Berlin Game

Like I said, I was inspired to read more spy novels after seeing Page Eight on PBS. I had Berlin Game in the hard copy backlog stack (from a summer trip to a thrift shop or used bookstore) and grabbed it just before getting on a flight. I’ll tell you, the burden of hauling paper around is worth it during air travel because you don’t have to worry about turning off electronic devices upon takeoff and landing.

This was a great spy novel, but there’s not much I can say that’s not a plot killer. It’s just what I expected after reading le Carre and watching Page Eight. Great British, cold war spy stuff. It’s the first book in the game, set, match trilogy, which is actually the first trilogy of three trilogies. There’s a hook, line, and sinker trilogy and a faith, hope, and charity trilogy. So that’s a massive nine book set that Deighton started in 1983 and finished in 1996, regularly referred to as the Bernard Samson novels.

Samson, the main character of the whole series, is a different type of character. Many spy novels, much like works of crime fiction, have an unmarried, surly, independent main character. Not so for Deighton’s hero. Samson is a fearless British spy, but he has a decided sensitive side; and he’s also married with two kids.

I’m excited about the whole beast, but none of it’s on the Kindle. I need to get to Open Books and The Brown Elephant to keep an eye on more titles in the series. What are my other options for getting these old books? This is quite a quandary. I’m going to have to take some careful plot notes so I don’t get confused when I start Mexico Set (maybe the alternative Amazon resellers is the best way to get this book).

** PLOT KILLERS, BEWARE **

There’s a traitor in British intelligence leaking secrets to the KGB and Samson is uniquely qualified to find out who. Why? Well, it’s the cold war and Berlin is the center for much of the spying, where Samson cut his teeth. He was stationed there for a long time, speaks unaccented German, and is the only one who can identify the top agent in East Berlin by sight.

In the end, it’s Samson’s wife who is the traitor. It was a brilliantly complicated plot, but very manageable. The ending scene where he confronts his wife is riveting. She thinks she has the upper hand and was able to keep their children, but Samson had planned for that. His buddy Werner Volkmann informs him in the last couple of paragraphs that his kids are at Samson’s mother’s house, safely out of danger from his wife (Fiona) or any other Russian.

These characters will figure in the next book:

  • Tessa, Fiona’s sister – is she KGB also?
  • Samson’s superiors in British intelligence – Dicky Cruyer (Samson’s boss) and Bret Rensselaer (department head)
  • The East Berlin agent von Munte, whom Samson helped escape
  • The KGB agent, Lenin/Erich Stinnes, who apprehended Samson while he was helping von Munte escape (I know this because I read the first few chapters of Mexico Set on Amazon)

I’m looking forward to the next book greatly.

Also, I love the intelligent and sober character analysis of Samson. The books are told in first person and Samson says stuff like this:

“Don’t be so bloody bourgeois,” said Tessa, handing me a champagne flute filled right to the brim. That was one of the problems of marrying into wealth; there were no luxuries. (page 57, Ballantine paperback 0-345-31498-0)

… and this, after being told by Lenin/Erich Stinnes that he would not be interrogated by the KGB:

I nodded but I was not beguiled by his behavior. I’d long ago learned that it is only the very devout who toy with heresy. It’s only the Jesuit who complains of the Pope, only the devoted parent who ridicules his child, only the super rich who picks up pennies from the gutter. And in East Berlin it is only the truly faithful who speak treason with such self-assurance. (page 338, Ballantine paperback 0-345-31498-0)

Man I liked this stuff. I could easily become a spy novel junkie.