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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