|A Review and Dissection of the 9 Bernard Samson Novels Written By Len Deighton
This is a wonderful series of books which I''ve read several times, I just recently re-read the whole series again with a critical eye . . .
Spoiler Alert: I suspect regular readers may skip this and also it contains information about the plot of all the books.
I thought a critique worthwhile as it's such a wonderful series of books and also to look at a few issues which have cropped up on previous articles which may be worth your time.
Berlin Game ~ Mexico Set ~ London MatchThe first trilogy in the Bernie Samson series and in my opinion the best 3 books. The series characters are superbly crafted and an absolute delight. The action is subdued and sensible, you really do get the impression that it's pretty accurate. One particular joy for me is, I know it sounds strange, the office politics not only do they offer a human side to the books but once again give you a sense of reality and the realisation that hugely important national decisions are often taken with nothing more than one's career in mind.
Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match are also, technically speaking, the best written, the plotting is solid and the books knit together nicely. All the series characters retain their traits, there are some wonderful one line quips, in short 3 books in the Spy Fiction genre which are as good as any written in their own way.
Spy Hook ~ Spy Line ~ Spy SinkerThe second Bernard Samson trilogy and here's were things start to come unstuck a little. I should point out that this is a critique and I love the books and Len Deighton's other work so it's not really meant as criticism.
When I started reading the books again a question that came up on the two threads above was about Fiona Samson and her defection - was the triple agent reveal something that Deighton decided on after writing the first 3 books. I was inclined to lean towards that as I feel much written in the second trilogy was not part of the author's original plan.
There is one line which gives lie to this theory, after her defection when Fiona meets Bernie at the Werner Volkmann handover and Bernie accuses her of betraying her family she says "You don't understand but one day you will" [Citation: London Match page 388]
I think that's enough to say Deighton planned the triple reveal.
We do have to look at a negative aspect here and that is the mistakes in Hook, Line and Sinker looking at them as a whole the idea of telling the back story as it supposedly happened rather than as we initially know it seen through the eyes and thoughts of Bernie Samson is a fantastic idea and as an idea it really works.
The problem is, I think, many of the twists and turns were never originally intended and were shoe-horned in just to make the story seem more complex in origin.
Proof of this can be found in the elaborate tale of how somebody impersonated Fiona Samson at the airport in the back of the car when she me Bernie after her defection - this was an actress and a very elaborate plot. However on page 282 of London Match when Tessa Kosinsky has a surprise meeting with Fiona in Holland at a relatives birthday ''do'' Tessa tells Bernie that Fiona told her she'd met Bernie at Heathrow so clearly the idea of the double was a new idea and falls apart with this information from the earlier book.
I wonder whether Deighton''s heart was in the second trilogy quite as much as it was in the first. There are quite a few sloppy errors really (including a lot of typesetting ones too) things like when Erich Stinnes (wonderful character) sticks the knife into Brett he's described as smoking yet in the earlier book Deighton frequently remarks on the fact the Stinnes has stopped smoking during his debrief and indeed at the handover Stinnes lights a cigar and says not having a smoke was the hardest part!
Faith ~ Hope CharityFaith, Hope and Charity are the final three books in the Bernie Samson series and I'd say they fair a little better than Hook, Line and Sinker. They're well written and very insightful, the way Deighton deals with all the psychological issues and personal turmoil created by Fiona's defection and then reappearance, Bernie's relationship with Gloria Kent and his continuing, and beautifully scripted, fencing match with Dicky Cruyer is masterfully done and shows once again these books are not run-of-the-mill Spy Thrillers.
I did spot a couple of glitches though. Rudolph Kleindorf, aka Der Grosser Kleiner, dies by heroin overdose, officially an accident but presumably murder, [citation: Spy Line page 175] however he then seems to come back to life and opens a new club in Berlin [citation: Charity page 36]
There's also an issue with Bernie''s fathers Webley pistol which he uses to shoot Erich Stinnes and Fiona's lover at Fiona's exfiltration. The pistol then turns up in a ditch with Thurkettle's body and there are references to it possibly being used in a plot to frame Samson yet we're told earlier that Bernie still has the gun in a suitcase [citation: Hope page 142]
This is a wonderful set of books, if you like Spy Fiction and haven't read them then you're missing a real trick. They're beautifully salted throughout with a wonderful supporting cast, Silas Gaunt, Brett Rensselaer, George Kosinsky, Gloria Kent, Werner Volkmann and Dicky Cruyer I've read them al several times and get more from them every time
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