ludwig licht, former cia, former stasi, freelancer

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And at once Pavel Menk emerged from the front bunk. He was wearing one of the peach-coloured bathrobes from his strip club and held a small revolver in his hand.
Ludwig fired two shots within a hundredth of a second. The first at chest height, the second a little higher because of the recoil. …
Pavel stared at a point behind Ludwig. Blood seeped from a ragged hole in his cheek in a slow, steady trickle. You could never be vigilant enough. Ludwig took another step forward and watched the process.
Death was coming. …
Down by the water, he washed his face. The faint smell of rubber that still clung to his hands reminded him of the rubber handle of the hammer with which he had committed his first murder fourteen years ago. He had been a different man then, and his offence had still bothered him weeks, if not months later. But now … He saw the same disgust as then, but he didn’t feel it.

from: West of Liberty

A Dirty James B.

Ludwig Licht is a murderer. He was trained as an agent in the GDR and worked for the Ministry for State Security (aka Stasi). The CIA successfully recruited him back then – before reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall – and he became a double agent. After reunification, there were no more jobs for him; he had no choice but to accept and fulfill dirty jobs for the CIA as a freelancer from time to time and set up his own business in the meantime: a bar, a restaurant, a bistro … whatever.

Of course, it all goes wrong somehow … again and again … When Ludwig Licht has to borrow money from the Eastern Bloc mafia of all people to tide him over, he falls into their web. In the end, he sees no way out but to draw a brutal line in the sand.

I got to know Ludwig Licht through the current TV series adaptation of West of Liberty. I then read the book and realised that the film version closely follows the novel. The first part of the Ludwig Licht saga is of course set in Berlin, a dirty, fast-paced city where violence, crime and anarchy reign rather than law and order – at least in the neighbourhoods of Berlin where Ludwig moves around. Of course, the overall picture also includes the various secret services, insofar as they are still based in Berlin. Two decades after reunification, not everyone considers Berlin to be a focal point of world politics as it was during the Cold War.

Meanwhile, the boundaries between espionage and crime are blurred and Ludwig tries to swim and avoid the murderous cliffs – whether secret services or the Eastern Bloc mafia.

What’s next for him?

Ludwig still has contacts with the CIA. He receives orders and fulfils them if the money is right. In doing so, he walks over dead bodies. It may be that the motivation of a James Bond is more noble, but in the end they both shoot their way out and leave behind massive collateral damage.

It may also be that James Bond works in an organisation with integrity. Ludwig Licht’s CIA is a bunch of career-minded and power-obsessed bosses who want to advance their own interests above all else, although these are not always the interests of their home country. This becomes clear from the very first novel in the series, when a regional CIA chief wants to turn in a traitor … because he doesn’t realise that the traitor isn’t actually a traitor at all … It costs him his head, but he falls softly and continues to get involved in the future. And in future, too, he remembers Ludwig Licht when there’s something too dirty to sort out.

What would our world of espionage thrillers be like if there were no CIA? The crude machinations of this organisation alone, where the right often doesn’t know what the left is up to, where there are ingenious operations that fail because of small mistakes and where everyone uses their power unscrupulously, provide enough action in every novel in which the infamous three letters appear. (I am of course only referring to the beautiful world of literature here: the CIA is the good guy who does bad things and fails on his own until a saviour finally emerges from the pile and …)

We are not dealing with cosy spy stories here. The world has changed since the Cold War, and even more so since 9/11. Globalisation and digitalisation are new players in the game, demanding attention and inviting abuse. These new toys quickly take on a life of their own and control slips away. Realistically, everything always seems to be one size too big – for the CIA and its partners, for the police and criminals and even more so for Ludwig Licht, who will be lucky if he escapes with his skin relatively intact.

Ludwig is now in his mid to late fifties and is getting old; he survived the Cold War as a double agent, was married and now has a grown-up son, who seems to lead a kind of carefree life in the country with his family and otherwise doesn’t have or want to have much to do with his father. Ludwig is mainly preoccupied with himself.

Even though the CIA is very powerful, this organisation must act with caution. Its actions are scrutinised. Many things that should actually remain under lock and key are now being made public. However, as the CIA and various bosses within the organisation repeatedly see the need to intervene, they need freelancers like Ludwig Licht who don’t ask many questions and simply act. Thanks to his past and his experience, Ludwig is a valuable asset who does not act rashly, but who has no official relationship with the CIA.

Accordingly, Ludwig Licht’s adventures take him from the former focal point of the Cold War (aka Berlin) to the USA, directly into the centre of power (aka Washington) and into a swamp of terrorists, spies and retro freedom fighters (aka Florida) … and finally he ends up in the desolate Eastern Bloc, in one of the former satellites of the USSR. There is fighting and murder everywhere, not only for political goals, but also for power, money and business.

Here we have a series of spy novels that have easily transferred the image of the Cold War spy into the 21st century. Does Ludwig Licht have a licence to kill? No, of course not, nor does he need to, because he is only defending himself – sometimes prophylactically. If a potential hit squad gets too close to him, he shoots first as a precaution, but is clever enough to repair any damage or have it repaired quickly.

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a faint cold fear thrills through my veins ... william shakespeare