Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Len Deighton: Hope (1995)

Edition: HarperCollins, 1995
Review number: 1279

The Bernard Samson story continues, as the waves thrown up by his brother in law George Kosinski's attempts to investigate the death of his wife (Bernard's wife's sister) continue to threaten to reveal all kinds of unwelcome facts about the actions of British Intelligence in the closing months of the Cold War. (Tessa Kosinski had been killed during her sister's escape from East Germany where she had been working undercover - a British agent who was a senior official in the Stasi secret police.) Now George has himself disappeared, apparently either escaping from or kidnapped by Stasi agents. Bernard undertakes a mission to George's family home, a big house in a remote part of Poland, protected from appropriation by the Communists by a series of compromises made with the regime over the years.

While it is clear when thinking about it dispassionately that the whole of the Bernard Samson series is to say the least unlikely, this is the first of the novels where the improbabilities mount up to the point where the reader takes notice before reaching the end. There is a feeling that Deighton has by this point rather run out of steam, that the third re-interpretation of the story behind Fiona Samson's apparent defection has just too little material to work on. The third trilogy was written rather longer after the events it describes than the earlier novels - Hope is set in 1987, but not published until 1995 - and so lacks the immediacy that they had. (This is apparent even reading them years later - Deighton obviously got fired up about describing the Cold War as it happened.) This also means of course that most readers will know what happens next: the rapid collapse of the Soviet bloc at the end of the eighties hangs over this third trilogy (I suspect it was written because Deighton felt that the reactions of a veteran intelligence officer familiar with Berlin to the demolition of the Wall would make interesting reading). Hope is the poorest novel in the whole sequence and what I have said about several of the others applies with more force here: start at the beginning with Berlin Game and you will want to read the whole Bernard Samson story; do not start in the middle or near the end.

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