Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Funeral in Berlin: Len Deighton


Funeral in Berlin (1964) is the third novel in the Nameless Spy series by Len Deighton. I will confess to being confused about plot points and characters and relationships when reading books in this series. In fact, I was very disappointed in The Ipcress File because I was lost a good deal of the time. In this particular book, there were only a few chapters where Deighton lost me temporarily and later it all began to make sense. This is my favorite so far of that series. (I will be going back to reread The Ipcress File, and probably the rest of the books in the series, once I have finished all the books.)

In this story, the nameless spy is sent to East Berlin to facilitate the defection of an East German scientist. He must work with the Russian security-chief Colonel Stok and Hallam of the British Home Office. An elaborate plan is set up to get the scientist out of East Berlin. This book was published only three years after the Berlin Wall was constructed; in the introduction, Deighton speaks of the time he spent in East Berlin shortly after the wall went up. The setting feels very authentic.

This book in the series had some interesting differences from the first two. There are over 50 chapters and  almost all of them start with a brief tidbit about a move or strategy in chess. For example: "Players who relish violence, aggression and movement often depend upon the Spanish Game." With no knowledge of chess, this meant nothing to me, but it was a nice touch anyway.

This story was not entirely told in first person. From what I remember, the first two books were told only from the nameless spy's point of view and in first person. In this book, there where chapters here and there that were in third person and focused on the story from various character's points of view. I liked that change, although the narration of the nameless spy is one of the best elements of the story.

There are lots of great characters in this story. The aforementioned Stok in East Berlin and Hallam in London are both memorable. Johnny Vulkan is a double agent that has helped the agency before. There is a discussion with the head of the agency regarding using Vulkan on this case:
'The point I'm making is, that the moment Vulkan feels we are putting him on ice he'll shop around for another job. Ross at the War Office or O'Brien at the P.O. will whip him into the Olympia Stadion and that's the last we will see of him...'
Dawlish touched his finger-tips together and looked at me sardonically. 
'You think I am too old for this job, don't you?'
I said nothing.
 'If we decide not to continue with Vulkan's contract there is no question of leaving him available for the highest bidder.' 
I didn't think old Dawlish could make me shiver.
Another element I like in these stories is the addition of footnotes. They are not extensive enough to break the flow of reading but do add bits of information which would not fit in the flow of conversation.

This book was made into a film, as was The Ipcress File. Michael Caine starred in both films. I had seen The Ipcress File film for the first time in May of this year. I enjoyed it; Caine was just wonderful in the role (called Harry Palmer in the films). However, it was only a bit less confusing than the book. I watched the film adaptation of Funeral in Berlin very shortly after finishing the book and I liked this film even better than the first one. Probably because I understood what was going on, plus my increased familiarity with the characters.

Martin Edwards has posted a film review of Funeral in Berlin at his blog Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

I have reviewed Horse Under Water and also all the books in the Bernard Samson series. My review of the last book in the series, Charity, is here.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Reissued 2011 by Sterling (first published 1964)
Length:   270 pages
Format:   trade paperback
Series:    Nameless Spy #3
Setting:   UK, East and West Berlin
Genre:    espionage fiction


20 comments:

  1. BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN is my favourite of this series (and it's my favourite of the film adaptations as well).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is good to hear, D for Doom. I have both the book and the movie and I hope to get to them early in 2016.

      Delete
    2. I personally think FUNERAL IN BERLIN is the best of the books, but they're all really, really good. I agree that IPCRESS is a little hard to follow, and BDB definitely doesn't go in the direction you expect, but still great books.

      Delete
    3. I look forward to reading the next two in the series, Graham, and also some of Deighton's standalone books.

      Delete
  2. I'm still deciding which of the two Deighton series to plump for first when I do eventually get around to reading him!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a hard choice, Col. They are different. The Bernard Samson series is definitely easier to comprehend. Both very good, though.

      Delete
  3. Fine review, Tracy - thanks. One thing I've always liked about Deighton's work is the wit in it. It adds to the story without making it too light for the sort of story it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have made a good point, Margot. The Deighton books I have read (almost all of them spy stories) have a lighter tone but definitely are about serious subjects. WINTER was a little different, being a straight historical fiction novel, no mystery story. And not so light in tone.

      Delete
  4. Tracy, I'm intrigued by the brief tidbits about chess strategies, since I understand and play this beautiful game. I'd like to see the connection Deighton draws between those opening lines and the plot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's right, Prashant, I remember your recent post about chess in the movies. And of course, the name of your blog implies that chess is important to you. You definitely should read this book and I would love to hear what you think of it.

      Delete
  5. I've not read this one actually, only seen the film - it is probably the most linear and easily enjoyable of the Palmer films (there were five in all). I remember really liking HORSE UNDER WATER, which was not filmed, and I know what you mean about deighton's elliptical plotting - certainly keeps me on my toes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It encourages me when I read other reviews where readers have problems following the plots in this series. Especially Ipcress File. I am glad you noted the number of films, Sergio. I had not realized that two other films were made in the 90s with Michael Caine.

      Delete
  6. Nice post.

    Thanks for sharing. It sounds good.

    And...thanks for coming by my blog.

    Elizabeth

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoyed it, Elizabeth. I suppose it partly depends on if you like spy fiction, but I do love the way Deighton tells a story.

      Delete
  7. In the ordinary scheme of things, I'm not a big reader of spy novels - Eric Ambler being the rare exception. I haven't even read any James Bond books. :) But I know that Len Deighton's books are highly thought of. I'm not crazy about spy movies either. Is there any hope for me?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not sure this series is worth the effort if you don't normally like spy novels. Yvette. The Bernard Samson series might be interesting, just because they are as much about relationships and family as espionage.

      Delete
  8. I became addicted to the Harry Palmer series (I'm pretty sure his name emerged in the books at some point, but rather incidentally so it was easy to miss). My introduction was Ipcress file, the movie, which I didn't completely understand, but loved the way it was handled--almost mesmerized by Caine's performance. I even have a cartoon cookbook published by Deighton after the series became popular. It was a collection of the cooking strips he did for a London newspaper before he started writing novels. Harry Palmer, in fact, is quite the cook himself, and this interest helps add an unusual dimension to the stories. My favorite? It's still Ipcress, altho Billion Dollar Brain comes in a close second.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have heard of that cookbook, Mathew, and I would love to have a copy, although I would bet I would not cook anything in it. I won't decide on a favorite until I have read all of them, but up to now each new one I read is the favorite.

      Delete
  9. Like you, I intend to read more Deighton, though I'm not expecting them to live up to the Samson series. This one looks good though.
    One of the papers here does cooking strips from Deighton - you might be able to see this one: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/picture/2015/nov/18/len-deightons-new-cookstrips-no11-sea-urchin-pasta

    I think they are new ones, not based on his 60s recipes and books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did want to read these books, Moira, but partly I was reading them to go along with the movies, which I never saw. And the books and the movies are so confusing to me, I need both. And rereads. Although this one was comparatively straightforward.

      That link is fascinating, Moira. Imagine, 35 years plus here, and I never knew that uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara was a big deal. How cool. Glen will love that tidbit. And of course I love the cooking strip itself. Len Deighton is multi-talented.

      Delete