Monday, 18 May 2015

Cold War: Spy Sinker by Len Deighton



published 1990



Spy Sinker 1


It was Sunday morning. They were in West Berlin: Leuschner’s, a popular barn-like café, with gilt-framed mirrors on the whole of one wall and a long counter behind which one of the Leuschner brothers served. Coming from the jukebox there was a Beatles tune played by the Band of the Irish Guards. The jukebox used to have hard rock records but one of the Leuschners had decided to refill it with music of his own taste. Werner looked round at the familiar faces. On such Sunday mornings, this otherwise unfashionable place attracted a noisy crowd of off-duty gamblers, musicians, touts, cabbies, pimps and hookers who gathered at the bar. It was not a group much depleted by church-going. Thurkettle nodded his head to the music. With his bow tie, neatly trimmed beard and suit of distinctly American style, he looked like a tourist. But Thurkettle was here to commit a murder on the orders of London Central. He wondered how much Werner had been told.


 
Spy Sinker 3




Spy Sinker 2


observations: From WW2 and post-War books to the Cold War. This is number six in Deighton’s triple trilogy – see the summary of the books and my trail through them here - and in some ways a disappointment. So far we have seen events from the perspective of Bernard Samson – five books of his view of complex events involving spies, defectors, trust and betrayal, moving between Berlin and London, occasionally venturing farther afield.

This book switches to a third person narrative, and goes back to the beginning, and before: the events of the first five books are retold, and fleshed out with more detail than Bernard would have known. We find out a lot more about how certain things were planned and arranged.

This is entertaining and helpful, but not as much fun as when Bernard is giving us his deadpan and perhaps unreliable version of events. It’s a useful corrective, and probably very helpful to tidy up our vision of what’s going on, get us all in line for the final trilogy, Faith, Hope and Charity.

And of course Deighton is never less than entertaining. There is one of his trademark scenes where two conversations/events are going on at once – like this at a cricket match:
The D-G was still watching the match. ‘I like it,’ he said without turning round. Bret smiled grimly. It was an uphill struggle, but that was something of an accolade coming from Sir Henry Clevemore, although it could of course have been prompted by some cricketing accomplishment that Bret [who is American] had failed to understand.
-- and plenty of 1980s clothes: ‘He was wearing a suede jacket and tan-coloured silk roll-neck.’

There’s an interesting comment on national differences by an American commenting on the English:
‘I don’t dislike them; I said I don’t trust them. London is a real nice place to live. But I don’t like their self-righteous attitude and their total disregard for other people’s feelings and for other people’s property. Do you know something, Bret, there is not an Englishman living who hasn’t at some time or other boasted of stealing something: at school or in the army, at their college or on a drunken spree. All of them, at some time or other, steal things and then tell about it, as if it was the biggest joke you ever heard.’
In yesterday’s entry I was quite rude about a woman using national stereotypes about the British: here I just find if funny, does that show I am in favour of dishonesty? (No!)

I was glad I read Sinker: it was helpful, and satisfyingly cleared up what was going on in the earlier books. But it didn’t really take the story any further, and my main feeling was that I was pleased I wasn’t reading these books as they were published in the series – imagine waiting a year for the next book of Samson adventures and finding it was this one. And then you’d have had to wait another four years for Faith to arrive.

You can find entries on the other books in the series by clicking on the 'Len Deighton' label below. 

The top picture is from the Federal German archives, and shows a café in Berlin in 1972. The lower one was taken by Willy Pragher and is on Wikimedia Commons: it was taken in the Kurfurstendamm in 1960. The third one was taken in the Wall Park in Berlin last year, by Audrey Stafford.










10 comments:

  1. Maybe 2016 will be the year of the Deighton. At least I should be best part done with my logging and should know where each in the series lurks. I have an unrealistic dream where I read through a 9 or 10 books series one after the other!

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    1. I know what you mean. With this one I was able to do it more or less in two sessions, with a big gap in between, but I loved getting to the end of a book and thinking 'Shall I just go on?' and then doing so.

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  2. Interesting that Deighton should have chosen to back with this one and flesh the series out from another perspective. I can see why you weren't quite as pleased with this one as you have been with others in this series. Still, I do love his eye for detail and his ability to convey that detail.

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    1. Yes, you can't fault his abilities as a writer - I wonder how he would have got on in other genres, I feel he could have sucessfully written anything, including literary novels.

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  3. You are catching up with me on this series, and will probably forge ahead of me. It is hard for me to remember now, even though it was only three years ago, but I think I liked this OK. Did not like the story as well told in third person point of view, but did like getting other perspectives on Bernard, etc.

    I would like to think I will get to Hope soon, but my track record isn't so good.

    I did just see The Ipcress File film very recently for the first time and enjoyed it immensely.

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    1. You'll get there in the end Tracy! And I agree with you, Ipcress File is a very enjoyable film.

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  4. Moira, I'm with Col — Year of Len Deighton is a good idea. Probably later this year and the next. I liked the images you chose for this post.

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    1. Maybe everyone should join in a year of Len Deighton - he wrote a lot of books so it doesn't need to be these Bernard Samson books...

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  5. I liked this one more than you, Moira, though I know what you mean - at the time, it felt initially like a let-down in terms of narrative progression, Plus, Deighton is really quite hard on Samson (I appreciate by the way how little you are giving away here). On relfection, I came to the conclusion that this was in fact a very brave strategy on the author's part, as unpicking your own protagonist in this way could easily have sabotaged the series. Inevitably, in a series of 9 books (ten if you include the prequel, WINTER) there is a tendency to repeat and to a degree undermine some of your material by looking for a way to winkle a new wrinkle (sic), but I thought this demonstrated a remarkable firmness of touch on Deighton's part. I can't think of a book in a series of this kind that does anything similar in as thorough and clear-headed a way.

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    1. You are absolutely right Sergio, that's an excellent reading, and the book does perform a useful service. I think in future I will certainly re-read these books, and I will be delighted to come to this one and get everything straight! As I say, I think I just missed Bernard's inimitable style.

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