Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Charity: Len Deighton

This month I read Charity, the last book in the nine book series about Bernard Samson.  This was my overview of the series (so far) when I reviewed Spy Hook, the fourth book in the series:
[It is] the story of Bernard Samson, an intelligence officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Like most spy fiction I have read, there is a large cast of characters, some continuing from the earlier novels, some new. Samson has personal relationships with old friends from Berlin and business relationships with other intelligence officers, and has to balance his loyalties and determine who he can trust. Family relationships are a big theme, probably one of the reasons I like the series.
The backdrop of the series is the divided city of Berlin in the 1980s. Much of the story takes place in London, and for the majority of the books, London is Bernard's base. But Berlin and Germany are always part of the story. One of the overarching storylines in the series is the conflict between Bernard's love and affection for his wife, Fiona, and his sometimes lover, Gloria. Bernard and Fiona have two children, and the family dynamics are very important to the plot. The series of nine books is as much about Bernard's journey in that area as it is a spy story. The ambiguities and lies that are so much a part of espionage affect (and infect) Bernard's home life and love life.

From the back of my paperback edition:
A wonderful depiction both of covert operations and office politics, Charity is packed with action, incident and intrigue, bringing to a triumphant conclusion a series of ten novels that represents one of the great acheivements of modern English fiction.
I agree wholeheartedly with this description. This book did not give me the ending I wanted, but I can see that the ending is the right one, the one that fits with the characters and the story. So overall I was happy with it, and it was a great end to a great series.

The paragraph from the back cover mentions ten novels. The "extra" novel is Winter, a work of historical fiction, set in Germany from 1899 - 1949. That book is not espionage fiction but covers the history of a German family that lives through World War I and World War II. It is considered a part of the Bernard Samson series, because it provides background on Bernard's father and other members of the intelligence community that Bernard has worked with for years. My review of Winter is here.

This is a list of the books in the series, with a link to my reviews.

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 am closing with the Author's Note from my hardback edition of Charity:
The first three books of the Bernard Samson story, Game, Set, and Match, are set in the Cold War period from spring 1983 to spring 1984.
     Winter: A Berlin Family 1899-1845 was the next in order of writing. The same places and the same people are to be found in it.
     Hook and Line take up the story from the beginning of 1987 and through the summer of that same year. Sinker uses a third-person narrative focusing on Fiona Samson. It tells the story from her point of view and reveals things that Bernard Samson still does not know.
     Faith, Hope, and Charity continue the story. Faith starts in California as Bernard's terrible summer of 1987 turns cold. Hope follows it into the last week of 1987. Charity begins in the early days of 1988.
     Like all the other books, Charity is written to stand alone, and can be read without reference to the other stories.
     I thank my readers for their kindness, their generous encouragement, and their patience. Writing ten books about the same group of people has proven a demanding labor but certainly a labor of love.
—Len Deighton
Portugal, 1996
Deighton indicates that the books were written to stand alone. I don't disagree that this could work, for a certain type of reader. However, I recommend reading the series in order. Each book takes up where the last one left off and the enjoyment would be less without the background of the previous books. At the very least, read Berlin Game first; Game, Set, and Match are best read together.

I read all nine books, plus Winter, between January 2012 and August 2015. Based on the ratings I gave the books at Goodreads, I did not like all the books equally well, but overall I would give this series five stars. I am sorry it is over, but now I can reread the whole series.


Publisher:  HarperCollins, 1996.
Length:      279 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Bernard Samson
Setting:      1988, London, Berlin
Genre:       Spy fiction
Source:      I purchased my copies.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, it's impressive that you read all nine books in the Bernard Samson series and even reviewed them. Some of these books are really fat.

col2910 said...

Ok definitely going to start either this or his Harry Palmer series in 2016! Skimmed this piece as I don't want to know too much about things before I immerse myself into it

Anonymous said...

Very glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. Deighton is such a very talented writer, and his Sansom series one of his best-known.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I loved them all and I wish they went on forever, so I did not mind the length. Winter is the only one I remember being really long. I thought I would have read them in less time but finally I have done it.

TracyK said...

Col, I am trying to decide which series you would like better, but it is hard to tell. The Harry Palmer series (which name is not used in the series, only in the movies) doesn't have much connection between books, or at least I did not notice much in the two books I have read. Those could probably be read out of order. I am going to read Funeral in Berlin before the end of the year.

Definitely, if you read the Bernard Samson series, I read as little as possible about it beforehand.

TracyK said...

Margot, now that I have finished this series, I can move on to some other Deighton books. I have a lot of them unread.

Ed said...

I have not read any of these books, but I do remember watching the TV series based on the first three books. I enjoyed that, but these books do look intimidatingly long.

TracyK said...

I would love to see the TV series. I read somewhere that Deighton did not like the adaptation.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Well done on the completing the series TracyK - like you, I found myself at the end wishing it had concluded differently, but understanding clearly why it did not. When I go back to these I know I'll want to refer to yuor reviews again - thanks chum.

TracyK said...

Sergio, these were such a joy to read, but I am going to miss reading about Bernard Samson... until I decide to go back to them too.

Clothes In Books said...

I waited till I'd finished to read this - my entry on it went up today! Agree exactly with you: I loved the series (even if not all books equally) and would happily have read more books. And will one day read them again.... we should do it together!

TracyK said...

Moira, it is such a lovely series. (I have been to look at your post.) We should definitely read them again together. You let me know if you are ready to do that before I am.

Anonymous said...

I've read all 10 books in this series (including Winter) over the past month. Love them all. Len has created real people in a real world and I am sad to lose them at the end of Charity, but I'm sure they're all living happy and well in my absence. Len is a great writer and this is one of the best series that I have ever read. Highly recommended. Mark H (Sydney)

TracyK said...

Mark, I could not agree more. It is about time for me to start rereading that series.