Saturday 30 July 2011

The reissues (13) - Faith

Faith reissue with new cover
by Arnold Schwartzman
The Harper Collins Deighton reissue production line remains in full flow. With Faith, Hope and Charity, along with Close-Up recently appearing on bookshelves, the reissues - complete with new introduction and new cover designs - now number twenty.

Faith is number seven in the Bernard Samson triple trilogy. The reader starts the novel having already absorbed a huge number of stories, events, twists and surprises over the previous six parts: Fiona's betrayal, Bernard's struggle over his two loves, the crisis of confidence within London Central, Werner's hidden past and Dicky Cruyer's career overtaking Bernard (he's now acting Director of Operations when the novel starts).

Bernard is still seeking the truth and is in Magdeburg - grimy, run-down, bleak, utterly East German. He's after Verdi, a KGB defector who has promised him access to the KGB mainframe and information about the death of Fiona's sister Tessa. Fiona, now working for Dicky, is as determined as Bernard is to find the truth. Others in London, evidently, are not.

Dealing with the stress of managing the Verdi operation, the reader finds Bernard also having to grapple with the repercussions of a mixed-up career and home life; and Bret's back and evidently back to seize control of the steering wheel, with support from Gloria. The Verdi mission ultimately fails, and the truth about Tessa's death is nearer the surface, but still waiting to be solved. Bernard must keep digging and have faith he'll find the truth.

The new introduction
Much of this story is set in East Germany and in his introduction Deighton explains that his knowledge of Germany and his extensive list of contacts and friends - 'German history has always obsessed me' - has allowed him to weave authenticity into every paragraph of the novel. So, a throw-away line in the novel, that Adolf Hitler's remains were kept by the KGB in Magdeburg, is a product of a lot of research into evidence from Soviet files indicating that after the Soviet secret police discovered them in the ruins of the Reich Chancellory, they were taken first to Magdeburg, then on to Moscow. Deighton's research, he says, confirms they are still there, 'like the revered body fragments of an ancient saint.' He recounts too that much of his findings from hours spent in Germany talking to people and checking officials didn't appear in the novel. Scope for a fourth trilogy, one day, perhaps?

From this new introduction the reader picks up not just the care and attention paid to the hugely complex story lines, but Deighton's genuine affection for the characters which - over ten books - have had more time to grow and evolve than most characters in a novel. Bernard, Fiona, Tessa, Dicky et al lie at the heart of the novels, Deighton reveals, and they have left a lasting impression:
"Writing ten books about the same small group of people is a strange and demanding task. I am a slow worker, and I don't take regular vacations or set work aside for prolonged periods. Ten books meant about fifteen years, during which these people, their hopes and fears and loves and betrayals were constantly whirring about in my brain. They disturbed my sleep and invaded my dreams in a way I did not enjoy.... Unlike the content of my other books, Bernard Samson and his circle became imprinted on my mind and remain there today."
That certainly came across when I chatted with Len earlier this year. These characters live with him; in a way, he knows them as well as any spouse, lover or therapist would do and consequently, the actions and words of each are so honed and utterly believable. Deighton told me that dialogue is crucial in his novels and he's always sought to present and use it with authenticity.

The new cover design
The spine motif - Bernard Samson's name spelled out in torn strips of airline baggage tags - is now almost complete with Faith and on the bookshelf it creates a great effect, meaning the reader wants to display these books together; he or she wants to revel in the sheer bulk and width of the story he or she has enjoyed up to this point.

The lace curtain on the front cover is, Arnold Schwartzman notes, an obvious but subtle metaphor for the Berlin Wall - or anti-fascist protection rampart (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall)  as it was more formerly known. But the way Samson is portrayed behind it is unusual, but has a purpose:
"I discovered that by placing a larger-than-life photograph of Samson in the window it created a rather surreal effect. Rather like Kong peering in at an unsuspecting Fay Wray, Bernard looms behind the curtain, an unwilling outside ostracised from domestic comfort."
I also really like the motif on the back cover: a traditional paper cut heart (Wycinanki in Polish) torn asunder by a KGB badge, representing very clearly the impact that Stinnes and indeed London Central has had on the relationship at the very heart of this story. It's a lovely touch and like all the new covers in this series, portrays the  complexity of the story - labyrinthine even, at this stage - through the every-day in some stunning visual images against a clear white background (again, the link back to the pioneering white covers of the 'Palmer' novels of the sixties).

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