Sunday 20 November 2011

The reissues (14) - Hope

(c) Harper Collins
After a gap of a few months (and a delivery of another pack of four review copies) I want to pick up on the coverage and review of the reissues of Len's works by Harper Collins. I'm now at reissue no 14 - Hope - book three of the Faith, Hope and Charity trilogy, the last of the three trilogies charting the betrayal - domestic and political - experienced by world-weary middle-aged spy Bernard Samson.

This story charts Bernard moving closer to solving the mysteries of his wife Fiona's defection - and subsequent triumphant return after being unmasked as London Central's most successful mole in the KGB in Berlin - and the tragic death of her sister in Fiona's exfiltration in the mud of a building site by the side of an autobahn outside East Berlin.

At the start of this novel, the reader finds Bernard and Fiona struggling to get back to how things were pre-defection. This story - less action packed than earlier episodes - is more reflective, and places much of the dialogue and plot around new evidence of the ties that bind the main characters. Deighton in this novel in effect asks the reader: can treachery in a marriage, let alone the spying game, ever be reconciled?

It starts in London. Bernard is confronted with an injured man on his doorstep one evening; the prelude to a series of events that starts to uncover the facts behind Tessa Kosinski’s murder in Berlin and paints the department in an unfavourable light, by revealing, piece by piece, the machinations of old hands Silas Gaunt and Bret Rensselaer - Bernard's boss - so bringing Bernard into conflict with his superiors once again. The injured visitor on his doorstep points to Poland, home of his brother-in-law George Kosinski, so Bernard travels there with his immediate superior Dicky Cruyer to find out exactly what keeps his brother law travelling regularly to Poland. What he finds prompts further soul-searching, as he edges nearer the truth.

The new introduction
When one places the Samson series of within the historical context, they seem particularly prescient, foreshadowing as they did the inner contradictions that led to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall (the series starts in 1984 and continues up to early 1988, just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall). Deighton confirms that in setting out the story - to be written, remember, over nine books over a series of seven years in the end - he was taking a risk:
"My whole Bernard Samson story was based on the belief that the Berlin Wall would fall before the end of the century. There were many times I went to bend convinced that this assumption had been a reckless gamble, and there were many people asking me where the plot was going. Sometimes I thought I heard a measure of Schadenfreude. More than one expert advised me to forget the Wall, tear my plan down and radically change its direction. I didn't yield to my fears. I stuck to my lonely task and to the original scenario and was eventually vindicated."
Some readers do sometimes point out that the last three novels of the series are the three least strongest, perhaps because the story was in the end overtaken by events; Hope appeared in 1995, six years after the Wall fell. With the main character (arguably) in the Samson series now gone - the Wall itself - the tension built into the story was, perhaps, lost through the march of history itself.

Nevertheless, Deighton was correct to alight on Poland as the likely wick which, once lit, would explode and undermine the Soviet rule of Eastern Europe from within. The election of a Pole Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II was, Deighton writes, one of the first sustained challenges to Communist rule and an opposition supported  by the US with additional funding from the thousands of Polish emigres with family behind the iron curtain. In giving primary to George Kosinski in the novel, Deighton wanted to highlight the tension under which the Poles lived: should they simply put up with their Eastern neighbour, whose tanks were parked just across the border in Belarus, ready to invade, or look west and seek the support of the western nations (to whom Poland was heavily indebted).

Of course, as the reader has encountered over the last few books, Fiona Samson's undercover work in Eastern Germany was also aimed at providing financial and practical support to religious groups as the source of internal pressure in that country which would finally crack the fragile constructed edifice that was the 'second' Germany. Only in this case, it was the Lutheran church rather than the Catholic.

The year of the story (1987) is one in which tumultuous background events - close to home and on the world stage - suggested a coming storm (literally, in the case of the great hurricane in the UK) and a shifting of the foundations on which Cold War uncertainties were faced. Behind the Iron Curtain, pressure was building as the economy stagnated and the communist regimes could offer their people little respite.

As Deighton writes, with a devastating collapse of the world's financial markets and President Gorbachev meeting Pope John Paul in the same year, the tides of history were pointing to something. For Bernard Samson, it also suggests that his quest for the truth is coming to a conclusion and that he is edging closer to the dark secrets on which the UK's efforts to undermine the communist regimes of Berlin and Warsaw were based. Hope sees a tougher, more hard-bitten Samson than the desk-bound agent first met in Berlin Game, Deighton comments, but he is still a character which the reader trusts and wills redemption for.

The new cover design

Arnold Schwartzman here chooses to portray Bernard Samson looking through a pub window, emphasising - with the window from a pub - that Bernard is in the 'last chance saloon'. It's a lovely idea, although I'm not sure if the cover image is just a little too busy and evidently a PhotoShop amalgam that, for me, doesn't quite work. On the back cover he places a model of Tower Bridge across an old map of Berlin, drawing an analogy between the Thames and the Wall, both in some senses dividing two great cities. It is also a metaphor for the placing of something quintessentially English behind the Wall - Fiona.

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