The story grows in scope when Mr. Ward—with extensive command of relevant historical material thanks to diligent research and a lengthy stint writing for American Heritage Magazine—links the book’s central character to the US-USSR’s greatest game of cloak and dagger: the Soviet capture of Francis Gary Powers, the former United States Air Force Captain turned CIA spy whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over USSR airspace in 1960.
What makes the author’s story-telling all the more impressive are conversations with former Brooklyn Heights residents Jim Bozart, David Levine, Burt Silverman, and writer/illustrator Jules Feiffer. These interviews create intimacy and authenticity that contrast distinctly with fictional escapades created by le Carré, Martin Cruz Smith and other writers of spy thrillers who often mask factual events with a fictional veneer to advance their tale’s narrative. In one chapter The Amatuer references the Glienicke Bridge, an actual location on the cold war fault line of East-West Berlin. Known as the “Bridge of Spies” because of role as the site of numerous exchanges of enemy combatants, Glienicke is prominently featured in Le Carré’s novel Smiley’s People.
There’s no need for Mr. Ward to resort to fabrication: his characters and story are more than compelling without embellishment. In a touch that Hollywood would celebrate, nearby Boerum Hill now boasts the Hollow Nickel bar, which provides a poignant backdrop for Bozart, now 73, whose 1953 discovery of a nickel filled with secrets led to Vilyam Fisher’s arrest four years later.
The author of DARK HARBOR: The War for the New York Waterfront (FSG/Picador), which tells the true story that inspired On the Waterfront, Mr. Ward has written for the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, NY Times, the aforementioned American Heritage magazine and other publications. He currently is working on a book about Dashiell Hammett’s experience as a Pinkerton detective.
THE AMATEUR: Artists & Spies in Cold War Brooklyn is available in iBook format through the Apple iTunes store.