Mexico Set by Len Deighton is the second of his books to feature Bernard Samson, the first one being Berlin Game which I enjoyed recently. I must say though that I found this one to be even better and I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Len Deighton, especially given the fact we have had all his books since they were originally published.
It’s difficult to say too much without giving away what happened in the previous book but here goes …
Bernard Samson has been working in British Intelligence for years, as his father before him did, but he has had a shock to his system recently and he’s now a suspect figure within the world of espionage.
There’s a lot of coming and going between Mexico, Berlin and London, it’s the Cold War era and the powers that be in London want to get a particular KGB operative to defect to Britain – will he? – won’t he?
There’s also a lot of office politics going on, but it seems that the top jobs only ever go to Oxbridge candidates which is quite scary when you consider that according to another book that I read recently – Oxford and Cambridge accepted students with virtually nothing in the way of exam passes, the important thing was that your face/background fitted – up until as recently as the 1960s.
I think that the author made a good job of the atmosphere in all of the countries but particularly the situation for people living in East Berlin and unable to see their families in West Berlin. It’s a fact that in those days whenever you (I) met any people who had been originally from ‘eastern bloc’ countries, they always had a flamboyantly embroidered imagination of the past – they were always from a family that had masses of land and property – and even aristocratic titles which was/is laughable but at the same time terribly sad.
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?
I had intended reading SSGB by Len Deighton before the TV series was broadcast, but I didn’t get around to it. After last Sunday’s episode I just knew that I couldn’t wait a whole week to see what happened next, so I had to go into the garage where we have our overflow bookcases and hooked out our copy of the book.
SS-GB is the first book by Deighton that I’ve read and I’ll definitely be reading more, we have them all so it’ll be quite a long project.
It turns out that the TV adaptation is fairly true to the book, but not completely.
It’s 1941 and the Germans have successfully invaded Great Britain, the people are devastated as you would expect but there is some sort of resistance organisation at work.
Douglas Archer (of Scotland Yard) is a widower with a young son, his wife was killed in an air raid but he’s having to work closely with the Germans. It’s a difficult task, not made easier by the fact that the SS and the German Army are at loggerheads and involved in a power struggle, and Archer having to appear to be compliant with both organisations.
To make matters worse for Archer it looks like he is completely on the side of the Germans and is collaborating with them, meaning that he is in danger of being bumped off by the resistance movement.
The King is in custody – in the Tower of London and there’s a plot to rescue him and get him to safety in the US, but they aren’t interested in harbouring a King of Britain and won’t even hear of him being in North America, meaning Canada is ruled out too.
With nuclear secrets and a romance also in the storyline this book has a bit of everything and is a great read, although it’s also a chilling read as it could so easily have come to pass, and I would have been typing this blogpost in German!