The Berlin Assignment is set in Berlin in the period 1992-93, shortly after the opening of the Wall brought arresting economic, social and physical changes to the city. It's a story of discovery, romance and intrigue.
Anthony Hanbury, in the middle of a Canadian Foreign Service career characterised by mixed successes, is assigned as consul to Berlin. Having lived in Berlin in the sixties as a student, he asks for this assignment twenty-five years later because he wishes to renew contact, both with a city going massive renewal and people he once knew.
Hanbury's career has been random, a drifting around the world from one place to the next. He now wants more permanence in life, an anchorage, and hopes to discover that in Berlin. Can relationships he had there in his youth be levered into his middle age? Just as Berlin, with the Wall down, has embarked on a new beginning, Hanbury arrives looking for a new start. The people he is planning to look up are a former lover, Sabine (now married to Werner Schwartz, a history professor), her father, Albert Müller and an East Berlin political activist, Günther Rauch, whom he met twice in the sixties when he used to cross the border.
An obstacle for him is that as a student he left Berlin in a hurry, cowardly running away from Sabine. Overwhelmed by a youth's fear that their relationship might tie him down, he packed a bag one day and disappeared. Twenty-five years later, he comes back seeking reconciliation.
On the surface, Hanbury begins his new assignment routinely. Professionally he cuts a broad swath through Berlin society. Privately he pursues the renewal of acquaintances he had in Berlin as a student. He gets on well with Berlin's chief of protocol, Gerhard von Helmholtz, and at a small dinner party in the latter's residence meets Gundula Jahn, a journalist, an "Ossie" with flair who writes on East German post-unification social conditions. Hanbury tells her about his former East Berlin acquaintance, Günther Rauch. She agrees to help Hanbury find him and eventually takes him to an East Berlin pub where the two old friends are reunited. Günther Rauch, Hanbury learns, was instrumental during the East German revolution in '89 in preventing the Stasi from destroying their vast secret police and foreign intelligence gathering files at their Berlin complex.
After initial setbacks, Hanbury also becomes reconciled with Sabine. Sabine's professor husband, Werner Schwartz, promotes their emerging adult friendship. For his part, he is intrigued by the consul's international experiences and they meet from time to time to discuss politics. Hanbury and Gundula Jahn see more and more of each other too. She explores his diplomatic world and he goes with her into her parts of Berlin society. They develop a love relationship.
But behind the scenes, as the consul innocently pursues his public and private interests, an entirely different process gathers momentum. Almost from the moment Hanbury arrives, a bizarre chain of events is set into motion. Only in the new Berlin - where the Wall is gone but divisions between East and West continue, where the Cold War in many ways is not really over and where the entrails of a totalitarian regime in the form of the Stasi files lie open for scavengers to help themselves - could Hanbury's fate take such a calamitous turn.