Friday, 24 September 2004

Len Deighton: Spy Hook (1988)

Edition: Grafton, 1989
Review number: 1266

Three years after the events of London Match, and Bernard Samson returns, to begin narrating the second trilogy of novels about himself and his wife. With Fiona firmly established in the KGB hierarchy in Berlin after her defection, and his gradual return to being trusted in his own work for British Intelligence, and with his continuing affair with a much younger woman, everything seemed more or less settled at the end of that novel; but now something happens which beings to unravel all the loose ends that the reader thought had been tied up.

The novel begins this process in the first chapter, which takes place in Washington DC. One of the interesting things about the Game, Set and Match trilogy is the remarkably small part played by the American intelligence agencies, especialy considering the post-war relationship between the US and British governments. The few American characters are either connected to British intelligence in some way or (appear to be) freelance information gatherers. Now, though, the US begins to be involved (though the office of the opening chapter belongs to an Englishman, a former colleague of Bernard's who is a financial expert). Nevertheless, the real focus is still Berlin; everything in this series of novels revolves around the city that was the symbol of the Cold War.

Spy Hook is very much a character based thriller - as Deighton's novels often tend to be. There is no action "for the sake of it" in his novels, and this is more cerebral than most of them. Bernard still has an overwhelming desire to understand why his wife not only defected but abandoned him and the children. The question that the reader has to ask - if they have followed the series of novels so far - is whether the discrepancies he sees are really there, or alternatively that he's clutching at these tiny loose ends hoping that the whole tangle will fall apart. And, of course, this is only the first novel in a new trilogy, so we're not likely to find out anything other than how far Bernard is able to put other people's backs up.

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