|Adrian Bailey's illustration for the Game, Set and Match series. Can you recognise each character?|
But opinions on the novel and the characters are not uniform. Canadian blog reader Milan Stolarik got in touch with the Deighton Dossier to offer his views on this series of books having just read the novels in sequence.
He had some questions about the characters and the books, and I thought it would be best to encourage blog readers to read his thoughts and respond. Here's Milan's contribution:
"I only recently discovered Len Deighton's books, and rather late in life. I really like the Samson series and I have just read all ten books (including Winter). I was particularly intrigued by the semi-tragic Fiona character.
However, I wasn't able to reconcile the person Len describes as a very smart, mature, and happily married secret service agent, with the woman who became a kind of love- and sex-starved harlot who could not apparently stop herself falling in love!
It is rather bizarre that this 'brilliant' SIS agent swallowed the hook proffered by a KGB agent, by initiating the affair after the first contrived meeting and keeping it going for for nine years! I wonder, how realistic was this scenario? Perhaps Len Deighton knows more about the vulnerabilities of married women better than I (remember the character of Veronica in Winter?). Or am I just showing my naïveté?
Seduction has been a prime method of spies gaining information since the time of Delilah. By yielding so readily and willingly to this age old technique, Fiona I feel broke every rule of state security, fidelity, and morality for an illicit sexual relationship which lasted many years. She evidently fell in love with this known KGB agent.
I wonder: is this Deighton's version of The Spy Who Loved Me? Where was SIS security while this adulterous affair was going on for five years in London? Even her super sleuth husband did not catch on, but he did suspect she was having an affair with Bret, which she easily denied. The first of two betrayals.
The story is certainly very titillating fiction, but I like a strong dose of reality with my fiction. The believability of the story is somewhat tempered by this episode and confuses me. I'm interested in what Deighton Dossier readers think about this and other questions raised in my mind from my first read through of all ten books. Perhaps I missed some things? Maybe other readers have developed different views of the characters?
Some questions to consider:
The other two characters I found interesting and perplexing were Bret and Gloria. While Bret created a lot of the problems and heart-aches suffered by Bernard, he acted like a human being at the end. Even though Bret must have been in love with Gloria some months before asking her to marry him, why did he sent her to meet Bernard in Sweden, when he brought in Kozinski, and then bring him back to London in a private jet with her?
Some questions to consider:
- Fiona agreed to stay one or two years in East Berlin, yet she stayed for four years? I did not read any satisfactory explanations for this extended stay beyond what was originally planned. What extended her stay in Berlin?
- Why were Stinnes and Kennedy in Fiona's car when she was being extracted? I can't figure it out!
- Fiona in her suicide note wrote "I soon guessed that Kennedy was spying on me", yet the affair lasted nine years. I cannot wrap my mind around that. How soon was it? According to the book she officially found out he was spying on her while in East Berlin (six years after the affair started). Did she continue the affair to hide her secret, or was she addicted to sex with Kennedy, or both?
- Subsequently, she dismisses Kennedy as one who loved Karl Marx and would betray her without hesitation. It's very hard to digest because she must have loved him passionately (even though she admitted it reluctantly): "Just speaking to him on the phone sent shivers down my spine" and "having a drink with Harry near his office provided me with deep satisfaction"
- Just a simple post card form Harry, via the hair saloon, sent her into a state of euphoria. There had to be a lot more there then what meets the eye in this relationship. Deighton rather confused me on this! Does anyone have any explanations to set me straight?
- Fiona never confessed her infidelity to Bernard, nor did she confess a mea culpa for abandoning him and the children for the service to the Queen and London central. Was this one of the character defects that Bret talked about?
- Did Fiona know, or was she told that her sister died in order to keep her extraction from East Berlin a secret? I never read anything that would indicate she knew the reason for Tessa's death! In this regard, why did Fiona want Bernard to stop investigating the death of Tessa, when she was originally so passionate to solve the issue? Did London central tell her the story and and ask her to stop for the good of the service. Yet another betrayal of Bernard by all?
- The author originally described in detail how Werner briefed, paid and killed Thurkettle, yet the SIS group, including Bernard, concluded that Petyman did it. I don't understand the logic. Did the author forget what he wrote in the previous book? Not likely. So what is the answer?
- A similar occurrence happened when Fiona's extraction was described for the first time. In that one Fiona was in shock and did not recognize her sister lying in the mud, nor the other persons killed. She had to be told by Bret that her sister died there. Yet in the subsequent description of the event she readily recognizes her dead sister on the ground, as well as Kennedy, whom she admitted she loved. This actually is the first time I heard it from her own mouth. What gives?
The other two characters I found interesting and perplexing were Bret and Gloria. While Bret created a lot of the problems and heart-aches suffered by Bernard, he acted like a human being at the end. Even though Bret must have been in love with Gloria some months before asking her to marry him, why did he sent her to meet Bernard in Sweden, when he brought in Kozinski, and then bring him back to London in a private jet with her?
Why did he send her to Berlin on a special assignment while Bernard was there. Was he testing them? I cannot figure it out! Furthermore, did Gloria have anything to do with Bret giving Bernard a full time contract and a pension and eventually the job of the Berlin station chief? Somehow I think I know the answer. The heroine in the end is Gloria, but the jury is still out on Fiona. What does everyone think?
I enjoyed the books tremendously. However, these are the issues that baffle me and any explanations or clarifications would be appreciated.
I enjoyed the books tremendously. However, these are the issues that baffle me and any explanations or clarifications would be appreciated.
So, blog readers - any thoughts and clarifications on Milan's questions?
There is a US omnibus hardcover edition of Game/Set/Match that came out back around 1990 and featured a new introduction by the author. One of the points Len makes in that essay is that every incident is described from someone's (usually Bernard's) point of view and reflects that person's biases. There is no omniscient narrator in these books. So one possible explanation for a scene being described differently at different times is simply that someone else's POV is being used, or even that the same person's POV is being used at a different time. Many of us, after all, might describe an incident in our lives one way if asked shortly after it happened, but describe it differently if asked years later. In particular, Len warns that Dicky Cruyer is not really the bumbling incompetent that Bernard shows us; and Len also says, "We will never really know what happened that year." All we know is what the characters themselves tell us, and even when they try to be completely honest (which often is not the case), they remain limited by their own biases and their own limited knowledge.ReplyDelete
Interesting observation, thank you. Now can you explain, if possible, the different descriptions of the death of Thurkettle?Delete
Interesting observation, thank you. Now can you clarify for me, if possible, the different versions of the killing of Thurketlle?Delete
I have to say, I think Werner is one of the key characters and one which draws me to the stories each time. The fact that we find out in Spy Sinker that he's been acting as Fiona's 'handler' if you will is such a plot twister precisely because Deighton played out so well the brotherly relationship that Werner had with Bernard which the reader would think would preclude any form of betrayal or lying. I think Bernard's relationship with Werner is interesting because, given that he's a link back to his idealised childhood in Berlin, Bernard is capable of overlooking aspects of Werner's life that on the face of it might be questionable - e.g. his frequent, quasi-criminal dealings with the GDR government. Deception is one of the key features of the ennealogy and it highlight's people's capacities to sometimes not see what's in front of their faces. That's why sometimes incredible situations can become credible, I think.ReplyDelete
Plausible as you indicate, but Werner is a very devious character nevertheless. The main character that fascinates me is Fiona because as Bret indicated, she was acting totally out of character in her affair with Kennedy. Any views and or thoughts about her?Delete
Regards your question as why Stinnes and Kennedy were in the same car when Tessa was shot, if I recall this is because, as Samson subsequently discovered, both Stinnes and Kennedy were involved in the heroin trade (or was it cocaine?) and that would explain their presence at the location together, would it not?ReplyDelete
I recall reading about Stinnes being in the heroin trade, but do not recall the mention of Kennedy (I will double check). I presume that Thurkettle was going to pick up the heroin from them which just arrived as he was in business with them. However, why was Fiona with them? She was supposed to be extracted alone at that location from a car provided by Werner and company. I have no clue why the three were together. Was she forced to join them, or was it set up that way by Thurkettle?Delete
I think this was part of Silas's planning. He had contact with Stinnes because he was a double agent and could set Fiona into a trap. Stinnes was expecting the English van to show up.Delete
I think an important element of the Fiona character, and perhaps her willingness to continue the affair with Kennedy even when she suspected he was spying on her, is the need for affection and love, passion. I think in Deighton's writing and character development he cleverly plays on the influence of her upper middle class upbringing on her personality - i.e. it's clear that David Kimber-Hutchinson, her father, didn't lavish much affection on her growing up - he clearly wanted a son; equally, one reads at times in the book the extent to which Bernard's job and Fiona's job - plus his reluctance perhaps to appear overly romantic and affectionate - had an impact on the romance in their relationship. Kennedy therefore became an emotional safety valve during this most stressful of missions, I thinkReplyDelete
Yes, I got all that. This just proves that she was emotionally unfit for the assignment particularly after she was caught in bed with Kennedy the first time!Delete
Also, Fiona didn't apologise for taking the mission to Berlin because it was made clear in the development of the character, and in her explanation of her developing a male fictional counterpart Stefan to console herself during her time in Berlin, that Fiona felt that she needed to compete with and prove herself the counterpart of her male colleagues, even be more impressive than them - again, this is a product of her upbringing I think. I think also what's clear in the text is that this generated a fierce sense of service and loyalty to the job first, which allowed her to compartmentalise the fact that she effectively abandoned her children.ReplyDelete
Yes, I understood all that. It just proves that she was an unfit mother and a cheating wife. No wonder she tried to commit suicide. Yet she persisted, as having learned nothing, with this fierce sense of service and loyalty to the job after she returned to London.Delete
I will give you my new perspective and views about the Sampson series after you and/or other bloggers would be kind enough to answer all the other questions that I raised in my missive above.
Since there has been so little feed-back from bloggers I thought I should expand on my thinking. I must say that the author stunned me when he turned Fiona from a hero to a zero in my mind. Her initiation of the affair with Kennedy after the first contrived meeting really surprised me, as it was totally out of character. In retrospect even Fiona agreed, she blamed on Stefan. Furthermore, she took on a perfidious personality, continued in her narcissistic ways and also turned into a nymphomaniac. Perfidious because she lied with a straight face to Bernard when he accused her of having an affair "there is no one else but you darling". She also lied to Bret who believed that the affair was over (she swore to him that it was). Perhaps good training for her job in East Berlin. Her narcissistic personality really came on. She needed romance, passion and love and she went out to got it and kept getting it for nine years. While she claims that she felt some quilt, she quickly rationalized this by claiming that she needed to feel glamorous and desirable all of which Kennedy provided. He nymphomania manifested itself when she claimed that she tried to stop a thousand times, but each time she went back to Kennedy for rough sex and other sexual experiences she was not even aware of. Quite shocking!Delete
In normal circumstances if a married person does not get the satisfaction he or she wants out of marriage, you divorce. This, of course, would not work because it did not fit into the author's plot since he needed Bernard to denounce Fiona a Russian spy and then suffer the horrendous consequences of her betrayal to satisfy the Kremlin that she was a genuine defector! Not to mention his subsequent activity to reveal that in fact she was a double agent and come to her rescue!!!
Even after her attempted suicide I found Fiona to be a cold, calculating woman who shoved very little wifely feelings toward Bernard and the children (she was in no harry to get them back). The only time she shoved emotion was her jealousy toward Gloria, but she never confessed her infidelity to Bernard! Her narcissism continued, designer clothing, fancy car, a star in the department and other forms of attention (a commissioner under each arm at conferences) etc. She showed very little concern for her husband's career. Yet I must give credit to the author because he did feature Bernard as the good guy who understood that Fiona was not fully recovered and stood by her at the cost of giving up Gloria who was the best thing that happened to him and the children. But the author had other ideas!Delete
I was reviewing some of the discussion between the DG and Silas and the DG made a comment that I also applies to Fiona. "Sometimes you have to sacrifice the things you love". I think that this is the only way she could take on this operation.Delete
After reflecting for a few days and re-reading some parts of Sinker I have concluded that Deighton, particularly though the character of Fiona, must be poking fun at the incompetence of the SIS and the members of the British establishment who run it. Letting a retired DG, with the concurrence of the present DG, run its most important operation which, amongst other things leads to the planned and deliberate death of Tessa Kaminsky and others to save Fiona's extraction secret for a few months is totally outrageous, unreal, and unbelievable even in fiction novel.ReplyDelete
Any competent security and intelligence agency would not choose an agent for assignment who goes to cry at a railway station because of the pressure and anxiety created by her job. It would not choose an agent without a psychological assessment. It would not choose an agent who was emotionally unstable and susceptible to seduction. Even so, no respective married women, let alone a secret service agent, would jump into bed with the first man who showed a little interest in her to relieve her anxiety! It would immediately eliminate and agent after catching him or her in a compromising situation and press her to continue the assignment. It would do a thorough check on the person who seduced their agent. It would not miss a five year illicit affair of one of their agents, in their back yard no less, with a KGB plant of all things, particularly after catching her once before! It would not deliberately go out to ruin the lives of a whole family by making Fiona abandon not only her husband, but most importantly her children. No rational women would ever abandon her children for a job, no matter how fierce her loyalty to the department! The reality is that Deighton set up a completely unrealistic and unbelievable story.ReplyDelete
Deighton continues to disparage the SIS and the establishment by pointing out that the only honest and competent officer in London Central was Bernard and everyone else was on his case. What struck me though was the attitude of Fiona once again. After the guilt of her two betrayals caught up to her, she tried to commit suicide. She conceded in her attempted suicide note to Bret that she was foolish for having had the affair with Kennedy and professed her deep love past, present and future for her husband and that she desperately wanted to hang on to him. Yet she reverted to norm in her fierce loyalty to London Central by trying to sideline Bernard from continuing the investigation into Tessa's death (which she initially wanted to solve very disparately), the reasoning behind her change of mind was never properly explained (unless she was told the truth and Bernard was not). Furthermore, she asks Bernard to stop fighting with Dickey and to be loyal to the department. Then she tells him that he may loose his job in London due to cut backs and that as his wife she could not intercede on his behalf to save his position because it would not be proper. Totally incomprehensible since she was the darling of the department and could have anything she wanted. Perhaps it was part of the plot she cooked up with Dicky to ship him of to Berlin to keep him away from Gloria. The latter by the way was the only likeable character on this whole series who in the end was probably responsible for Bernard getting a proper contract, pension and maybe even the job of Berlin resident.ReplyDelete
There were many loose ends and inconsistencies that occurred in the books from Sinker onward that really bothered me. These were never properly explained and left me perplexed and irritated while I was searching for some rational explanations. This left me totally unsatisfied and disenchanted. If you can shed any light on then please do so. They are itemised in my missive above. Thanks to all.ReplyDelete
Readers, what do you think. Milan's put up some very critical comments about this series, many of which I disagree with. What are other readers' views?ReplyDelete
All I can say is that the inconsistencies between the character and actions of Fiona as described by her husband and those described objectively in Sinker are a major part of what makes this 10-novel series so worthwhile and memorable. Perhaps Mr Stolarik has never experienced such crushing and apparently unbelievable revelations about a partner, but I can guarantee that Bernard is not the only person in this world who has.ReplyDelete
Regarding the mixture of apparent inconsistency and incompetence in SIS's dealings with Fiona, surely this is all part of the way such a complex issue as a double agent plays out both among the fallible human beings who find themselves involved.
You are absolutely right Mr. Somerset, Bernard is not the first nor the last man to be cuckolded. What surprised me even more was the spontaneity of the affair. Since Fiona ignored all the SIS protocols about such encounters, I guess she fancied him as the saying goes. She spent more time in bed with Kennedy then her husband during the story, yet in the end she readily dismissed Kennedy as being in love with Karl Marks and one who would denounce her without batting an eye if he found out she was a double agent. At the same time pronouncing her ongoing love for Bernard. Somewhat bizarre! I guess Deighton introduced Kennedy in the story not only to perform his duties as a KGB agent, but to stroke Fiona's ego (she loved it) and to provide stud services whenever she needed them? Oh, and Dayton found the cure for anxiety and depression. It was illicit sex. I hope he got a patent on it.Delete
So Mr. Somerset, Dayton can write whatever his fertile imagination conjures up, but I don't have to agree with him. As a matter of fact, the whole Fiona operation from am operational point of view was a bunch of unbelievable non-sense!!
I truly sympathize with Mr. Stolarik. I also found the ending to the Samson series very troubling. I think Fiona's story caused much of this, but not all. In any genre of fiction, anticipation of a character or characters getting their just desserts builds up in proportion to, and as, their bad behavior accumulates. So much treachery, betrayal, murder and knives in the back go unpunished for me to utter a sigh of satisfaction by the time I finished 'Charity'. I read the 9 Samson novels over the past 2 months and was so confounded, I read them again. There was quite a bit I missed the first time round, but nothing to really ease my discomfort. I'll save my thoughts on Fiona for last.ReplyDelete
The reader quickly sees Bernard as the intrepid hero, but, with only few exceptions, no one else does.
Bernard saves Brett's life in the launderette. He stops the Stinnes operation to end Brett's career dead in it's tracks.
He saves Dicky's life in Warsaw from 2 armed thugs who are about to murder them both. Bernard isn't armed, but he does have an umbrella that he's beefed up with some steel bars.
He brings George back from Poland in what was probably his neatest op of all. He and George are being followed to the airstrip by 4 well armed bad guys. George is in near panic but Bernard calmly says we'll steal their car. He does of course and the op goes off without a hitch. Bernard's only concern was if he should have killed all 4 instead of one or two.
He gets Zena back for Werner. Werner is moaning how he loves Zena and desperately wants her back. Bernard takes the afternoon off, locates Zena when no one else can, breaks up her romance with Frank Harrington and has her back in Werner's arms in time for Tea.
For all this and more, he receives no thanks or credit. Dicky's always telling him 'the other guy's in charge', Brett tells Bernard that Fiona left two suicide notes, one for him and one for Bernard, kept his and burned Bernard's before riding off into the sunset with Gloria in his chauffer driven Bentley. Werner never repays the kind of loyalty Bernard constantly shows him.
This of course is all very annoying. At least two characters however, see Bernard much more clearly and pay him the proper respect: Thurkettle knows that going up against a professional like Bernard on the autobahn is a no-go, Bernard's far too deadly. The other is the man Brett hires out of his own pocket to keep an eye on Fiona in London. He's the one who finds out about Harry Kennedy, but he also wonders why Kennedy, when just from his observations he can tell Bernard is ten times the man Kennedy is and greatly admires him.
Now as for Fiona, I missed this little snippet of conversation the first time, but when I read Sinker the second time, I had to put down the book and take a deep breath. It answers why Kennedy was in the car. It's tucked away at the end of a chapter and easily overlooked. Werner is meeting Fiona in her East Berlin apartment. It's their last meeting as controller and agent and he is preparing her for her escape. He also tells her the Department is aware that she's still sleeping with Kennedy. He then tells her that if Kennedy is there when she's extracted, he will be 'liquidated'. She asks why would he be there?
Werner only says 'why indeed'. Later, when Werner is briefing Thurkettle about who is to die on the autobahn, he shows him Kennedy's picture, confident Fiona will bring him. Why she lures him to his death, a man she loves and who loves her even more, isn't so clear. Kennedy is a bit player for the KGB and not even active anymore and he's certainly not part of the Stinnes/ Thurkettle drug operation. He's just there to be murdered. Is it just pure evil, or have I greatly misinterpreted how this played out? I don't think so, but no other readers seem to have caught this.
William, I agree with some of your points. I'm currently re-reading the whole ten books - as I do every few years - and I took picked out that conversation you refer to between Fiona and Werner explaining what happened to Kennedy. As a clear KGB plant, it was clearly too dangerous for Fiona for him to be kept alive, I guess.Delete
Thank you for the reply Rob, that was fast. Kennedy was a threat and had to die only if he was there. He, like the rest of the KGB, were to be fooled by the body in the burned car.Delete
Thank you for a very reasoned responds William. I did note the conversation between Werner and Fiona and wondered what it was all about, but did not make the connection you did. While brutal, it seems the only logical one now that you mentioned it.Delete
I feel your pain Mr. Stolarik. A woman like Fiona is Bernard's reward so all his efforts, suffering and anguish?ReplyDelete
To answer, perhaps, another of your questions about why Bernard maintains that Prettyman killed Thurkettle, I believe Bernard is keeping Werner's role to himself. Here's why. When Bernard find Thurkettle's body, Bernard examines the case that the money was in. He sees the mark one of the bullets made on the underside of the case and tells Werner something to the effect of ' Prettyman concealed the gun under the case as they were facing each other when he shot him..... the same way you did with the man in Dresden'. Why this matters at all is a better question, it was another successful operation for Werner. Also interesting, but annoying is when Fiona meets Bernard in the East, soon before her return. She's at the breaking point and tells Bernard of an operation in Dresden where '...a man was killed' but says no more. Same operation? Another sacrificial lamb to protect her cover? We have no idea. We do know that when Bernard seeks out Prettyman, who is pretty much on his deathbed, he lays out the scenario for him, including Prettyman as Thurkettle's killer. Prettman says Bernard has it wrong, but says no more. Prettyman later thinks better of this and tells his wife, just before he dies, to contact Bernard to say Bernard got it all right, essentially giving Bernard permission to finger him instead of Werner. But again, why?
You are a very astute reader William, I missed the fact that Werner was involved in the Dresden matter. It was where Fiona lost her engagement ring. I guess my answer now would be that Bernard, being the true friend that he always was, was protecting Werner as the killer of Thurkettle from the official record of the Department. Thanks again for your excellent observations.Delete
Milan, my dear co-sufferer, I forgot about the ring, but when I re read that scene, Fiona says a man died, it was a terrible night, I washed my hands... That just sunk in to me.... 'I washed my hands'. A dark thought came to me, that Fiona is on a journey to lose her moral compass, her humanity. She loses the ring because it represents sentiment, something that's inconvenient. She goes from being stricken at the thought of what happens to Blum, her first betrayal, to not blinking when she lures her lover Kennedy to his death, her final betrayal. Now... either the DG gets canned after Charity, or he soon retires. Where do you find a replacement for a man who'll send off loyal agents to their deaths, and I don't mean like an infantry officer sends troops off knowing some will be killed. This kind of killing is part of the plan. A person who'll destroy a happy marriage, plot the murder of a completely innocent civilian and let children suffer with the loss of their mother. Those folks don't grow on trees.....Fiona?Delete
Right on again William. After thinking more about Fiona luring Kennedy to his death it became clear why she dismissed him in her attempted suicide note as one who was in love with Karl Marks and would denounce her without blinking an eye if he found out that she was a double agent. Furthermore, the night mares that visited her during the night were not only about people being killed and seeing bodies on the ground, but about her direct involvement in the killing of Kennedy and indirect involvement in the killing of Tessa and the others. Some moral redemption?Delete
Since you solved the riddle of why Kennedy was in the car during the extraction process perhaps you can advise why Stinnes picked up Fiona and brought her to the exchange point. I know that there was to be a delivery of drugs to Thurkettle, but what was Stinnes told about bringing Fiona along? Was he told that she was to meet her sister? I am puzzled?
Another mystery that has been bothering me was why Fiona stayed four years in the DDR when the plan called for a stay of one, or two years? Was it because Silas and the DG did not care about bringing her out as long as she was providing useful services and information? In that regard, I found a dearth of information about what it is that Fiona did in the DDR for the KGB to account for all that time, and of course, what information did she sent west, how did she work with the church groups, through what networks and how was the secret stash of money distributed??? There were snippets of information that came out particularly after she returned to London, but overall not much. After all, the whole purpose of the DDR operation was to infiltrate and work against the subvert the government in place. I was left wanting.
From the beginning, when the DG told Brett that Mr. X would really be Mrs.X.... and Mrs. X would be Fiona Samson, the whole operation would last 10, or hopefully 12 years. If you recall, Brett was stunned that the DG would choose a happily married woman with a family. Fiona was already in 'deep cover' since being recruited by Silas when he was the DG years before. Makes you wonder if Silas steered Fiona towards the young Bernard back when she was fresh out of College. Anyway, Silas ran her personally, nothing on paper, he said that was how it was done 'back then'. So, operation Sinker kicks off, Brett starts running Fiona in London, briefing her often, and why Bernard has suspicions about them. She soon meets Kennedy and their affair lasts 9 years. But it really is a slow, subtle operation, it's 5 years until Fiona defects, and another 4 with her in place in East Berlin. Fiona complained to Bernard during the 'engagement ring' chat that it was he that was bringing the op to an early end, because of his meddling and 'leaving a trail'. But in her early months in East Berlin, when she brings Werner into the plot as her contact, she tells Werner it will only be for a year or so. But the bottom line is simple, Brett lied to Fiona, telling her it would only be a year or two, but the plan from the very beginning was always for at least five.Delete
Good points again, William. I'm currently working through Faith, Hope and Charity and what's clear in the text is a) the multiple layers of the story that need time to develop and be revealed over ten books and b) the amount of exquisite planning that Len would have had to do to ensure that all these threads - such as you've highlighted - hung together and made sense by the end. The early conversations that Bret has with the D-G and Silas in the mid-seventies, when he floats the idea of the deep-penetration - indicate that this was indeed a ten-year plan. What I also find fascinating was that Bret's core thesis - about the role of the marginalised church groups in helping to undermine the DDR economy and support the brain drain of talent from the country - wasn't that different from what happened in reality. Given that Len Deighton started writing the ennealogy in 1981, he was either (a) incredibly prescient or (b) knew the right people in London and Berlin who could see the way the future lay.Delete
I disagree with many of Milan's points, and agree with others - however, it's positive that his often harsh words for the author have generated a positive discussion on the blog.ReplyDelete
Here's the answer to the Fiona in the car with Stinnes riddle: The DG and Silas are meeting at Silas' house to discuss and plan the endgame of operation Sinker. It's over three years since Stinnes was swapped for Werner and his operation to torpedo Brett. They both plan Tessa's murder, Teacher being there ...etc. Stinnes name comes up with the DG asking if Stinnes has passed anything useful lately. Amazing how the DG is really getting briefed by Silas. Anyway, Silas says that in the last few years, Stinnes has been working both sides 'against the middle'. This made Stinnes feel safe enough to get into heroin smuggling, which is a key part of the operation to bring Fiona back. So, Stinnes, at some point, started taking Department money and working for them in some limited capacity. Again amazing that Silas has to tell the DG this. So, Stinnes is told to bring Fiona, Fiona is told to go with Stinnes and Fiona brings Kennedy. Even though Stinnes is a nominal Department asset, it's certain he has no Idea Fiona is a plant. What and how he was told the reasoning or purpose behind bringing her was never revealed, but it's still a stretch. Stinnes was no dummy.ReplyDelete
Ambiguity in the motivation, loyalty and priorities of each of the main characters is, perhaps, what makes this a challenging novel to work out - but all the better for it.Delete
Rob, I'm quite an avid reader, my bookshelves have hundreds of titles, and my kindle, another hundred. I must confess, the kindle is what makes jumping around for answers about the Samson series so easy. My tastes have always leaned towards non fiction, history in particular. In the past few years, non fiction being a somewhat finite supply of good reading, I turned to espionage. Le Carre of course, Vince Flynn and everything Tom Clancy, even though Clancy isn't strictly a spy novelist (he does do 'tradecraft' well though), the complete works of Conan Doyle who invented the genre of course and gave us the never gets old tradition of the wrap up, where he tells Watson how everything really went and how it was deduced. No series of novels ever sunk a hook in my psyche like the Samson set. It truly is a tribute to Mr. Deighton's skills as a writer, I just wish it didn't keep me up at night so much. I'm truly grateful for your well administered blog. As to my angst, this too shall pass.Delete
I'll pass on your nice comments to Len - he always appreciates hearing readers enjoy his worksDelete
Thanks William for at least a partial explanation about the Stinnes matter. I never did properly understand who Stinnes was working for. I guess the answer is for himself! This is the frustrating part about reading Deighton's books.Delete
I have one final question for you. Why did Fiona so suddenly loose interested in finding out who ordered her sister's death? Was is because "senior staff" was told who issued the order and was told to close ranks? Werner knew of course, but he did not tell Bernard. As a matter of fact he tried to convince Bernard that the latter may have shot Tessa by mistake???? Furthermore, he betrayed Bernard by spying on him and reporting all to Brett. Some friend!!!
Milan - you describe Deighton's series as frustrating. Couldn't you make the case that it is the complexity, and the fact that nothing about any character is absolutely certain - by design - makes it a more compelling story because it retains an air of uncertainty right through all ten novels. I.e. even with what's in the text, how much did Bernard really know about people like Stinnes, and his hero Silas.Delete
Rob - I know, of course, that you are very loyal to Mr. Deighton otherwise you would not have set up and run this blog. For this I am grateful, otherwise I would not have found the answers to many of my questions. Yes, I found the novels frustrating and irritating and in my opinion not very believable. These are the reasons for my criticisms to which you seem to be very sensitive. But I am sure you agree, that an author has to take the good with the bad. I am certain that Mr. Deighton is a big enough man to take both in stride. He may, indeed, be a good writer as William points out, but he is not my type of writer. At my advanced age I do not need to be confounded, frustrated and irritated and I do need my sleep, so I have taken your earlier advice and have stopped reading his novels. I may read some of his historical books because I heard that they were pretty good. As you probably discerned from my last name I am of Eastern European descent and spent part of my early childhood in Austria after the war, so I am very interested in that time period and subsequent events.Delete
I just finished reading an interesting book about that time period called "Leaving Berlin" by Joseph Kanon. It is also about the DDR after the war and it is the type of novel I enjoy reading. It is challenging, but believable and not frustrating nor irritating. The ending is surprising, but nevertheless plausible.
So there you have it. A little controversy is always good for debate. Cheers.
Milan - yes, I suppose I'm loyal to Len as a writer, but I wouldn't say sensitive particularly; I am aware that he's fallible and not every book he's written has been a masterpiece. However, I think that looking at some of your criticisms, in light of the recent feedback from William Bree, didn't seem to be justified in the end. I don't think this ennealogy would be regarded as one of the top spy novels of the last fifty years by "the poet of the spy story" if they were incomprehensible and irritating. However, honest feedback, debate and criticism is healthy and this has become the blog post with the most comments ever generatedDelete
My Dear Friend Milan, if I may call you that, all along I've shared your frustrations. So many twists and subtleties in the plot, so many false leads and counter intuition. In this train of thought, about Mr. Deighton having flaws as a writer, I'm afraid I side with Mr. Mallows.ReplyDelete
His character development simply has no equal, his dialogue is superb. He has a technique that employs a literary devise wherein he buries a juicy tidbit inside an otherwise boring scene, rich in background but still tends to make the reader's eyes glaze over, making this little bit of information easy to miss. How many times does a character engage in mindless chit chat only to drop a quiet bombshell as they make their way out the door? I'll give you an example I just discovered today, and I really mean today: Tessa is helping Bernard move his kids to the new house, from his mother's. She's at her most lovable, but complaining about her marriage, George taking 'business trips' with a possible mistress. She really goes on and on and on. Then, in classic Deighton style, in the doorway, on the way out, she says she had an absurd dream, Fiona called her collect from Bosham (of all places), asking for photos, and would she bring them to terminal 2 at the airport? KaBOOM!.... More about this later, I need to get my thoughts in order.
Deighton readily admits that as he works long time with the same characters, they sometimes move the plot as much as he does.
William - a useful and apposite summary, I think!Delete
I suspect Mr. Deighton indulged himself in a bit of revisionism. I suspect, after reading another's take on the series elsewhere, that Fiona was a genuine traitor and that she was really in the car herself with the 'nurse'. This reader posited that in the first trilogy, Game, Set and Match, that Fiona was a genuine traitor. The dreamy phonecall, which could in no way be a dream, given the two facts of Bosham and Terminal 2, support this. As I've said, I'm still ordering my thoughts on this.Delete
You may, indeed, call me your friend because I think you are a true detective William who can see, or interpret tit-bits of information that I cannot. You seem to like the twists and turns and subtleties which, in fact, frustrate me and that is why I very much appreciate the answers you provided to some of my questions. Many other questions remain, but we must move on. It is the believability factor that annoys me the most and you have, in your subtle way, agreed with many of the points that I have so bluntly enumerated (job description of the old DG for example). I fully realize that it is all fiction of course and that Deighton writes well, nevertheless having been closely associated with our security service, I cannot bring myself to even remotely believe that any of this could occur (they would all be in jail or the funny farm).ReplyDelete
I do enjoy debating the issues with you and also for bringing to my attention Vince Flynn, about whom I did not know. I will check out his books. I hope he is an easier read then Deighton.
I look forward to you additional thoughts and revelations. Rob has paid you the utmost complement for engaging in our debate and enliving his blog, so now you have two fans on both side of the ocean! Cheers.
You and the other reader may be onto something. I recall Fiona, or the impostor talking about the children. That person gave him a year to keep the children. There was a second discussion about them (I do not recall when) about sending them to the best schools in Moscow, but Bernard talked her out of it pointing out that the KGB would never let them return to make sure she keeps her loyalty to them. After that, there was no discussion about the children. Perhaps a better indication and one of the many things on my mind is why the KGB/STASI never sought revenge on Fiona (they never came after her, or her family and she would have been an easy target with all her travel in Europe?). After all her penetration was the biggest success the west ever had. In spite of the fact that Bret lied to her, Fiona never objected to her extended stay in the DDR why? One has to balance that with her suicide attempt because it was all too much for her (was it genuine?). You can go on and on. Mind boggling!ReplyDelete
My dear friend William, I hope I can call you that as well. "You have to let me go" as Gloria said to Bernard. Now that you have opened my eyes, I am much more comfortable looking at Fiona as a traitor/real KGB agent for a number of reasons besides the one you already identified. I always thought her seduction was too easy and too quick. Her miraculous recovery from anxiety/depression after a couple of sessions in bed with Kennedy was remarkable (no more pills needed). If that in fact was the case, I owe an apology to Mr. Deighton. Kennedy must have been introduced to perform a more important function then just a lover. Perhaps that of a controller masquerading as a lover (real, or otherwise) which was a readily deniable position. That also explains why she continued to see him after officially learning he was a KGB plant. She already knew and that is why she never asked him how he knew she was in East Berlin (so many of my questions answered). I also found it strange that she could travel so easily to London (if it was her at the airport) and then to the Netherlands to see her aunt and Tessa (remember that) so early after her defection. Even her trip to the Czech Republic to meet Bernard is suspect (too easy).ReplyDelete
She did not resist too strenuously about going to the DDR, Even pretended to be black-mailed by Brett when the issue came up. But she always insisted that Bernard not be told about the affair, nor her suicide attempt. She always thought that Bernard was smarter then his bosses and made sure important information was kept from him. Furthermore, she never really cared about the children (she said so) in spite of her many questions about them. Even upon her return to London she preferred to leave them with her parents and send them to boarding school while she beavered away for the KGB. Brilliant!
I will now return to my original premise that Mr. Deighton was poking fun at the SIS and the Oxbridge establishment that ran it, because this is the only way I can rationalize this series. They had plenty of experience with double agents, such as Philby, McClean, Blake and others and learned very little from it if there is any truths in these books.Finally, imagine Fiona becoming the DG (she was after all the darling of the department), or at least the "haus frau" married to the Berlin resident, where all the action was and still probably working for the department. What a coup!! Unfortunately, or fortunately only for a little while longer as the Soviet Union and the DDR collapsed. Now I feel much better having got all this of my chest. I hope I am free.
Rob, I read somewhere that you were going to interview Mr. Deighton shortly. This is my question. Was Fiona really a traitor? I am sure he will smile and say that he will leave the answer to the fertile imaginations of his readers, but its worth a try. Thanks.ReplyDelete
Here's a very deep question. Seriously, think about it. At the end of 'Match', Fiona tells Bernard at the Stinnes/ Werner swap that 'there is no other man, there never will be'. Is she telling the truth? We know from later books that Harry, at this point has been her lover for 6 years. But at the time Deighton sent his manuscript to the publisher, was it the truth?ReplyDelete
Fiona did a lot of lying. She said the same thing to Bernard when he accused her of having an affair with Bret which she denied, but she was already having the affair with Kennedy.Delete
It's been a journey for me, Mian, Like Bernard... figuring out what really happened. I am just a reader, Bernard et al, are really just characters. We are confounded, then wonder how? This didn't happen to me after 'Tinker, Tailor' or 'A Scandal in Bohemia'. Deighton's jumping around in time is brilliant, but offers the threat of paradoxes. This confounds the reader, but why do we care? It's because Deighton involves us so deeply in his characters. I'm glad I was able to unravel some riddles, I was hoping others could do the same for me.ReplyDelete
More to follow abut what REALLY frustrates me.
...It's not the riddles.
My goodness no wonder I was frustrated, all the questions I had and things I did not understand were actually clues to Fiona's real identity and I did not connect the dots. Here are some more of them. You may recall Bernard noticed that Tessa willed her apartment to Fiona after she defected. Bernard wonders whether Tessa knew that Fiona was coming back. The latter denies it. Yet the author had some purpose inputting in that dialogue. At the debriefing Fiona requested that Bernard not be present because he made her nervous, how and why? I think she felt that she could fool Bret about her activities in East Berlin because he knew nothing real about the country, never having been there and never been an active agent (she also knew the interrogation techniques, after all Bret taught them to her). Whereas Bernard would have seen through her answers having been in the DDR many times and knowing a lot about it. Bernard was never shown the report of her debriefing. Furthermore, at the briefing with Prettyman where Bernard was present, she did not identify Kennedy, but rather called him the Moscow liaison man. Her attempted suicide could have been staged to gain Bret's sympathy for the debriefings and later work in the department. She may have taken some extra pills drank some vodka, dumped the rest and left the note where Bret would find it and come looking for her. At the worst, she would have had a good long sleep and a head ache. Bernard did not see the suicide note until the third last page of the last book so he could not act on any of the info in it and Bret conveniently burned the note to Bernard as you previously reported. She could have faked her night-mares to keep everyone thinking she was mentally frail and gain their sympathy. Silas reported that she had a medical and came out A1, but she refused to see a psychiatrist. No one is going to mess with her mind. I also think that she conspired to keep Bernard away from her so he could not pry, by sending him of to Berlin and being on the road all the time. Bernard complained that that they did not have even five minutes between trips to talk to each other. One other thing that stood out was the discussion with the East German pastor who complimented Bernard of having such a great wife. It turns out that he did not know her through his church, but rather as a STASI officer (did Fiona expose that particular church network?). The recruitment of Werner was much too easy (a KGB colonel would not go to get a prisoner). There may be other clues that I missed but these should suffice.ReplyDelete
There, I got most of it out of my system. If this was, indeed, the way it turned out it took much too much time and energy to get there!
Rob, did you know all about his???
I've just finished reading Faith, today, and it reminded how, if the question is were there traitors in the 'London side', the real candidate was George Kosinski, who was - based on the evidence in the books and the dialogue - playing London for fools by reporting for the Bezpiecka since 1978, Always took me by surprise when reading that, because George's Polish 'roots' are in the first few books relatively well hidden, other than references to his name and his cockney character being out of sync with it. George's treachery could have been excused if it had been solely in the name of his dead wife, but it was persistent and continuous.ReplyDelete
Now going through "Game' for the third time, I no longer think Fiona was a genuine traitor. Deighton had the 'Sinker' operation in mind all along. Bernard is driving home the same night Giles tries to commit suicide. He's discussing the 'Karshorst' matter and Fiona asks him why he wasn't with her that night in 1978?ReplyDelete
He says he was on an op in Gdansk...and that it went badly. She says but you made it out Darling. He reflects that all his ops turned bad since then, he always made it out, but everyone else 'wasn't so lucky'.
Now why does this hint at Fiona is a triple agent? Bernard gets suspicions about her dinner with Brett about the same time the large parcel of leaked Dept. Docs shows up in Berlin. It's the final bit that sends Bernard on the path to discover her as the KGB mole. Brett is meeting her because it's getting close to her being inserted. Lets get every last detail down pat, she's going in and Bernard will be the instrument of her defection.
Now why did I and many others think she's a genuine traitor at this point, and into 'Set' as well? First is her coldblooded encounter with Bernard on her first day in Berlin as a KGB Col. The reader thinks it's enough to plunge a knife into his heart to satisfy her masters that she's genuine, but why twist it so?
And she mentions that in every operation since 'Gydnia', she kept him safe. Bernard says she's betrayed every operation since then. Please note, Gdynia is a suburb of Gdansk.
I got the sense too from chatting with Len about the GSM series that he had the broad plan, if not the detail, for the whole story planned out.Delete
Her cover requires that she plunge a knife in Bernard's heart, can anyone offer an explanation why she twists it? I believe I have an answer.ReplyDelete
One can speculative about Fiona until one is blue in the face. Perhaps the author wanted it that way. I am moving on. I have read three new novels since Charity including, Girl On A Train, and enjoyed them all without tying myself in knots trying to figure out what happened. Have fun in your continuing struggle to figure out Deighton's intentions. I will monitor your progress.ReplyDelete
I enjoyed 'Girl on a Train' as well, I found the Samson Saga afterwards. The crux of my frustration is simple. In any Passion Play, and the Samson series was quite passionate, the final act always includes rewards. Fidelity, honor, loyalty, treachery, faithlessness, hubris and outright stupidity all get rewarded in kind. I'll say no moreReplyDelete
Thanks gentlemen - good discussionReplyDelete
It was a pleasure discussing the Samson series with you William and I did appreciate all your inputs. If I may, there are a couple of authors you may enjoy who write books of this nature namely W.E.B. Griffin and Philip Kerr, but are more understandable. If you have not read them, you may wish to have a go. Cheers.ReplyDelete
Thank you Milan for those recommendations, I'll definitely explore them. If I may suggest Daniel Silva, at least his villains get what they deserve!ReplyDelete
Thanks, I will check him out. Good reading!ReplyDelete
The final pieces of the puzzle manifested themselves to me most recently. Fiona had her buddies of the KGB assassinate the Swede. She knew Bernard was planning to run, but she needed him and the children as her cover, so the deed was done. The department was monitoring the movements of Bernard and they knew he met with the Swede and so, of course, did Fiona. I never thought Dickie's explanation for the killing was logical (it kept festering in my mind). Fiona delivered the coup de gras to Bernard when she replenished the 3000 pounds he paid to the Swede in his bank account (is this what you meant by twisting the knife William?). The author let her get away with it all. Is this another poke in the eyes of the SIS???ReplyDelete
The ending was pathetic. Bret, one of the bad guys, rides into the sunset with Gloria, the only decent person in the whole series. While the author stabs his hero Bernard in the back by leaving him to deal with his cheating, betraying, and treasonous wife! Wow!!!
I've read and re-read this series many times since I started collecting the books in the 1990s. The Samsons, their friends and family live for me, and I often wonder about the inconsistencies within the series and try to unravel them. I won't try to do that here, but instead I wonder if commentators on this discussion have considered the realities of the espionage world, the effect that being an agent has on the psyche, the personality type of a field agent, and the experience of being a woman in the late 1980s in any career.ReplyDelete
The history of 20th-century espionage is rife with 'unsuitable' personalities employed in the field. A spy needs to be a thief, a liar, a furtive type with a moral code that is completely adapted to the needs of the job. Thus Werner takes a great, secret pleasure (as Deighton makes very clear, to Werner this is the best kind of pleasure), in keeping some of his actions from Bernie. Even though it's destructive to her marriage and mental health, Fiona holds herself apart. I don't think she ever loved Kennedy, but compartmentalised her relationship with him as a release valve. Many agents have been promiscuous. Bernard often doesn't tell Gloria his secrets, but she is smart enough to join the dots herself in many scenes. It is a secretive, brutal world, in which the players are disposable. If you want a spy story in which the 'good guys' are rewarded and the 'bad guys' punished, don't read quality fiction. Deighton is too good to lie to us.
Living with this pressure, in fear of one's life, constantly pretending, would produce a psychological stress that civilians can only guess at. Sex, drugs, violence and manipulation are behaviours that almost all of the characters indulge in at various points in the story. Even someone as rigid and stoic as Stinnes cracks up and gets involved in the heroin trade. This is one of the biggest shocks for me in the character developments during the series, and unfortunately we are not privy to his breakdown. My grandmother, who lived through WWII in East end of London, told me that under that stress, nearly everyone behaved immorally – affairs with foreign servicemen, looting bomb sites, buying black-market goods – and we can be sure that many servicemen also behaved badly overseas. Once the war was over, everyone tried to paper over the cracks and return to 'normality', deliberately forgetting or dismissing their questions and their guilty feelings. This resulted in an repressed atmosphere and a morality that seemed to have regressed in many ways (especially in gender and sexual relations) from that of the inter-war years that was exploded violently in the 1960s. This kind of post-traumatic stress reaction seems rife in 'Hope, Faith and Charity' – everyone wants to pretend in the hope that silence equals peace.
If I was to write a treatment of the Samson series, I'd take 'Sinker' as my starting point. In many ways, this whole novel cycle is the story of a woman trying to prove to her father that she is the son he craved. She makes poor decisions and cannot interact honestly with any of the people in her life. She has no real friends except Tessa, and she will not let down her guard to Tessa, either. I think Deighton makes it very clear why and is more sympathetic to Fiona than many of the readers seem to be. Fiona is a person of multiple masks. Even more than other women (especially 30 years ago) who complain of having to play many roles in order to satisfy their bosses, families, partners, children, friends. You have to do this if you cannot wield power directly. Fiona has to manipulate everyone around her to achieve her goals. This is demeaning as well as difficult. No wonder she keeps secrets, has a risky and stupid affair, and eventually cracks up, for a time losing her memory (Fiona's heroic success results in Tessa's death). Bernie is by far the more sympathetic Samson, but he is without many of Fiona's stresses. And ultimately Fiona proves the better agent.
Thanks for your interesting comments. I think Spy Sinker is such a telling book because it explores characters' pysches in a way you cannot get just from Bernard's perspective.Delete
I'm writing this in hopes that someone out there might have some information. I'm in the U.S. and trying to find audiobook versions of the complete Samson series. Audible usually has everything, but it only has a couple of the books available in the U.S. However when I go to Audible without signing it, it lists all the books. Upon contacting Audible, they explained that U.S. distribution rights have not been sold. Thus if I had a U.K. credit card and Audible thought I was a U.K. resident I could buy any book in the series. Not the case with my U.S. credit card. Another very frustrating by-product of the publishing industry not recognizing the realities of digital distribution. Do you or anyone know when U.S. rights may be sold/granted so Audible could distribute the entire series in the U.S.? I'm on this quest because I read the series in book form in the past and now I'd like to go through it again in audio version. Thanks.ReplyDelete
Len really needs to release the ITV series of GSM, despite his feelings for it. It simply would have channeled many to the books, showing him as the superb writer he is. I believe the storyline stands on its own and comes through in the series successfully and more people deserve to see that.ReplyDelete
You need to write to Clerkenwell Films - they've been sitting on the TV rights for all nine books for over three years now!ReplyDelete
I hope it is not too late to join this discussion. I'M m a latecomer to Deighton's Samson books and just discovered this blog. I have many questions about this series; many have been posed in the previous discussion above. But here are two questions that weren't:ReplyDelete
1. What was the narrative purpose of introducing Gloria's father, the dentist? Doing do heightened the suspense, with Gloria fearing for his life when he returned to Hungary. And I think there was a connection between his dental research and the dental work SIS did on the skull as part of the plan to make DDR think Fiona was dead. But once moved to Hungary he was never mentioned again and he came into no danger. Further, Bernard never seems to make to dental connection, does he? Maybe I'm missing something, but the subplot about the father seemed like a red herring.
2. It's established that Bernard is an unreliable narrator, but can we assume that the omniscient narrator of Sinker is reliable?
Yes I had wondered about Bernard never mentioning anything about the dentistry/Gloria's father. Perhaps not following this line was part of how Deighton must have had to adapt to the changing political situation in the real world as the series progressed.Delete
I think he intended the Sinker narrator to be accurate.
Not to belabor the point, but as I read the books, I occasionally got the impression that an episode was inserted for unclear reasons. For instance, in one of the middle volumes (can't remember which one) Bernard travels to Switzerland to meet his brother-in-law. To avoid detection, he hitchhikes. O the way, the driver tries to kill him. Later Bernard speculates about whether or not the driver was an enemy agent. What is the purpose of this narrative episode? Is it to heighten the general sense of danger? To show that Bernard is more than a bit paranoid? To show that Bernard is adept at killing? The episode didn't make any narrative sense to me--what are the odds that Bernard would be picked up by a psychopathic killer? I can't believe that Deighton was simply trying to increase the action quotient, but the logic of the passage escapes me.Delete
Likewise, in one of the latter volumes there is a subplot about a young British operative (sorry, can't remember the name) who on his own goes into East Germany and gets killed. The body is eviscerated and then placed in a hotel room to which Bernard and Gloria have gone. I didn't understand the purpose of this subplot, unless it was to reinforce the point that Berlin is a dangerous place.
Perhaps it's this ambiguity which provides the reader with a challenge, to ask just these questions?Delete
Rob, thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps you are right about Deighton's authorial purpose.Delete
But take the episode in one of the last volumes where Bernard and (I think) Dicky Cruyer are in Poland. They visit a dilapidated mall are are accosted by thugs, who take them to a room in order to rob and kill them Bernard disarms them and the two escape. Later there is a scene in which a third person mentions that two locals have been assaulted and notes that the incident coincided with the arrival in Poland of Bernard and Dicky. But, so far as I can determine, the episode doesn't play a structural role in the story: it doesn't yield narrative information to either the characters or the reader (except that, as is repeatedly shown, Bernard can be efficiently violent and Dicky is useless), it doesn't pose a puzzle that is later solved. In fact, so far as I can tell, its only purpose is to provide an opportunity for Bernard to use the tricked-out umbrella that he obtained.
Deighton is obviously a skilled writer; his genre is the mystery, whose conventions suggest that there are clues and solutions, that information given in act one becomes important in act 2. By including episodes such as I have described, with no apparent narrative purpose, an author risks being accused of including a scene only to indulge some writerly desire and not to advance the plot.
Perhaps what Deighton is doing is to subvert the mystery genre by showing that some things in life (and in the story) are random--they happen, but are narratively unconnected with the story. They are, it turns out, not puzzles. Readers of mysteries expect that each main element and scene will fit logically into some larger whole. Perhaps, by narrating episodes that does not thus fit, Deighton is subverting the reader's expectation and making the story more life-like, for in life things often do not fit together in a coherent whole.
Sam, some great observations - maybe at this stage, all I might say is ... I'm not sure. I feel, when I read the polish assault incident, that it seems to fit and doesn't jar, but I guess each reader comes at it from their own perspective. Who knows who's right?Delete
It would seem that Dicky and Bernard are targeted. In less than a week George's bother talks about these 2 thugs being beaten. And who better to target them than George. Also it gives an opportunity to supply the gun Dicky uses later in the same bookDelete
I think it serves more to provide and develop Gloria's back story and why she's at London Central, perhaps, almost that espionage and secrecy runs in the family.ReplyDelete
Rob, Thanks for the reply. It is curious how almost everyone close to Bernard ends up in espionage--Gloria's father, Tessa's husband. Do you have an opinion about my second question--whether the omniscient narrator of Sinker is reliable? Can we talk what that narrator says as true within the narrative world of this series?ReplyDelete
I clearly think so and it states clearly at the railway station before Fiona meets Harry for the first time that she could never be a real KGB spy.Delete
Well, I think the point about the third person author - accurate or not - is to challenge the reader's understanding of the previous five books and throw everything up in the air. Of course, by reverting back to first person for the last three books, this ambiguity is raised again.ReplyDelete
Yes, that makes sense. But it makes the final pages of Charity curious. From Sinker we are told (if I recall correctly) that Brett R. handled the details of the plot. At the end of Charity, SIS leadership has placed the blame on Silas. Bernard has met with Silas in the near past and didn't find him delusional or otherwise abnormal. Yet at the end of charity he seems to agree that Silas is to blame for Tessa's death. Is he willingly ignoring what he knows and offering public, but insincere, agreement with SIS leadership? Or has he allowed himself to become convinced that Silas really was responsible for Tessa's death? If the latter, then the reader knows that Bernard has been duped. But the first 8 volumes of this series seemed premised on the thesis that Bernard is not easily duped--quite the contrary. If the former, then the question of motivation arises. Has Bernard agreed to accept the official version in order to cement his appointment as Berlin head?ReplyDelete
I have just been reading the ending of Sinker and Thurkettle states it was his idea to use Tessa to fake Fiona deathDelete
Perhaps that the essence of crafting a good ennealogy thriller - with an ending that's ambiguous in terms of understanding Bernard's relationship to the main antagonist (Silas), the reader is challenged and made to think and provider his or her own interpretation. Perhaps as an author Deighton's not satisfied with just clearing up every questions left open.ReplyDelete
I think Bernard is a very complex man with a head full of data that he does not share. The 1st one in Berlin Game he forces Zena Frank but said nothing. He keeps all Fiona's clothes after Gloria moves in for 3 years. He sees the skull in the dentist office before he goes to BerlinDelete
He checks out Dickys wife's boyfriend and tells nobody. He sees 1of George's shoe after seeing the other 1 on the found leg. I am sure there are more examples.
I read the whole series as it came out and just finished them again. I especially enjoy making connections between Winter and the other books. I got online hoping to find the answer to a little question more easily than searching through the texts again (perhaps I need a kindle : )ReplyDelete
In Charity, one of the devices to move the plot is the re-opening of the Kleindorff's club, with Rudi handling it. I thought Rudi was killed "off stage" in an earlier book. What am I mis-remembering?
You're remembering correctly, in that "der grosse Kleiner" was implicated by Rolf Mauser in chapter one of Spy Line as having been killed, due to dealing drugs between East and West. Clearly, he was being identified as part of the drugs ring associated with Erich Stinnes which forms a key element of the denoument of the story.ReplyDelete
But I think the key thing here is that this information was shared by Rolf Mauser, who himself was implicated in some nefarious practices linked to being a member of the Brahms network. Could he be trusted in confirming Rudi's death? Notice that Bernard responds "So I've heard" - he hadn't actually confirmed the death of Kleindorf. Also, note, there was no autopsy.
I suspect that 'rumours' of Kleindorf's death were put about either by Kleindorf himself, or the Brahms network, to put London Central and the Stasi off the scent of their involvement with Stinnes and rogue KGB in the drugs importation.
Once Stinnes is killed, then I guess Rudi Kleindorf, cleared in effect, can go 'legit' with Werner and re-open the club.
It's all about ambiguity, that's why these books deserve you reading them again and again - like peeling back the layers of an onion.
I feel compelled to chime in on this ancient thread, because it has saved my sanity!ReplyDelete
I just finished reading the nine-volume Bernard Samson series, and I have to say I was left puzzling over a number of loose ends -- including the questions raised by the original poster here.
It's not so much that the fascinating discussions in this thread have answered those questions to my satisfaction. They haven't. (With the possible exception of why Kennedy was in the car.)
It's that I have that feeling of relief when you realize that it's not just you: Other people had the same questions. And they can't figure out the answers either.
(Case in point: the miraculous and inexplicable resurrection of Rudy Kleindorf, discussed just recently. I can ponder the implications of Kleindorf as Christ figure. Or I can conclude that Mr. Deighton just forgot.)
And -- up to the very last pages of Charity -- I assumed some significance would attach to the fact that Werner, not Prettyman or someone else, killed Thurkettle. And hid that fact from Bernard. Instead, they danced all around that fact – even having Bernard mention that shooting someone from behind a briefcase was one of Werner's tricks – only to have Bernard happily conclude that Prettyman killed Thurkettle. OK, Werner was acting for Prettyman (who was acting for Gaunt). But so what? Why make the hired gun Bernard's best friend?
Again my theory, for what it's worth, it is simply that when Mr. Deighton wrote Spy Sinker, he had some other ending in mind, in which the fact that Werner was the killer would be significant. By the time he got around to finishing Charity, however, he'd gone in a different direction, in which Werner's role in killing Thurkettle was incidental and not worth dwelling on.
Like Mr. Stolarik, I'm not a big fan of ambiguity in my spy novels. Well, ambiguity in characters, sure. Ambiguity in the plot, not so much. (If that's what I'm looking for, I can always rewatch Rashomon.)
Speaking of Spy Sinker, what an awful book. Hook, Line, and Stinker. I enjoyed all the volumes in the series except that one. Something about departing from Bernard Samson's point of view resulted in stilted prose, empty of nuance or feeling, and wooden characters. It reads as though he tasked an assistant with writing up his background notes. And why do it at all? Revealing plot and characters through Samson's viewpoint works so well in all the other volumes, especially as his understanding of his situation and his perception of others develops and deepens as the story progresses. According to the author's introduction, some people suggested reading Sinker first! I guess if you enjoy spoilers, that makes sense. But if you like suspense and mystery, frankly I'd read Sinker last, if at all.
Too bad, because apart from that sore thumb, I enjoyed the series thoroughly.
My theory about the Thurkettle killing is simple. Werner's loyalty to Bernard comes first, but because of his years of being an outsider in the intelligence community, he takes secrets more seriously, and believes that his continued employment depends on it. Just like his role as Fiona's contact, he would not tell Bernard a secret, unless he felt that it was OK with whoever gave him the order.Delete
Sorry, had to delete my initial post as it didn't make sense due to a part of it missing. Intrigued to read that others find aspects of the story bewildering like I do, some fascinating opinions and interpretations in this blog. I've recently started to read the whole series for the third time in 25 years (starting with 'Winter') and in the paperback edition I have there is an interesting foreword by James Jones, it says " . . . . readers should remember that the opinions expressed by the characters are not necessarily those of the author". Deightons Trilogy Of Trilogies is the gift that keeps on givingReplyDelete
The longest set of comments by far on the whole blog, because it is a lot of novel(s) and it has so many twists and turns. That comment by Jones becomes so pertinent in Sinker, of course!Delete
To be honest Rob, I am surprised that some people dislike Sinker as I found it to be enlightening, it made me realise that maybe I shouldn't just take Bernards opinion as gospel. Fiona seems to have ruffled a few feathers amongst the bloggers too. I also recall being shocked, disgusted and maybe even a little jealous when the affair with Kennedy was revealed. I mean, Fiona, how could you? Bernard is our hero, Werner is his best friend, Fiona his wife, seeing our hero betrayed by possibly the two most important people in his life (apart from his children) was so distressing. The characters draw you in so powerfully that you begin to feel for them emotionally just as you would for real living people, you take sides and draw the enemy lines, quite amazing really. We all felt betrayed by Fiona, how dare she treat her husband, our Bernard, like that! Gloria was our heroine (or at least mine) and I wanted her and Bernard and the children to move to Berlin together when he got the job he'd craved throughout his career and live happily ever after, leaving that harlot Fiona to strut the corridors of the Department in London as the forevermore frustrated ex-Mrs Samson. But no, it was that smarmy Yank, Rensselaer, who rode off into the sunset with the gorgeous Gloria, leaving our hero with his unfaithful, child-abandoning, untrustworthy wife. It was so damned unfair, just like life sometimes eh?ReplyDelete
I just finished reading 'Winter' again, a really enjoyable book. I'd forgotten quite how it ended but started to realise as I got to the last few pages that it ended tragically of course. I can't guess where the brothers were heading to either after they'd been to Pauli's house on the Obersalzburg that fateful night and although I like to think that Peter was helping Pauli to escape it would have been very difficult for them to leave their mother alone in Berlin. And I keep wondering what was in the empty trunk discovered by Samson and Uncle Glenn in the upstairs bedroom, the one that looked like it had been dug up. Any thoughts out there?ReplyDelete
Doesn't anybody else wonder whether Bernard was a KGB spy after-all? I mean there's plenty of evidence through all 9 novels to suggest that.ReplyDelete
Initially I wrote a full list of events and their possible explanations, taken from mostly all the books which, chained together, portrays a very convincing picture of this being a real alternative to what was shown on pages.
P.S. haven't read winter yet.
I'm not sure .... I think sympathy for Erich Stinnes - similar age, both overlooked, both with bad bosses - should not be construed for sympathy for this ideology. Bernard always strikes me as a down the line Englishman who wouldn't betray his country.Delete
Thanks for the post and the provocative suggestion. I'd be interested in seeing your list of events and the way in which you weave them into a narrative about Bernard being a KGB spy.
From the perspective of the world of the narrative, interpreting Bernard as a spy probably does not make the narrative incoherent. One would have to explain how it is that Fiona, who seems to be accepted by the Russian/East German agencies, doesn't know about his allegiance, as well as the fact that he keeps killing Russian/East German operatives. But one could always argue that his role as mole is so deep that only a few at the top of the KGB know about him and his mission, whatever it is.
However, I think the main problem with interpreting Bernard as a KGB spy pertains more to the narrator. In this series, we have a third person narrator who knows events that Bernard does not know and knows the thoughts of persons to which Bernard does not have access. This strongly suggests that the narrator is omniscient (within the narrative-world). If Bernard is a foreign spy, 1) either the narrator does not know this and is not truly omniscient or 2) the narrator is withholding from the reader some very important information, indeed, information that alters the meaning of the narrative of the entire series or 3) the narrator is actually telling readers that Bernard is a foreign spy, but is doing so in a highly subtle way. If #3 is true, then the narrator has in effect created a puzzle and invited readers to solve the puzzle.
I think you may find no single, independent narrator EVER appears in Sinker! Instead we are continuously exposed to the perspective of one of the characters (one at a time I mean, as numerous points of view get represented throughout the book of course). The author's notes in both Faith and Charity are quite specific, I believe, in referring to this not as a Narrator but as 'a third-party narrative'. In fairness the version of the technique which Mr. Deighton employs isn't too commonly found because it can confuse readers - see Chapter 2 for example when, in the final page or so and with no clear signposting, we pinball between the thoughts of Bernard, Stinnes and Sergeant Powell. Course alumni often parrot that writers should avoid 'head-hopping' or rotating between different points of view, but I for one feel this is another of the artful methods by which the author creates complex ambiguities (even if, from earlier comments, not all Mystery fans embrace this as an outcome!)Delete
What's more, as Mr. Deighton mentions in his preface to the Game/Set/Match omnibus, each of these characters is equally as subjective and biased as Bernard .... so not a single 100% reliable human witness in sight, I'm afraid, never mind an omniscient being to unpick plot tangles for us!
I'm so very delighted to have found you on this site. While I'm only just beginning to sample its many delights, thank you Rob for the incredible effort you've clearly invested into promoting Mr. Deighton's superb publications.ReplyDelete
And there's especial serendipity given I was on the verge of revisiting the Samson series. However, inspired by all the angst and illumination already here, I've decided that rather than simply re-read I'd instead attempt a more analytical approach to what plagues me still. To that end I've had a stab at laying out a few starting hypotheses, so would be delighted to hear any views people have about them. Perhaps, over time, you can suggest pertinent sections or questions which I may have missed? Even better, in the spirit of rational enquiry maybe you will discover evidence which disproves a hypothesis, thereby allowing us to circle ever closer to the author's true intentions?
Naturally it's possible to come at a task like this from several directions, but what more fitting angle than that of our hilarious brute of a protagonist - Mr. Bernard Samson himself - and the degree to which he ought to have understood (or perhaps did?) what was really going on with Fiona. Which brings us to my principal dilemma - is Fiona operating as a 'Double' or as a 'Triple'? (I'm afraid the notion of a quadruple I find so mind-blowing that I'm happy for now to work on the basis that, even if true, essentially she'd still be functioning as a double ... just one enveloped in further layers of the proverbial onion skin!)
Anyway I'll set out below my starting hypotheses and hope some of you may care to join me on what's sure to prove another challenging but highly enjoyable trip 'drűben' ...
Starting hypothesis No.1 I've christened THE STRAIGHT DOUBLE : Fiona is indeed a British 'double' and, although Bernard realises it shortly before she 'defects', he really might have twigged this sooner.ReplyDelete
No.2 I'm calling THE WILFULLY IGNORANT hypothesis : While Bernard suspects Fiona is being prepared for a key operational role, he's unable to acknowledge this to himself.
No.3 is THE SUFFERING IN SILENCE hypothesis and it differs from Wilfully Ignorant in one significant way : Bernard is certain that Fiona is being prepared for a key operational role however, consummate professional that is, he won't acknowledge this fact to others.
Might it not be useful here if we can learn Bernard's true motivations in keeping his own counsel - to protect the success of the operation &/or to protect his wife &/or some other reason?
Matters will have taken a more dastardly turn if the correct hypothesis ends up being No.4 THE INADVERTENT TRIPLE : Fiona believes herself a British 'double' however, unbeknownst to her, she is in fact performing the role of 'triple' agent on behalf of Soviet bloc intelligence (hang in there !!)
I say 'inadvertent' as there exists, you may agree, plenty of info to counter any risk that Fiona's true allegiances lie behind the Iron Curtain? However, as bizarre as it may at first sound, might it still be worth exploring what she's been told that has her believing she's a double?
Also, are there clues concerning KGB &/or Stasi strategy - e.g. to establish ongoing control over London Central, or some other purpose?
And if all that wasn't enough I thought it might also be fun to pursue a 5th hypothesis - DELILAH : While I need to revisit the details of the Biblical tale, is the enemy seeking to neuter the person (i.e. SAMSON) it views as an especial threat? And despite being blinded by someone who Delilah has sent against him, does our hero free himself sufficiently to bring the whole 'temple' crashing down around them all ...?
In the absence of disproving the rival scenarios listed above could the following, additional questions provide evidence in support of one or more of them?
Was Fiona selected for her role in reaction to her being approached by the Soviet trade delegation - or perhaps even earlier than this?
Was Fiona already being prepared for her role by the time Bernard first met her?
How might Bernard have suspected that he was being deceived? (whether marital infidelity, or some other cause)
How might Bernard have worked out that Fiona was being prepared for an operational role?
At what point precisely did Bernard establish this was the case?
- and in particular -
Who else knew of Fiona's secret role? (right now this could involve any of the cast, for my money!) Also, who made each person aware, and when?
Having marshalled my thoughts a little I now can't wait to pick up the first book again (although perhaps I should get underway with Sinker?) Anyway, any input you have along the way would be most welcome ...
Sorry for the delay in posting - I'd forgotten that I'd put comment moderation on, and not checked blogger for a while - thanks for your interesting ideas.Delete
I'm afraid Abhinandan and Sam's possibility that Bernard may be a foreign spy (and why stop there, why not him and his wife - separately or jointly?) remains a Oberbaumbrücke too far for me at present and so I think I'll continue to focus on Fiona .... sorry, Mr. Deighton, I simply can't accept your assertion that 'Bernard's story is as near the truth as we can hope to get'!Delete
And if Fiona does turn out to be a Triple, my recent re-read of Game and Sinker means I'm obliged now to add one further starting hypothesis to my list posted elsewhere. Perhaps I'll call this one 4b) THE REVENGE TRIPLE - whether I'm correct to state plenty of evidence exists that Fiona's loyalty is with Britain, this may in fact only last until that delicious moment when, in the private dining room at Kessler's, she tosses her champagne in Bret's face? What if, in all his subsequent descriptions of her passiveness, the author doth protest too much? What if, in fact, she has turned, promising herself revenge against Bret, if not the whole edifice which committed her entire life into this man's hands? And begun operating in an even more calculating manner than she has thus far needed to? Notwithstanding quite when Bernard picked her status as British Double - and Fiona's specific role in the DELILAH hypothesis - that's what's I'm prioritising for now ....
Early in Sinker Fiona sits in the railway station and points out she could never support the communist system. Then Spy Line a discussion with Bernard and Silas discuss Fiona's recruitment and afterward she went to France to learn Russian. Who would pick Russian as an important 2nd language? Except a future spyDelete
Well I've just finished Charity, the final book in the Trilogy Of Trilogies, for the third time in almost a quarter of a century! I started with 'Winter' then read every book again in chronological order, which I feel is the only way to do it personally. So now I feel quite old myself but Werner and Bernard will be in their mid-70s by now I guess. The whole story seems much clearer to me this time and a lot of questions were finally answered, at least in my mind, but I still ache to know if Fiona did join Bernard in Berlin and live happily ever after? Did Gloria settle down with Bret in California? Is Werner still living in Wannsee with Zena? Did Frank go to Australia to be with his son after he retired? Is Dicky the DG yet? So many questions still and I suppose we'll be left to guess for ourselves! What I do know is that these stories are the best I have ever read and the characters so beloved that I am sure I will read them all yet again sometime and thanks to Rob and this blog there is always somewhere to go and read about or discuss Mr Deightons superb creations.ReplyDelete
Three tours in 25 years is some feat - it's telling so many are drawn back to the Samson series isn't it ? As a writer of similar stuff I'm always fascinated by the diversity of reader reactions: from speculating on the lives of favourite characters, as you yourself do, to Mystery lovers left desperately trying to pin leftover jelly to walls.ReplyDelete
One of the things which impresses me about the author is how he sticks to his guns - refusing to chase cheap publicity or, clearly after huge disappointment with the casting decisions of Granada TV, not re-releasing Game, Set & Match despite this drawing some flak (increasingly inevitable in the Era Of Opinion and Age of Commercial Imperative). Yet perhaps detractors demanding more of him should acknowledge Creator's Prerogative here? After all he is the person who sweated blood and tears (probably passed the odd folly too) in order to produce a string of masterpieces for us .... so thank you from another grateful reader, Mr. Deighton.
I'm pleased for you that the plot felt clearer this time - and hope you got to the bottom of some of our key dilemmas such as which, if any of the characters were traitors? It does seem safe to post here without fear of spoilers because whenever one reader states a certainty, a second can usually suggest evidence to cast doubt - not least because the author appears to scatter core info selectively across the series - a clue tucked here, its edge barely protruding from beneath some humorous dialogue; another left lying carelessly around as if it somehow escaped final edit. My kind of jelly, so back I go to replastering my walls ....
Am I the only person who in reading Spy Sinker is disappointed that we never hear Fiona's views on the climactic events of London Match. I would love to know what she thought when she came through the wall for that meeting and was faced with both old colleagues, but importantly Bernard. What was in her mind as she for the first time since defecting truly came face to face with her husband?ReplyDelete
I am fascinated with Fiona's character and i know inside her emotions must have been in turmoil, but lacking seeing the events of that day, all we can do is guess what was in her brain. Am I the only reader who wishes that Deighton had given her viewpoint of events of that day, and in that I include the immediate reactions to Moskvin's killing.
Anyway does anyone else have opinions? Are there clues to her thoughts that I have missed?
Quite a long post so split into partsReplyDelete
In defence of Fiona Samson.
Like others I recently re read the Bernard Samson series and what an emotional ride it has been. 20 plus years later I realised there was so much to the character of Fiona Samson that I had first though. I too sympathise with Milan‘s post. I think first time around I felt something similar.
Second reading of all the novels has been very different. Comparing for example a set of comments in one book against another in another book . I think some people find Len Deighton’s writing of women and 2 dimensional and stereotypical. I found Deighton’s characterisation of Fiona to be deep and interesting.
Some great posts here I have felt emboldened to articulate some of my reading of Fiona (though her relationship with Kennedy) and to a lesser extent with Bernie.
First so just some general observations to chime in with that of other posts.
First, the Kennedy affair and keeping Bernie in the dark about Fiona’s status as a double agent are utterly essential. Without these plot devices there is not much of a story. Well there is story but it would not take the reader into such dark places as we are taken. Of course sending a young married mother of 2 on this dark journey is utter madness. That is the point top of office in British Intelligence/MI6 are utterly ruthless where end justifies the means. It is clear they do her even expect her to come back alive or even care. I found Bret Rensselaer to be a redeeming character. Interesting that it takes an American to horrified at this. He also wants Bernie to be on the deception early on. I would think he is reflecting us the readers at this point. I think Deighton is telling us that he thinks this is really crap too.
The second is that Deighton is master at using a few or single words to convey important meanings which when read in the context of the whole arc can take on a different meaning. One readers view of Fiona just by reading Spy Sinker may well very different after reading the entire arc. Even in Spy Sinker with the third person narrative I think we have to be careful at taking all that we are told people are thinking and saying at face value.
Spy Sinker is where we learn about the Fiona Harry relationship so most of the evidence is from that book But not all.
Fiona and Doctor Harry Kennedy in Berlin.ReplyDelete
I really enjoyed reading and re reading this sequence of Fiona’s life in Berlin 1983-1987.
Opera October 1983
Here we find a very different and revealing relationship with Kennedy. He turns up at an
Opera performance reinserted by the KGB back into her life soon after Fiona’s defection to the East and tells her how much he loves her. There is plenty of evidence to conclude that this true. As usual Deighton also gives us of ambiguities in the text. She is very concerned for her cover went she first sees Kennedy so even she does not whether she is simply scared or old sexual feelings are returning. She wishes at one point he would just go away. She recalls (in this state of shock how earlier in London she felt electrified my him (the KGB tactic). She had only to see him in profile be aroused (I think that may well be quite normal in illicit extra marital affairs) and was more physical Bernie had ever been. Really? We know that Fiona fell in love with Bernie at first sight and Deighton goes out his way to let us how hot Bernie and Gloria are. Perhaps this is just a reminder of how long it has been since Berne and Fiona had sex.
Once again I think we need to careful not take this at face value. Fiona is already considering this may will be a KGB plot. She later confirms this as true. He tells her more than once how that he loves her. Deighton provides balance – Fiona has not been troubled at all by not expecting to see Harry again. Fiona She does not say she missed Kennedy she does not say he loves or loved him.
Muggelsee May 1987ReplyDelete
My favourite Fiona/Kennedy scene.
We know Fiona is coming to end of her resources, a complete breakdown is not far away. Fiona you are my heroine for making it this far. Bernie has been having a great time bedding Gloria over past few years which is such a contrast to what we learn about here about Fiona. I found this scene almost dreamlike.
This where I think Kennedy saves Fiona’s life because he has fallen in love with her.
Kennedy and Fiona have being seeing each other on and off for the last four years. Life in East Berlin has been generally miserable for Fiona and only the thought of returning to Bernie and her kids have kept her going. Kennedy has provided the love and care she needed to keep her going during the misery if her separation from Bernie and the kids. No sex mentioned or anything remotely sizzling. The scene seems quite melancholic and even romantic. But wait there is more to it.
As at the last London scene things are said which seem a little late in the day. Kennedy declares he wants to marry Fiona and urges her to divorce Bernie. Kennedy lets her know something which he may known years ago – and announces that Bernie is now with a pretty young blond girl. He has actually (so he says) seen them together in London. This is combined the Mata Hari discussion! So is Kennedy beginning to blackmail Fiona into becoming his Haus Frau (Fiona daydreams that would not be the worst thing to happen – a day dream that simply reflects how bad her situation has become). So this instead of voicing his concerns to the KGB – quite possibly resulting her death, he is delaying to see if he can get Fiona to marry him. Fortuitous then that Kennedy fell in love with her.
The Werner/Fiona interaction about Kennedy that evening is also interesting. Fiona is forced to reveal to Werner that on the lake that day talked about wonderful it would be if she a Mati Hari escaping to the west tosh. Fiona coming back to life with end so near? And of course Werner provides the method for eliminating Kennedy.
What we are told of Fiona’s reaction at Kennedy is worth looking at. She was totally disabled by seeing dear sweet Harry whom she loved so brutally shot dead and not by an avenging husband…. For me this is the end of 9 or so years of hell for Fiona. Her brain may have hardly be functioning at this time. Right at the time Deighton gives us this! Perhaps this her final dream like and only requiem for a man who she recognised had provided her care and comfort when she most needed it just to stay alive and by being madly in love with her. Just perhaps but knowing this was the end of the affair Fiona had made love with Kennedy during this last visit. Whatever her overall feelings for Kennedy she is probably going to feel something for somebody she has recently made love with. At this point Fiona is probably in such a state any thing she says or we are told she feels has to taken as dream like ramblings rather than matters of fact.
The margin between life and death for them both was very small indeed.
Phew! This has ended being a very long post and mostly about Fiona and Kennedy. During this second time around reading I have seen this relationship in a very different light from first time. I really started to feel Fiona's pain. A small point I did find it very helpful to understand the events at this time from the view points of others. Other than the matters of fact though I did find the thoughts we are given from heads of others. like with Bernie's perspectives, still had to be treated with caution.
Fiona and BernieReplyDelete
I will keep this short. For me throughout the arc we left in no doubt at all that Fiona and Bernie are deeply and lasting in love with each other. No double agent thing and nothing will get in the way of their love. The reader is probably really, really angry that lovely happy married Fiona with two small children, is forced into undertaking such a horrible thing. I think that is why 20 years ago I recall being very disappointed about the whole Harry/Fiona thing. And was I was at first happy overlook Bernie’s own sizzling infidelity.
Deighton uses Bernie’s infidelity to make the reunion with Fiona much more difficult and painful than it would otherwise have been more that I would have liked. Instead of caring for Fiona from the get go he completely looses the plot for a while!
For me it is so obvious that they are both desperate for each other and we are giving lots of near misses. Right at the start of Faith, Fiona unexpectedly bites Bernie’s lip.. I think Bret R should have cancelled their flights at the California airport to come home and booked them into a hotel for a couple of days on their own! There are plenty of other missed opportunities.
I think the of last chapter can be considered Redemptive. 3 letters come into play and we get a glimpse of where Bernie and Fiona are heading. I think it is highly significant that before we learn from Bernie that he has written to Fiona asking her start over again with him and the kids in Berlin Bret R reveals he has already spoken to Fiona who wants him back and will give up her work to be with him and the children. Coincidence? Bret R? I think not. Brett was giving us her answer to Bernie's letter. After all Brett is at this point the go between for Fiona and Bernie. I found the suicide note Fiona wrote to Bret R back In California which is revealed to us at his late stage to be very moving. I believe Bret when he said he destroyed Fiona’s note to Bernie and I doubt he would even read it. I think he would have found that very distasteful. Sharing Fiona's suicide note with Bernie showed Brett was pulling out all the stops. I think Bernie's heart would have been breaking as he read it. Otherwise Brett might have been tempted to bash Bernie with a cricket bat if he had not woken up and said he was going back with Fiona!
Ultimately Fiona’s affair with Kennedy did not destroy their marriage. I don’t think it was ever going to; they both had just one affair under times of believable stress. No serial infidelity here. I think Bernie had already joined up all the dots about Fiona and Kennedy. In the circumstances he knew poor Fiona had not stood a chance. In the end it was not so much Fiona’s affair that caused him so much grief - for him this was simply part of the overall deception; and it was this deception that really hurt. Had he known he would not added to Fiona’s burden by having an affair himself.
Personally I doubt if either Bernie or Fiona will ever had any eyes for anyone else for the rest of their lives.
I have read an interview with Len that he had a plan for 1 or more books to follow after Chairity. Has there been any hint of getting a ghost writer to work with Len (age of 90) write more. With the wall coming down in the next 1.5 years there was a lot of history happening. Lately there seem to be a renewed interest in this time.ReplyDelete
I of the problems I had with the series was the money. Where did Fiona hide the money she received from the KGB before she went to East Berlin and what happened to the money she was still making from SIS for 4 years that she was in Berlin.ReplyDelete
Folks, for discussion of who Len Deighton himself viewed as his main betrayer, you may wish to join the follow-up 'Samson, yes ... but Delilah' thread :ReplyDelete
Why did Werner put Bernd's suitcase, last seen in basement of hotel with Bernd, in back of Ford van? Did he know that the Webley would be needed?ReplyDelete
I'd take Gloria over Fiona the rat, in a heartbeat. Bernard should have known better than to ever trust FionaReplyDelete
I read all books in order with the exception of Sinker, which I read last. Thanks for the interesting debate. After such a journey, my overwhelming feeling is: what was Silas Gaunt thinking (or smoking) when he hatched the Fiona extraction plan, and why did anyone actually think it was a good idea. I find it bizarre that the risk of bringing a similar cadaver was considered to risky (despite the fact that the SIS traffic between West and East seemed only slightly less busy than the pre-Covid foot traffic over Waterloo bridge on a Monday morning). So, instead of that risk, it was thought better to simply assassinate Fiona's sister in the hope that the Stasi/KGB would be fooled. Eventually, such a convoluted plot goes wrong, and a dedicated member of SIS, who spent years of her life in a highly dangerous situation for the good of Britain, is left without, well, a sis. Why use a hacksaw when a hand grenade would have worked better. The whole plan, the strange plotting of the fancy dress party and the capering Gorilla, are quite frankly incredible and stretch realism to breaking point. Still it was a great series and I loved the ever so slight poke at another famous spy writer, when I think Bernard says of the rhyme, Tinker, Tailor...I have always hated that nursery rhyme...ReplyDelete
Did anyone notice that when Bernard and Werner found Thurkettle's body, they also found under it a fortune in pristine US dollar bills? Apparently they left the money behind, perhaps because they were in a hurry, or were too squeamish to touch it under a corpse. But just before that, Bernard was searching inside the corpse looking for bullets. So why did they leave the money? Did Werner go back for it later, and use the money to pay for his lavish house and party? Never really explained, but it seems unlikely.ReplyDelete