Monday, 29 September 2014

Spy Hook by Len Deighton

Published 1988

Action takes place in 1987


When after thirty minutes or more Frank returned he was dressed in what for him were informal clothes: an old grey herringbone tweed jacket and flannels, but the starched shirt and striped tie wouldn’t have disgraced any Mess. Just as I was able to make new clothes look shabby, so Frank was able to invest even his oldest garments with a spruce look. His cuffs emerged just the right amount and there was a moiŕe kerchief in his top pocket and hand-sewn Oxfords that were polished to perfection. He went across to the drinks trolley and poured himself a large Plymouth gin with a dash of bitters.

‘What have you got there?’ he asked.

‘I’m all right, Frank,’ I said.

‘Wouldn’t you rather have a real drink?’

‘I’m trying to cut back on the hard stuff, Frank.’

‘That bottle must have been on that trolley for years. Is it still all right?’ He picked up the bottle I’d poured my drink from, and studied the label with interest, and then he looked at me. ‘Vermouth? That’s not like you, Bernard.’

‘Delicious,’ I said.



observations: Having read (& blogged on - click on links) the first trilogy of Bernard Samson books - Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match – I have embarked on the second, and they are just as compelling.

Bernard is still distrusting and disapproving of most others in his mysterious department of spies, and still worrying about his personal life, his children, his departed wife and his new young girlfriend. By now it is like listening to a very entertaining old friend chatting about his bosses and the rest of his officemates, with the occasional attack, gun story or general physical violence thrown in. The book is very much rooted in its time, and not just because the Eastern bloc has been dismantled since then. The food, restaurants and décor are all depressingly 1980s, and Samson doesn’t know that if he looks something up on the Department’s computers then there will be a record of this, he can be traced.

And there are those odd funny comments that you think probably are true:
Posh Harry’s mastery of the German language – grammar, pronunciation and idiom – belied the rather casual, relaxed demeanour he liked to display. Adult foreigners who will devote enough time and energy to acquire German like this have to be dedicated, demented or Dutch.
A previous entry looked at the tailor scene in London Match – Deighton excels in these scenes where two things are going on at once, and the dialogue and actions are evenly split, the reader (and sometimes the participants) having to decide what is being discussed in any single sentence. In this one there is an incongruous scene where Samson and Werner are discussing the boiler at Lisl’s hotel along with more weighty items.

Samson’s cleaning lady is called Mrs Palmer – which is the surname given to the film version of the character from the Ipcress File and other Deighton books (though Deighton never names him). He also drinks some Chateau Palmer wine.

It is very hard to imagine that anyone could finish this book and not want to start on the next one, Spy Line, immediately.

The photograph is from Perry Photography.

18 comments:

  1. Ok - 2015 will be the year of the Deighton over at mine. Will you be trying out his Harry Palmer series when done with these?

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    1. I have read the Ipcress File, and may well go for more once I've finished with the Samson books. Look forward to your take on them...

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  2. I absolutely love this series. I'm so jealous that you're reading them. Enjoy!

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    1. I can't believe that I didn't get to them till now - and I'm also glad that I can read them one after another. It must have been hard on people who had to wait a year or more for the next instalment.

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  3. Really glad you liked this one too Moira - and certainly Deighton caps this trilogy with a very bold move in SPY SINKER which gives a whole new slant on the preceding books int eh series.

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    1. Excitements to come for me Sergio. I just love the idea of there being 9 books in total, that is truly satisfying... so many authors simply don't write enough....

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    2. Great way for Deighton to cap his writing career, I agree - actually, you could argue that the prequel novel, WINTER, makes it a cycle of 10 books - even more impressive!

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    3. Yes indeed - though one friend, a big fan of the other books, didn't have a good report of the prequel...

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  4. Moira - I just love Deighton's sly wit! And yes, his characters do feel like real people. I think that's hard to achieve in a thriller. Oh, and Deighton has a solid sense of clothes, too. :-)

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    1. Yes, it's proper action-filled spy thriller stuff, but at the same time he is very good on the details of everyday life: I think that's what makes him such a good read.

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  5. Moira, I pride myself on being an old Deighton hand and yet I didn't know about this particular novel or trilogy. I intend to start all over again with writers of popular fiction of the seventies and eighties, Deighton being prominent among a dozen such authors.

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    1. As I think you can tell, Prashant, I am very much enjoying these books, so I do highly recommend them. I'll probably move onto others of his when I've read these, so I'll have to find out from you which are your favourites.

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  6. I haven't read these books, but I'll look for the movie of The Ipcress File. I'll try one sooner or later.

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    1. They are great fun, Kathy, he has a very witty readable style, but a good sense of plot and twists and action too.

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  7. I love this series too, as you already know. 2015 will be my year for finishing the trilogy, as I now have books 8 and 9. I would like to do it sooner, but don't think I will. I will be sad to be done, but then sometime I can start all over again.

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    1. We might be reading them at the same time! I can imagine I will want to start over once I've finished them.

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  8. That's so true about German, and hopefully explains my lack of anything resembling mastery... I think I should re-read these trilogies as I loved them the first time and it's been ages since I've read any more recent spy stuff that could match him.

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    1. He's full of those little ironic comments, some of which are obviously for effect, but some of them make you go hmmm. I am so loving these books - I'm kind of blaming people for not having forced me to read them before. (How unreasonable is that?)

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