Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Spy Line and Spy Sinker: Len Deighton

I just recently finished reading Spy Sinker, and in mid-July I read Spy Line. They are the fifth and sixth novels in a nine book series featuring Bernard Samson (or ten if you count Winter). Samson is an intelligence officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service; he was a field operative, now he has a desk job in the  London office.

This is a favorite series of mine, and I am trying to get through all nine books by the end of the year. The first five books are told in first person, with Samson as narrator. The sixth book is in third person narrative, focusing on Samson's wife, who is also an intelligence officer.

In all of my reviews of the books in the series, I have shied away from providing a synopsis or too many plot details. I think it is important to read all the books in order, starting with Berlin Game, and plot details from the later books could spoil the reader's enjoyment of that book. If you like spy fiction and haven't read this series, I urge you to try Berlin Game first.

That being said, a very brief summary and comments on the two books:

Spy Line finds Bernard Samson in hiding in Berlin after the results of an investigation into missing funds that he had started in the previous book (Spy Hook). He is soon found by his employers, and is invited to participate in a debriefing of an undercover agent; this leads to his involvement the investigation of drug smuggling into East Germany. In the end, this book ties up the loose ends of Samson's saga so far, while still leaving us with a lot of unanswered questions.

I enjoyed this one a lot; it had some exciting events and some tragic events.

Spy Sinker differs greatly from the preceding books because it is told in third person and it covers the entire time period of the first five books, plus some of the years leading up to the trilogy. Bernard's wife, Fiona, plays a much larger part and the reader is privy to the opinions and views of other ongoing characters in the series. Some of the motivations that have been puzzling in previous books are made (somewhat) clearer here.

Compared to the earlier books that centered on Bernard, this book was not as enjoyable a read for me. But I liked that it gave us the picture of the events of the years covered by the five books from the other side and clarified a lot of the story. The book does cover a lot of what happened in the previous books, in a condensed version, but from a different viewpoint.

It is one of those books that is essential to the series, even if it isn't the best one. Some reviewers also felt this one lacked the punch of the others. Another reviewer found this the best of the first six in the series.

This is a list of the books in the series, with a link to my review if there is one.

1. Berlin Game (1983)
2. Mexico Set (1984)
3. London Match (1985)
4. Spy Hook (1988)
5. Spy Line (1989)
6. Spy Sinker (1990)
7. Faith (1994)
8. Hope (1995)
9. Charity (1996)

I have noted my preference for reading the series in order. However, in the Author note for a recent mass market paperback edition of Spy Sinker, Len Deighton expresses a different opinion.
Author's Note:
Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match together cover the period from spring 1983 until spring 1984.
Winter covers 1900 until 1945.
Spy Hook picks up the Bernard Samson story at the beginning of 1987 and Spy Line continues it into the summer of that same year.
Spy Sinker starts in September 1977 and ends in summer 1987. Faith picks up the story and continues it. The stories can be read in any order and each one is complete in itself.
This may be true and I won't ever know because I read them in the order written. Spy Sinker could certainly be read as a standalone novel, but then the reader comes into every other book before that knowing a lot about the story. I do find Deighton's writing, especially in the books narrated by Bernard Samson, to be very entertaining and I feel like I am spending time with a friend, although a very difficult one.

In closing, here is a link to the page for Berlin Game on The Deighton Dossier site. This site is a wonderful resource with endless delights for a fan of Len Deighton.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Apologies for being so late to the party TracyK - just saw you hard reviewed this one and wanted to chime in on SINKER because, while it makes for uncomfortable reading (deighton is pretty hard on Samson), it is a fascinating culmination to the first six books - really enjoying your reviews of these.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Sergio. I love this series because I feel like I could turn around and start re-reading from the beginning as soon as I finish the last one. And get new nuances out of them the 2nd time around.