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review 2018-05-27 21:51
Berlin Game
Berlin Game - Len Deighton

‘Ever wonder why the Berlin Wall follows that absurd line?’ said Frank. ‘It was decided at a conference at Lancaster House in London while the war was still being fought. They were dividing the city up the way the Allied armies would share it once they got here. Clerks were sent out hotfoot for a map of Berlin but the only thing Whitehall could provide was a 1928 city directory, so they had to use that.

They drew their lines along the administrative borough boundaries as they were in 1928. It was only for the purposes of that temporary wartime agreement, so it didn’t seem to matter too much where it cut through gas pipes, sewers and S-Bahn or these underground trains either.

That was in 1944. Now we’re still stuck with it.’

Berlin Game was my first Len Deighton book and a glorious start to the Summer of Spies.

It was gritty without being  vulgar, it was smart without being pretentious, and the characters were properly developed individuals, not cliches.


We follow the story Bernard Samson, an intelligence officer who has been on office duties for a while but is forced to return to field work to extract a defector from East Berlin. Meanwhile, there is a KGB mole in Samson's London office - and everyone is a suspect, which is literally everyone for Samson, who is a spy, the son of a spy, the husband of a spy.


There was a lot to love about the simplicity of the story, there was a lot to love about Deighton's treatment of the characters, which Deighton describes in his introduction as - 


Finding somewhere, some redeeming feature of those we don’t much like, is a moral duty and a satisfying task.


And yet, there was something missing for me, too. 


The circle of characters involved seemed a little too confined. It worked to create a sense of claustrophobia, but the underlying sense of aversion to anything foreign displayed by many of the characters somehow both works for and against creating a feel of the international aspect of the espionage story. 


I look forward to seeing how this develops in the sequels to Berlin Game.

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review 2018-05-27 20:50
"They seek him here, they seek him there ..."
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Orczy,Gary Hoppenstand
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Stephen Crossly,Emmuska Orczy

Oh, what a glorious prelude to the 2018 Summer of Spies.


Maybe not a "spy" novel in a narrower sense, but writing in 1902 and leagues ahead of her time, Orczy created the first book of what would become a series of perfect swashbucklers, starring a power couple in which the heroine is every bit her partner's equal and then some.


Indeed, cleverly Orczy even tells this book's story chiefly from Marguerite's point of view, which not only has the benefit of keeping the first-time reader (though ... is there such a creature, in this day and age, when it comes to this particular novel?) unaware of the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity as long as possible, but also gives Marguerite an added reason to hurtle all the way to France in Sir Percy's pursuit once she has cottoned onto (1) his alias, and (2) the fact that Chauvelin has unmasked him as well and is now hunting for him in turn.  After all, the narrative perspective would go to hell in a handbasket if Marguerite were to just stay at home and gnash her teeth, anxiously awaiting her husband's safe return -- whereas this way, Orczy is able to present her as a woman of action ... even if, for the most part, it looks like the much-touted "cleverest woman in Europe" is stumbling blindly after her husband and Chauvelin in their respective tracks and comes darned close to ruining Sir Percy's whole enterprise, not to mention imperiling the life of her beloved brother Armand, to whose assistance Sir Percy had rushed off to begin with (well, that and in order to finish the job of getting the de Tournay family safely across the Channel).


No wonder, in any event, that the reading public soon demanded a sequel -- and Marguerite  and Sir Percy would soon also find their way onto the silver screen.  The rest, as they've never said more truly than here, is history ...



My "Summer of Spies meets Women Writers Project" reading list:

Women of Intelligence



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review 2018-05-27 04:58
I Know What You Did Last Summer - audiobook
I Know What You Did Last Summer - Lois Duncan


I wasn't a fan of this book at all. I didn't expect much to start with, I was just curious because I've seen the movie. Anyway, the voices the narrator did for certain characters were annoying. The characters themselves were flat and shallow and I didn't like any of them or care if (when) they died. There was very little to the plot and it ended too suddenly.



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review 2018-05-26 17:00
Summer of Spies: Book 1
Berlin Game - Len Deighton

Originally published in 1983, I distinctly remember seeing this book - along with the other two in the series - hanging around my parents bookshelves during the mid-1980's. I headed off to college in 1984 and never permanently lived with them again, just spending summers and vacations in their home. I do not think that I ever read any of them, but I was a tennis player, so I was taken with the title conceit.


I never read as much espionage as straight up mystery, but I did enjoy Helen MacInnes, and read some of the standard spy novelists, including Ludlum, Clancy (so long-winded), Ken Follett (before he started writing historical fiction) and Nelson DeMille, all of whom I plan to revisit in my summer of spies. I hadn't ever really noticed what a sausagefest spy fiction is until I started making my list yesterday, but women authors are few and far between with this genre. If anyone knows of any, let me know in the comments. I haven't made a list with this few women in years.


So, to the matter at hand. Berlin Game is not your standard spy fic. Bernard Samson is an aging spy with an expertise on Berlin who is sent back into the field when one of the British assets starts to look like he has gone a bit wobbly. Sampson is a spy who is the son of a spy, husband of a spy and is well embedded into the British intelligence service. He is a bit world-weary and cynical, and things at home are not great and he's been out of the field for five years. In addition, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that the British service has been infiltrated, and there is a highly placed spy in their midst.


Berlin is still a divided city in this book, and the Cold War is in full force and effect. I am not familiar with Berlin, my European travels having taken me to Munich, but not to Berlin, but Deighton's sense of place is palpable and convincing. This is the world of my youth, so I can connect to it with ease.


The action is this one is understated, without the frenetic pace that is more common in modern fiction. It unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing me to get to know Samson, his wife Fiona, and the other men (and a few women) in the intelligence service. Once Bernard goes back to Berlin to try to extract the asset, things pick up a bit, and the end isn't a complete blindside, but it is a bit of a shocker and is quite well-done. I definitely want to read the other two in this first Samson trilogy, Mexico Set and London Match, as part of my summer spy-fest!



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text 2018-05-26 15:01
Reading progress update: I've read 2 out of 352 pages.
Berlin Game - Len Deighton

‘How long have we been sitting here?’ I said. I picked up the field glasses and studied the bored young American soldier in his glass-sided box.

‘Nearly a quarter of a century,’ said Werner Volkmann. His arms were resting on the steering wheel and his head was slumped on them. ‘That GI wasn’t even born when we first sat here waiting for the dogs to bark.’

Barking dogs, in their compound behind the remains of the Hotel Adlon, were usually the first sign of something happening on the other side. The dogs sensed any unusual happenings long before the handlers came to get them. That’s why we kept the window open; that’s why we were frozen nearly to death.

‘That American soldier wasn’t born, the spy thriller he’s reading wasn’t written, and we both thought the Wall would be demolished within a few days. We were stupid kids but it was better then, wasn’t it, Bernie?’

‘It’s always better when you’re young, Werner,’ I said.

This side of Checkpoint Charlie had not changed. There never was much there; just one small hut and some signs warning you about leaving the Western Sector. But the East German side had grown far more elaborate. Walls and fences, gates and barriers, endless white lines to mark out the traffic lanes. Most recently they’d built a huge walled compound where the tourist buses were searched and tapped, scrutinized by gloomy men who pushed wheeled mirrors under every vehicle lest one of their fellow-countrymen was clinging there.


I loved the opening of this book. I hope it keeps up this way.


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