The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre

The Looking Glass War cover

The Looking Glass War by John le Carre was first published in 1965. This is the third le Carre book that I’ve read and it’s the one that I least liked, it seems that I’m not alone in that as le Carre said that “his readers hated me for it”, but he was cheered by the fact that it went down better with American readers. I suspect that this tale is just too near the truth for most Brits to want to accept. The two government military intelligence departments involved are rivals, don’t share information and a lot of mistakes are made.

A Soviet defector claims that the Soviets are positioning missiles at Rostock close to the West German border. That information is treated as suspect and in an attempt to get some clarification an airline pilot is paid to divert his plane over Rostock to get photographs of the area. The intelligence officer sent to pick up the film is killed in a hit and run accident but this is interpreted as being a murder by the Stasi. A lot of the book is about a Polish officer being trained to go into the east to send radio messages back to London. Almost as soon as he gets there things go wrong. It’s not going to end well.

This book was written as a satire but mainly hasn’t been read as such.

It shows that lives were/are cheap but as the reader is involved with the spy and the relationship between him and the man training him then the casual lack of loyalty leaves a bad taste in the mouth. For that reason I found it quite depressing particularly as John le Carre was an MI5 and MI6 agent himself and he said it was an accurate representation of his own experiences. It sounds like ‘botched’ is the operative word.

Not long ago the man at the top of such things nowadays gave a speech at St Andrews University, saying that you didn’t have to be an Oxbridge graduate to be recruited by them. I’d advise anyone to just say NO.

Berlin Game by Len Deighton

Berlin Game cover

Berlin Game by Len Deighton was first published in 1983. I can remember it being published, in fact as I recall it, some people seemed to be waiting with bated breath for the next Len Deighton book to be published in those days. I think we have all of his books but this is the first one I’ve ever read. I had meant to blog about it before we went away on holiday, or during the holiday, but just didn’t get around to it.

I did think as I was reading it though that it was much more straightforward than I had imagined these espionage books to be. Written during the Cold War, at a time when people were still wondering if there were more ‘Establishment’ English public school Oxbridge spies still to be discovered – or to leg it to the USSR, Berlin Game would have been quite topical when it was first published.

An agent in east Berlin wants to leave and take up a new life in the west. Bernard Samson is given the job of getting the agent out safely, it’s the sort of thing he used to do years ago before he became desk bound in London. He’s reluctant to get involved with something so dangerous and his wife who also works in British Intelligence tells him to avoid the task, but there is no alternative.

Everybody and everything in this book is suspect, Samson knows there must be a traitor in London – possibly it’s his wife, or is she just having an affair with a colleague? He’s suspicious of everyone.

I enjoyed this book but I did think that if it had been written by a woman then these books would have been unlikely to have been as wildly successful as they were – back in the day I think Helen McInnes and Evelyn Anthony wrote more suspenseful espionage books, but I must admit that it’s years since I read any of those books so I might be completely wrong about that. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?