An extract from ‘Stalin’s Nose’ (opening of chapter one)

Winston the pig fell into Zita’s life when he dropped onto my uncle’s head and killed him dead. The news reached me in Rostock, drab, damp and winter grey, where my trip had begun. I had planned to travel from the Baltic to the Black Sea, across the continent’s waist, along the line of the old Iron Curtain, but a telephone call changed everything.

“It’s your uncle,” she shouted. The line was bad. I couldn’t hear. “He’s finally kicked buckets.”

I caught the train to Berlin and changed for Potsdam. The lost corner of the west had regained its central position and Europe had reclaimed its east. The Wall, which had been open for only a few weeks, was breached in places, like a sandbank by the current, and rivers of people streamed across the false divide. They gathered in pools on no man’s land, lapped against the barrier and wore it away with hammers then pocketed the detritus as mementos. The late great division of the world, between a capitalist west and a communist east, passed away as an historical aberration.

The familiar house of white stucco and yellow shutters was hidden from the street by a thicket of hedges. Zita opened the door and Winston ran out. The murderer was grinning.

“Bloody hell, stop the beast,” she ordered over her gums. “He’s got my dentures.”