Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Berlin Game by Len Deighton

published 1983






Werner loitered on the corner for a moment, turning to watch a dozen or more youngsters as they passed him and continued towards Hallesches Tor. They were attired in a weird combination of clothes: tight leotards, high boots and Afghan coats on the girls; studded leather sleeveless jackets and Afrika Korps caps on the men. Some of them had their hair dyed in streaks of primary colours. Werner was no more surprised by this sample of Berlin youth than I was. Berlin residents are exempt from military service, and there is a tendency among the young to celebrate it. 



But Werner continued to watch them, and waited, still staring, until a yellow double-decker bus stopped and took aboard everyone waiting at the bus stop. Only then did he feel safe. He turned abruptly and crossed the street at the traffic lights. I followed as if to catch the green.



observations: Having really enjoyed The Ipcress File recently – here and here with two contrasting but both rather splendid photos – I decided to move into unknown Deighton territory, and what a good decision that turned out to be. Berlin Game is a terrific book, full of tension and mysteries and moments where you have to suddenly change your mind about what you read 10 pages ago. It is immensely clever, but also very human and very very funny. And the best bit is that there another EIGHT books to go in this triple trilogy about Bernard Samson. I am moving on to them fast.

I love the way Deighton puts in the details of normal family life in the middle of the spying. For a scene where Samson is getting vital info from his wife (another spy) and her sister, there is a background of the Portuguese housekeeper making supper – she uses the shrimps which were meant for tomorrow’s lunch, and then ‘there was a cloud of smoke and a loud crash which we all pretended not to hear.’ And, just like the hero of The Ipcress File, (I do go on and on at this because of my Guardian piece on food in books) Samson says ‘I was never much good at cooking.’

You find out about forfaiting and avalizing (important banking and import/export business), and there is this delightful aphorism by a passing character: ‘Research and investigation are no damn use if they don’t support those prejudiced judgements we’ve already worked so hard on.’

All in all, a delight, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

The top picture was taken at Alexanderplatz in Berlin in 1990, the three young women from 1988 were in Heidelberg (not Berlin). Both pictures are from the Bundesarchiv. The last picture is a punk club in Berlin in 1985, and used from Wikimedia Commons with the permission of the photographer, Corujao.

14 comments:

  1. Moira - Deighton is very good, and I think you're right that a big part of the appeal is the way the 'spy game' is played out within the context of normal (whatever that is) life. And yes, it does take a deft hand like Deighton's to make you second-guess yourself throughout the novel and still enjoy it richly.

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    1. I don't know why I missed out on Deighton for so long, but I'm really glad to have found him now, and hoping the rest of them will be as good.

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  2. One of my favourite spy trilogies, Moira. Glad you like it too and some lovely photos.

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    1. Thanks Sarah, I'm really pleased to have the rest to look forward to. I've just been in Berlin, so this is all good timing.

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  3. Happy Tuesday then! Albeit belated wishes. Another kick in the backside to remind me to get reading some Deighton. Are you committing yourself to the whole series?

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    1. Cautiously! I think I will definitely do the first trilogy - I am already well into Mexico Set - then maybe have a break. I picked up a cheap hardback omnibus of the 1st 3, although I read Berlin Game as a Kindle bargain. But I'm fairly shocked to see that the h/b is FULL of spoilers for the first book, I'm really glad I'd already read it. I haven't looked too closely (for fear of more spoilers) but the jacket copy and an introduction by Deighton seem to be giving away secrets. Shocking.

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    2. Just remembered that you told Margot that you didn't read/remember, or else just weren't that bothered about blurbs, so I'm telling the wrong person! But just in case you have one of these omnibuses tucked away in the Col Great Pyramid of Books, do watch out.

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    3. I think most of my Deighton stash are the white covered paperbacks that obviously have a dated feel to them now - they seem quite retro and all the more appealing because of it. Thanks for the warning though.

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    4. I've read a couple of his on Kindle now, and they have both had short pieces by the designer of those covers, explaining how he came up with the ideas. Of course the Kindle is the worst place to put this, as you can't see the cover as you read it.... but I'm sure of interest to some people.

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  4. I am so glad you liked this. I have read the first six, and fully intend to finish the series this year. Of course, I said that last year too. I did find the books in this series hard to review, because once past the first book, it is hard not to spoil it in future reviews ... so I pretty much just made general comments. I did not like all the books equally, but I love Bernard Samson. In one of my posts, I noted that Len Deighton said (in an introduction to one of the books) that you could start at any point in the series and read each as a standalone. That would not fit my style of reading but... he is the author.

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    1. That's interesting, because I would really want to read them in order - I'm half way through the second one. As you can see in my comments to Col above, I am quite concerned not to spoiler any future ones...

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    2. I absolutely agree. I am very glad I went into the first book knowing nothing. (And the next five too.) Just a wonderful book. If I had list of favorite mysteries or authors, Len Deighton would be on it.

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  5. Photos are great. This book sounds good.

    THANKS for sharing. Great post.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved May Edition. I am in the list as #46 and 47.

    My book entries are below. There are three giveaways on my blog as well - two until May 8 and one until May 18.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews

    My Book Entry

    My Book Entry

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth - Carole's blog meme is an excellent way to find new blogs and books, and I always enjoy reading your entries on it.

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