• April 2, 2010
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Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary bares striking resemblance to M*A*S*H and Catch-22

Voices Under BerlinVoices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary is a spy fiction about the Americans who ran the pre-wall Berlin Spy Tunnel that the CIA used to tap Russian telecommunications cables, and about the Russians whom they were intercepting.  The novel is ostensibly set against the backdrop of the Berlin Spy Tunnel (Operation GOLD, covername: PBJOINTLY). The yarn is told from both ends of the tunnel. One end is the story of the Americans who worked the tunnel, and how they fought for a sense of purpose against boredom and the enemy both within and without. This side of the story is told with a pace and a black humor reminiscent of that used by Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Richard Hooker (M*A*S*H*). The other end of the tunnel is the story of the Russians whose telephone calls the Americans are intercepting. Their end of the tale is told in the unnarrated transcripts of their calls. They are the voices under Berlin.

Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary is the latest book by T.H.E. Hill who served at the U.S. Army Security Agency at Field Station Berlin in the mid-1970s, after a tour at Herzo Base in the late 1960s. He is a three-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute (DLIWC) in Monterey, California, the alumni of which are called “Monterey Marys”. The Army taught him to speak Russian, Polish, and Czech; three tours in Germany taught him to speak German, and his wife taught him to speak Dutch. He has been a writer his entire adult life, but now retired from Federal Service, he writes what he wants, instead of the things that others tasked him to write while he was still working.

You can learn more about T.H.E. Hill and his books www.VoicesUnderBerlin.com.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rain is the thing that you always remember about Berlin. It was raining on the twenty-second of July 1954, the day Kevin got there, and it was raining the day he left, three years later to the day. He liked to tell the story that one year he had taken a three-day pass to Munich in the American Zone of Germany and had missed what little summer there was altogether.Most of those who participated in the operation still don’t realize it, but the fate of Project PBJOINTLY hung in the balance on the eighth of September, and rain was the thing that tipped the scales to failure, and Kevin the person. That was the day that the tunnel they were digging hit water eight feet below the concrete of the basement floor in the warehouse that provided cover for what they were doing.

“If my mother could see me now,” said Kevin, up to his ankles in the brown ooze that seemed to have stopped rising. “She thought that I had a nice safe spy job, where all I had to worry about was fighting off all those Mata Haris, trying to wring secrets out of me.”

“Is that what I signed up for?” quipped Blackie. “My recruiter wouldn’t tell me anything except that it was too secret to tell me about it. If I had known about the Mata Haris, I’d have signed up for four.”

“Three years or four. It doesn’t matter. Just help Kilroy there figure out where the water is coming from!” ordered Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker. You would have thought that neither one of them had ever handled a shovel before, he said to himself. “You two clowns probably broke open a sewer drain. Now find out where the hole is so we can close it back up and get back to work!” continued the sergeant whose job it was to keep the tunnel moving forward.

It wasn’t a sewer drain–it didn’t smell bad. It didn’t smell at all. It was just rain water, and there was always plenty of that in Berlin. It was trapped by a layer of clay that none of the geologists on the survey team had predicted. The geologists were reasonably intelligent and would have found it, if the project wasn’t so secret that they had not been allowed to take core samples. The irascible Chief of Base, whose sarcasm was sometimes heavy enough to crush rocks, not to mention less-than-sturdy egos, had given their request short shrift.

“You want to what?” exclaimed the Chief of Base. “If you take core samples out in the compound enclosure, we might as well send an engraved announcement to the Russians to let them know that we are digging a tunnel under the Sector border to tap three of their communications cables. Why don’t we do it up right, and put a neon sign on the roof and sell tickets!”

So the geologists, who recognized the space between a rock and a hard place when they saw one, looked in some old books, took some pictures, walked back and forth on the Operations-Site compound and wrote: “The prevailing soil type in the Rudow district of Berlin is dry sand to a depth of 32 feet below the surface, which is the prevailing level of the water table in the subject area.” So much for prior planning. At a depth of 16 feet below the surface, Kevin was standing in a foot of water, wondering just how deep it would get.

Here’s what critics have to say!

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.

–Dr. Wesley Britton, author of Spy Television, Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film, and Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage

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.

–Puss Reboots

…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.


Voices Under Berlin is the proud winner of 5 Book Awards:  PODBRAM Best Historical Concept, “Puss Reboots” book blog Top 10 Books for 2009, Hollywood Book Festival, Branson Stars & Flags Book Award and Military Writers’ Society Book of the Month.

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