As the story builds towards the denouement, the book becomes more gripping than a thriller, because it is about real lives that were transformed or destroyed by the events described. The story arc, through betrayal and disaster to triumph, is perfect ... it is a cracking tale that deserves retelling and helps to sharpen our collective memory of the half-century of tyranny that our near neighbours endured.
Helena Merriman’s book is a tour de force ... The book focuses on the tunnel, and the story is enhanced by the other strands that Merriman weaves in. Her chapters on the East German State Police, the Stasi, are breathtaking ... The chapters on the day of the escape are possibly the most suspenseful I have ever read, in fiction as well as nonfiction.
Merriman’s story is absolutely compelling, written in the style of a novelist, but based totally on the author’s interviews with the men and women who participated in the most successful escape of the Cold War. She had access to documents that had been released from the secret police files after the 'workers’ and peasants' state' fell in 1990 ... Merriman tells the story as a fine reporter. She makes you identify with the participants ... Tunnel 29 is a riveting story about what happens when people lose their freedom. A true hero risked everything to win it back for those he did not know.
Germans have a saying that you can find the best stories lying around on the streets. Helena Merriman’s lively new book, Tunnel 29, proves that sometimes the best yarns lie beneath ... Merriman’s brisk, present-tense approach rattles along and will keep readers hooked. The flip side is a narrow focus and lack of differentiation that, occasionally, turns the human tragedy of German division into podcast pantomime ... At 279 well-spaced pages, with short chapters, Tunnel 29 is a quick, arresting read that brings to life recent history and will appeal to young readers, perhaps because it often reads like a story treatment for a Netflix series.
Merriman hitches her story to a band of protagonists – digger Joachim Rudolph, wannabe escapees Renate and Wolfdieter Sternheimer, spy Siegfried Uhse – and expertly ups the tempo of perspective changes until the narrative tension is as taut as in a thriller. Because the publication of Tunnel 29 coincides with the 60th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall, Merriman has front-loaded her book with some broader historical context, and this is where the adaptation from audio to text works least smoothly.The present tense serves the author well to describe the thud-thwack of the tunnellers, but when it comes to the tick-tock of geopolitics it can have a dulling effect ... Merriman has burrowed her way deep into interviews, news reports and Stasi files to fashion an impressive real life page-turner, but as a book on the enduring legacy of the Berlin Wall, it doesn’t quite manage to break through to the other side.
Merriman writes broadcast news prose and constantly (and distractingly) pivots into the present tense, deploys single-sentence paragraphs to end chapters (one can almost hear the music swell) and, despite the wealth of information she had from Stasi files, offers novelistic details she couldn’t possibly have known ... The watch-me-write quality takes getting used to. But once you do, it hardly matters — you start to care about these people, to feel the taut urgency of their work and despair at the cruelty of a system that was as deranged as it was effective.
[A] fascinating account of a daring escape from a repressive regime as well as a vivid portrait of life in Berlin in the early days of the wall—and of the international impact of events in that city. Merriman effectively maintains the pace and suspense, giving readers a novelistic narrative with a solid foundation of fact. An entertaining real-life Cold War thriller following a group of students who escaped under 'the Wall of all walls.'
... intriguing yet uneven ... Unfortunately, the overwrought narrative style distracts [...] and the brief chapters, which shift viewpoints abruptly, sacrifice depth and clarity for the sake of action. This Cold War history doesn’t quite live up to its potential.