This is the year I discovered Len Deighton. A couple of years ago I researched his books and wondered why I had never pursued them. When I attended the Big September Book Sale that I go to yearly, I picked up as many of his books as I could: The IPCRESS File, the first four Bernard Samson books (the Game, Set, and Match trilogy, plus Spy Hook), SS-GB, and Winter. So I was set.
The first book I read this year was The IPCRESS File. I have to admit I was disappointed. I found the book confusing and disjointed. I read many reviews afterwards. There were other people who had the same problems I had, but the vast majority loved it, and it is on many lists of iconic spy fiction. Maybe on a re-read I will appreciate it more, and I just purchased the next two nameless spy books because I have read so many good reviews and articles.
This excerpt from an article at The Guardian describes a similar reaction from Kingsley Amis:
His first novel, The Ipcress File, was framed as a story told by the narrator to the Minister of Defence, who is cut off sharply when he tries to elicit an elaboration of a point:Moving on to the other books, I read Berlin Game, Mexico Set, and London Match in February of this year. I immediately became a Len Deighton fan. And a Bernard Samson fan (the protagonist of the novels). My brief reviews are here and here.
''It's going to be very difficult for me if I have to answer questions as I go along," I said. "If it's all the same to you, Minister, I'd prefer you to make a note of the questions, and ask me afterwards."
"My dear chap, not another word, I promise."
And throughout the entire explanation he never again interrupted.
In an excoriating essay written in 1964, Kingsley Amis suggested that the reason for this was that the minister had fallen asleep. But later he changed his mind somewhat: in a letter to Philip Larkin in 1985, he wrote that Deighton's work was "actually quite good if you stop worrying about what's going on".
Next I read Winter, which is described as a prequel to the Bernard Samson series. Although it is not a mystery, some of the characters do get involved with the intelligence community during World War II. It actually fits well between the Game, Set and Match trilogy and Spy Hook, because Spy Hook includes characters that are in Winter. This is the story of a family in Germany from 1900 to 1945. It is a very ambitious book and it did not grab me as much as the others, possibly because of the length. (My review here.) On the other hand, my current reading subject of choice is World War II and England and Germany, and it fit right in. It motivated me to read Richard J. Evan's The Coming of the Third Reich, which I am doing right now.
I am deliberately avoiding much mention of the actual plot and what drives a lot of Samson's actions, because that could hamper the enjoyment of earlier books in series, if you have not read them. I do recommend reading them in order, and starting with Berlin Game. This one has a cliff hanger ending, which normally would annoy me, but since I know I will be continuing with Bernard's story, it worked well for me. I enjoy Bernard Samson's company almost as much as Archie Goodwin, the first person narrator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout.
A list of all the Bernard Samson novels with year published:
1. Berlin Game (1983)
2. Mexico Set (1984)
3. London Match (1985)
4. Spy Hook (1988)
5. Spy Line (1989)
6. Spy Sinker (1990)
7. Faith (1994)
8. Hope (1995)
9. Charity (1996)
I do have plans for reading more Deighton this year. I will complete the Bernard Samson series, I hope. I have ordered Spy Line and Faith, and will be looking for Spy Sinker. I will definitely read XPD, and probably SS-GB. Both of those are alternate histories. My husband read SS-GB a few months ago and rated it highly. And if there is time, the next two novels in the nameless spy series: Horse Under Water and Funeral in Berlin.
There are many more books by Deighton. More in the nameless spy series, other fiction and non-fiction books.
This post is already much longer than I intended, so I will end with a couple of links.
The Deighton Dossier is just an amazing resource on Len Deighton and his books. There is so much more to know about him than I can cover here.
There is a nice review of Winter at Simon's Book Blog. The blog appears to have reviews of most of Deighton's books.