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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!