Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Len Deighton: London Match (1985)

Edition: Grafton, 1986
Review number: 1263

The third novel in the Game, Set and Match trilogy continues the story of how Bernard Samson copes with the aftermath of his wife's defection to the Soviet Union, the event which provided the climax to Berlin Game. KGB officer Erich Stinnes has in his turn defected - the central action of Mexico Set. And now it appears, from what London's intelligence services learn from Stinnes and other agents, that there is another KGB agent in a senior position in the Secret Intelligence Service. This time the novel is not so much concerned with the identity of the traitor, as the first part of the trilogy had been, but with whether the person pinpointed by the allegations is guilty or not. It certainly quickly becomes in the personal interests of many of the characters to support and exaggerate the rumours going round - this is office politics on a large scale.

The importance of the city of Berlin to this trilogy is hard to exaggerate. As a symbol of the Cold War it is unsurpassed, and so this is frequently true of spy fiction of that era. The divided city with its crazy town planning that resulted from being split makes an atmospheric background for these tales of betrayal. Mexico Set and London Match may use the names of other locations from Bernard's story for their titles, but Berlin is more important in the novels than either of them. So it is fitting that the final scene of the whole trilogy takes place in Berlin (though enough loose ends are left that it must have seemed unlikely that this was the last novel featuring Bernard Samson even before the appearance of Spy Hook.

Berlin Game is the best of these three novels, and indeed of all nine stories featuring Samson as the central character. But no one who has read that novel will fail to want to read the others, and they are rewarding too; Deighton is one of the best of thriller writers even when not at the absolute peak of form.

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