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At the tender age of 16, Pagan Jones was a rising Hollywood starlet. But her mother’s suicide sent Pagan spiraling into a life of uncontrolled drinking—ending in tragedy when Pagan kills what is left of her family in a drunken car accident. Nine months later Pagan is fighting to survive in a juvenile detention facility when a handsome and mysterious stranger named Devin Black arrives to whisk Pagan off to Berlin to shoot a new movie. This is a fantastic second chance for Pagan, but it comes with a few conditions—Devin is her new legal guardian, and she cannot touch a drop of liquor or she’s through. The divided city of Berlin in the early 1960’s isn’t exactly the safest place to be with a cold war heating up, and Pagan’s mysterious guardian seems to have a hidden agenda. But Pagan has an agenda of her own—to find out more about her German-born mother, and the secrets her family appears to have been hiding.
Pagan is an amazingly resilient character, not only in her struggle to stay sober, but also in her return to the public eye under the scrutiny of a world very aware of her shameful past. Fortunately Pagan is an excellent actress, and she exercises those skills to show the world a calm and collected front despite her inner turmoil. The time Pagan spent in juvie has also made her scrappy—her roommate, best friend and former gang member Mercedes taught her a lot about how to survive, so now Pagan has a few dirty tricks up her sleeve. Which is good, because in the dangerous cold war-era city of Berlin, surrounded by secrets and spies, she certainly needs them.
One of the many things I appreciated about THE NOTORIOUS PAGAN JONES was how honestly Berry writes about Pagan’s struggle with alcoholism. It was very realistic—every time Pagan encounters stress she thinks about how much she wants a drink, just as an addict would. Berry also unflinchingly depicts Pagan’s crime instead of making excuses for her or whitewashing her culpability—very refreshing. Berry simply depicts how Pagan has to live with the guilt of what she did—because what she did was terrible.
The plot was exciting and kept the story going at a good clip–spies and secrets abound. Berry also nailed the atmosphere—tanks and East German soldiers standing guard, the ruins of a city and the tension between East and West come to life as Pagan navigates not only the city, but also the harsh realities of the cold war.
As much as I loved Pagan’s character, I have to admit I’m also looking forward to learning more about the enigmatic Devin Black—the few tidbits revealed about his past promise some dark and interesting stories. Luckily, the story arc of Pagan’s mysterious German mother is not resolved, setting us up for a sequel, which I am anxiously awaiting—I can’t wait to see what Pagan will get into next, and what new secrets will be revealed.