Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary is a novel about one of the early skirmishes of the Cold War told with a pace and a black humor reminiscent of that used by Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Richard Hooker (Mash). It is set against the backdrop of Operation GOLD (PBJOINTLY), the CIA cross-sector spy tunnel operation in Berlin in the mid-1950s.
The yarn is told from both ends of the tunnel. One end is the story of the "tunnel rats," the American soldiers who man the operation. It tells of their fight for a sense of purpose against boredom and the enemy both within and without.
The novel opens on the day of the flood that shut down digging in the tunnel until pumps could be brought into Berlin from the American Zone of Germany. The "tunnel rats" are told to make themselves scarce until the pumps arrive, and they disperse throughout Berlin, where three of them meet German women, one of whom is a SWALLOW, the bait in a Russian "honey trap," a sex for secrets operation. But which of them is the SWALLOW's target? Kevin, the Russian transcriber, Blackie, the blackmarketeer or Lieutenant Sheerluck, the martinet.
At the other end of the tunnel are the Russians whose telephone calls the Americans are intercepting. They are the voices under Berlin. Their side of the story is told in the transcripts of their calls, which reveal tantalizing details of the "honey-trap" operation, but not enough for the reader to figure out who its target is, until the final chapters of the book.
The boredom inherent in any intercept operation while waiting for the target's proverbial loose lips to provide the information that will sink a proverbial ship takes on a role in the story similar to the major role it played in Thomas Heggen's Mister Roberts. To relieve their boredom the Americans play practical jokes on one another and on the hapless East-German guards in a tower across the border.
The vast amount of "hurry up and wait" time that is available to play jokes allows this pastime to be raised almost to the level of an art form. For example, the Lieutenant is sent to get an "ST-one Precision Operator Head Space Adjustment Tool," which is not what it seems. The East Germans in the tower across the border are treated to a number of mid-night plays staged in the American compound, one of which enrages the East German Command to the point that they are prepared to make an armed crossing of the border to retaliate. Will cooler Russian heads prevail, or will the "tunnel rats" have to fight for their lives?
Against this background of practical jokes there is always the sinister threat of Americans being kidnapped by the GRU "body snatcher" unit that was one of the hallmark features of Cold-War Berlin at this period in time. Information obtained from Russian transcripts offers the Americans an opportunity to thwart two kidnappings, but fears of the source of the information leaking prevents the Chief of Base from taking action on the information. "So, you're a plumber! That's a surprise. I thought that I was talking to an intelligence officer," yells Kevin, displaying the smooth people skills that had gotten him put on straight Swings and out of people's way. Is there any way to save the intended victims?
The faulty transcription of one of the Russians' calls takes the world to the brink of war. Can the mistake it contains be corrected before the Cold War goes hot?
"And why is this man transcribing a tape in his underwear?" asks lieutenant Sheerluck while all this is going on.
Who were really the victors and who the vanquished in this battle of wits? History says the Russians won, but were they the real enemy, or were they just the target of the tunnel operation?
And who was the SWALLOW after?
You'll have to buy a copy to find out.
To see a reproduction of the Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) for the 9539th TCU (TeleCommunications Unit), follow me.
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