive review here.

• Bill Kay, U.S.Army INSCOM, 1978-81, Field Station Augsburg

"I don't read novels often, but I thoroughly enjoyed Voices Under Berlin. Anyone who's spent time in Germany, in the military service, or dealt with diverse individuals in difficult situations can identify with this story. The novel combines the politics of the military chain of command, the secretive intrigue of Cold War spying, and the quiet heroes who "got the job done" with their steady initiative and a heavy burden of angst. The novel is very entertaining, with surprising moments of roll-your-eyes humor and tongue-in-cheek irony. Well worth the read."

• Po Wong writing at

Kevin is a hero in the mold of McMurphy, the rebellious asylum inmate who is the protagonist in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Kevin manages to do his job despite the blind obedience to stringent regulations that frequently overrides common sense and intelligence in large military operations, and despite the widespread ineptness around him. … Voices under Berlin is a coherent, funny, and often sardonic look at real espionage work. The detail is so realistic that you may find yourself wondering, as I did, whether this is a novel or the memoirs of an actual intelligence agent. Of course, if you're looking for James Bond, you won't find him here. What you will find is a fascinating account of what it must have been like to be toiling away at an important but often dreary job underneath the streets of Berlin during the Cold War years.

You can read the whole review here.

The book blog "Simply Stacie" says:

"You’ll have to keep reminding yourself that this is a work of fiction, because its understated approach to its subject matter makes it so believable and intriguing. … Voices Under Berlin does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Cold War intelligence operations, and the seeming futility and mundaneness associated with them. The only unfortunate thing about this book is that more people haven’t read it yet."

You can read the whole review here.

Sandra Stiles, writing on, says:

"You know a work of fiction is good when it is difficult to tell if the story is fact or fiction. … I loved that part of it was written in script form so you felt as if you were actually reading a transcript. From this book I gained a better perspective of the operation that took place before I was born. I have a greater appreciation for the men who served in this capacity."

You can read the rest of her review here.

Charles Ashbacher, an Amazon "TOP 50 REVIEWER" and "VINE Voice", says:

This story is similar to the dark humor of the movie and television series M*A*S*H where you laugh at the bizarre nature of the military bureaucracy. That is really your only option as if you stop for a moment and realize that this mentality is what guards the nation against danger you might get scared. However, it is comforting to realize that the mentality on the Soviet side was similarly stiff, unimaginative and more a danger to itself than it was to the other side. The translations of the Russian messages given in the book are proof of that.

Read the rest of his insightful review here.

• Writing on her blog Puss Reboots, Sarah Sammis says:

"Voices Under Berlin by T.H.E. Hill promises to be: '[a] story ... told with a pace and a black humor reminiscent of that used by Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Richard Hooker (M*A*S*H*).' It is set in the early 1950s in Berlin in the days before the Wall and during the time that the city was still divided up between France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. … Like M*A*S*H* and Catch-22 the novel features an ensemble cast of characters. For the most part, though, the protagonist is Kevin, one of the language experts. He's a likeable sort, not perfect and not devoted to the army. He is, however, devoted to his love of language and to his Berlin girlfriend. …

I thoroughly enjoyed Voices Under Berlin and I feel it holds up to its promise to be akin to M*A*S*H* and Catch-22. It's one of the funniest books I've been sent for review."

You can read the whole review here.

Melissa at Books R Us says:

"The book was written more like a memoir rather than a novel. I found the book funny, easy to read, and if you like espionage and the Cold War this is the book for you."

You can read the rest of her review here.

Bruce Ford, veteran of Field Station Berlin in the 1960s, and webmaster of the FSB Veterans Group.

Voices was a treat to read because it accurately, amusingly, and respectfully captures—as never before was so well done—the carefree yet dedicated attitude of U.S. military intelligence linguists. With humor, Voices describes how intelligence folks successfully and honorably worked in Berlin, as they did worldwide, to defeat the Soviets in the Cold War.”

James Dunning, a veteran of 7th Corps in the 1970s, who met his wife while stationed in Germany.

"Voices Under Berlin fills a rare historical niche, a time capsule describing firsthand what life was like for those whose fortune it was to conduct a schizoid Cold War during forty + years of 'German occupational' insanity."

• Ray Wenzel, USAFSS 1963-67

"Reading some of the practical jokes in Voices immediately put me in mind of my tour in Turkey, when our new, unsuspecting operations chief was given a toilet paper, bridal-gown trail all the way back to his office. He never said anything about it."

• From a review on

To read the rest of the review, follow me.

For more on the topic of the role of dedicated experts in the world of international politics, follow me.

• From yet another review on

"Captures some of the more amusing aspects of trick work in a field station during the Cold War, as well as life in Germany for ASA personnel. This work would be of particular interest to ASA and DLIWC alums."

• From 1SG (Ret) Winston "Bubba" Pasha, a Veteran of Field Stations Augsburg (1972-73) &  Berlin (1977-80), writing on the Augsburg2ndOPS Yahoo Group:

"Voices under Berlin was very good. I found myself back in Berlin when reading several of the Chapters."

• From Earl Steinbicker, an ASA veteran of Japan in the 1950s, writing on his blog Life's Little Adventures:

"Former ASAers will love this amusing tale, as will fans of off-the-wall espionage stories."

• From The Phoenician, the newsletter of The Phoenix Society:

"Voices just might bring back some old and valued memories."

• From Tim Bazzett, author of Soldier Boy: At Play in the ASA:

"I served at other field stations in Germany in the 60s, 70s and 80s; and, while I never got to Berlin, there was much here that I could relate to, even though the book is a novel. Shift work, burn bags, treads, ditty-boppers, transcripts, QC-ers, day weenies, and that strange special language of DLI-trained Marys - half Russian, half English. Hill's book is like a jar of Prego - 'it's all in there.' And it's told with a stylistic blend reminiscent of Heller and Hooker and perhaps just a few tantalizing tidbits of Hamlet thrown in for good measure."

Read the whole review here.

• From the first Blogcritics online magazine review of Voices Under Berlin:

"I strongly recommend Voices Under Berlin to anybody who’s interested in the Cold War, or anybody who’s ever been in the military. They’ll immediately recognize many of the characters and situations. The jargon is very well explained, and it has a handy glossary to help you through the occasional “Pentagonese” that needs translating. And even if you have no particular interest in the Cold War or the military, most will still assuredly enjoy this book. Don’t miss it!"

Read the whole review here.

• From the second BlogCritics online magazine review of Voices Under Berlin:

"For me, historical fiction all too often falls into one of two camps. It's either so detailed that you get lost in the details and don't get much in the way of story. Or it focuses almost entirely on story and doesn't provide enough detail to set the stage. Voices Under Berlin is like the Baby Bear's bowl of porridge in the Three Bears. It provides just the right amount of details to enhance an already gripping story. . . . If you're a fan of historical fiction, spy novels, or just looking for a great story, Voices Under Berlin has a little bit for everyone. It's a quick, enjoyable, and educational read."

Read the whole review here.

• From a Canadian review Canadian flag at Chapters Indigo, Canada's biggest chain of bookstores.

"The book is very entertaining, irreverent and humorous throughout. … The characters are a mix of fun or stereotypical in order to bounce off each other like the straight man and the funny man. Through the tapes we come to know the characters you never get to “see”, but learn the personalities of, through the transcriptions.

There is a feeling of being a part of the cloistered community, especially once the wiretaps are in full operation. In a boring and inactive area, a lot of the action comes from the transcription of the tapes and calls. There is so much game-playing to alleviate the boredom that some characters suspect the head transcriber, Kevin, is playing jokes with the transcriptions and making things up. … the more I think about this book, the more I enjoy recalling it.

There is a “Guide to the Jargon” in the front of the book that’s very helpful. … I would definitely recommend this book to those who like Cold War humor, history, and entertaining reading."

Read the whole review here.

The Ottawa Public Library has two copies and waiting lists to read them.

• A summary of other reviews:

"I am honestly not into spy novels as a general rule, but this story mixes humor with traditional spy novel undertones, along with placing the story in a real life event in history (which made it very easy to picture as you were reading). … I can easily see how this book has won awards in the past."

"The author places the reader squarely in the middle of the Cold War … From the first page and on, the author made me a participant in this well-written thriller."

• From the Fifty Book Challenge review of Voices Under Berlin:

Read the rest of the review here.

• From Kent's Chronicle:

"Set in the backdrop of Cold War Berlin, it spins true yarns that grabs your attention and holds it through the book. I could wax longer and poetic but there's no need, just click on [this link] to get a better synopsis and if the subject matter is your cup of tea, definitely order a copy, you won't be disappointed."

• From the Book 'em Benj-O blog by Benjamin Potter.

"Sometimes you can meet with a serious laugh. Rarely does the copy on the back cover really do justice to the book within those covers. Authors and publishers are always good to find a blurb or quote that flatters the author or the book itself. And why not? The cover is there to do two things: hold the pages together, and convince readers to buy the book. Here’s what I found at the top of the back cover of Voices Under Berlin:

The 9539th T.C.U. does to the secret Cold War what the 4077th M.A.S.H. did to the Korean War.

I highly recommend this one for a few days of escape to a different time and exotic place. Five reading glasses."

Read the whole post here.

• From Cheryl's Book Nook: Do you hear Voices?

"I enjoyed all the illustrations depicted throughout this book. It helped to make a great imagine in my head. Mr. Hill really knows his facts. Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary is as close as you get to the real deal without being there at that exact moment. . . . I especially liked reading the phone conversations. They gave me a good laugh or two. Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary turned out to be a good spy novel."

• From another review on

Hill "writes with a convincing sense of authenticity and, through the use of photographs of people and places depicted in the novel, gives the impression that this story is closely based on real events. [. . .] Unlike traditional spy fiction, Voices Under Berlin relies not on a character villain or white-knuckle plot to entertain. The twin villains here are bureaucracy and incompetence, and Hill exposes the danger they pose to military operations through a series of often-humorous incidents."

• A summary of some of the reviews on

"It gives a new insight into what was going on during the cold war."

"A new and interesting way to look at the Cold War."

"I truly enjoyed it. It was filled with lots of pranks that the characters did, which made it funny. I thought it was going to be a bit dry, but it ended up sucking me in."

• Follow the travels of the copy of Voices Under Berlin on the Book Crossing circuit, where it has been rated as 10 out of 10 stars.

Follow me for a scholarly analysis of Voices Under Berlin that explains some of the special literary techniques used in the novel.

• An article on entitled "An Emerging Trend in Spy Fiction: Retired James Bonds Become Ian Flemings" places Voices Under Berlin in its literary context as a part of the new wave of insider spy fiction. You can read the article here. Reprinted in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, Volume 16, Number 2, Fall 2009, ppg. 119-123.

• Read about Voices Under Berlin in the May 2008 issue of The Cold War Times. This is the quarterly journal of The Cold War Museum. The journal is available for download in PDF format.

• Find out what they are saying about Voices Under Berlin over at Spione Wiki. where "Truth is found at the intersection of independent lies." This is a website that hopes " to identify connections across all source material concerning Cold War espionage, whether fictional or non-fictional, whether directly about spying or not."

• Robert Többe, a documentary filmmaker in Berlin writes:

Visit Robert Többe's webSite: Nonfiction Film

See what they are quoting from
Voices Under Berlin

"His dissertation adviser, however, had neglected to impart to him one of the key tenets of academia: avoid making decisions at all cost. If you made a decision, you might be held responsible for the consequences. There were always consequences. Even if things went right - which they did less often than pure chance dictated, because that is what happens when nobody is willing to take a chance and make a decision - credit was always given where credit was due, that is at the highest level of the hierarchy intelligent enough to claim it. This type of credit grab is not entirely without risk, because there could be consequences for not doing it sooner. If, on the other hand, things went wrong, which they often did - because that is what happens when you avoid making decisions and leave things to chance - the first order of the day was to find a scapegoat. If you had made a decision, you might be it. It's a lose, lose situation."

Quoted on the WesPack Clark Community Network.
(Emphasis added by the poster.)

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