Tuesday, 26 October 2004

Len Deighton: Spy Line (1989)

Edition: Grafton, 1990
Review number: 1269

The start of this novel, second in the Hook, Line and Sinker trilogy, marks the lowest point of the career of British spy Bernard Samson, at least during the period documented by Deighton. The first scene is set in a seedy nightclub, from which Bernard goes to the squat where he is living in one of the most sordid areas of Berlin, a derelict housing estate up against the Wall. Here he is hiding from his employers, who have a warrant out for his arrest on suspicion of treason - all part of the events following his wife's defection to the Communists. As it turns out, Bernard is safer on the run than when he returns to the department, to be immediately sent out on a poorly organised and dangerous mission to Austria.

Though this seems to be a typical mid-trilogy novel, just keeping the plot ticking over, it has a huge shock in store. It also contains the beginning of Deighton's response to the changes brought by glasnost. The thawing of the Cold War was obviously a momentous event in the life of anyone who made a living from it, whether the spies who are the characters in Deighton's novels or the writer himself. At the start, he is not too impressed; he has a Berliner tell Bernard a joke in the very first scene of Spy Line - the only difference glasnost has brought to the Wall is that the frontier guards now shoot with silenced guns.

Bernard portrays himself as at the mercy of the machinations of others throughout the entire series (though his self image is clearly not entirely accurate), and this is particularly true in Spy Line. This is presumably because he is not at all happy with his own role at this point in the saga; the time has come when the betrayals are his own and when he has to make a decision that will be hurtful to those close to him whatever he does.

As I have said before in discussing other Bernard Samson books, this is a series to read from the beginning; do not start here, but with Berlin Game.

No comments: