Yesterday's Spy - 1975

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Plot summary

A move away from the Cold War to memories of the last war, this story concerns Steve Champion, the enigmatic and flamboyant hero and leader of the old Villefranche anti-Nazi intelligence group, the Guernica Network, which operated in occupied France during the war.

British and American intelligence are both worried by rumours of his sinister Arab connections, so Colonel Schlegel of US intelligence sends off the anonymous agent to track him down in southern France. Schlegel was introduced the year before in Spy Story as the irascible, CIA-trained former Marine who ran the wargames establishment STUCEN. In this novel, he makes a re-appearance, only this time he's seconded to British intelligence.

In both novels, he eventually earns the respect of the two British agents he works alongside.

Why it's enjoyable

Interesting twist, bringing together characters behind the French resistance. Deighton portrays the seedy maelstrom of Marseilles and southern France very well, and the inclusion of a link with Arab governments replicates the reality of the spread of the cold war to the Arab world in the seventies.

As is the case with Spy Story, it might appear from first reading that the unnamed narrator, operating under the pseudonym Charles Bonnard, is the same narrator from the 'spy with no name' stories, as there is the reapparance of Dawlish from the same department and also the sparkling and sharp dialogue he shares with the working class narrator. Our hero evidently still carries a lot of chips on his shoulder about his superiors.

But there are clear differences in the way this particular spy behaves and Deighton confirmed in the 25th anniversary version of the novel that the two characters are, in fact, different. Nevertheless, they're characters cut from the same cloth and evidence that Deighton wasn't about to completely throw out a winning formula for this novel.

Sample dialogue

'"Look," I said. "Champion was just seeing his kid, and buying stamps - there's no other angle. He's a rich man now; he's not playing secret agents. Believe me, Colonel. There's nothing there."

Schlegel leaned forward to get a small cigar form a box decorated with an eagle trying to eat a scroll market Semper Fidelis. he pushed the box to me, but I'm trying to give them up.

"He's in deep," said Schlegel. Puckered scar tissue made it difficult to distinguish his smiles from scowls. He was a short muscular man with an enviable measure of self-confidence; the kind of personality that you hire to M.C. an Elks Club stag night.

I waited. The 'need-to-know' basis, upon which the department worked, meant that I'd been told only a part of it. Schlegel took his time getting his cigar well alight.'

Related facts

Because of the presence of Colonel Schlegel, readers might assume the unnamed narrator is Patrick Armstrong from Spy Story. However, Deighton disabuses of this in the introduction to the Jubilee edition, saying "I deliberately didn't say the hero was Patrick Armstrong, who in my previous book (Spy Story) had been cruising the Arctic in nuclear submarines. He would have been too young for World War Two. Logically I should have replaced all the other characters, but I couldn't abandon Colonel Schlegel."

The cover was designed by Deighton's great friend Raymond Hawkey. The beetle crawling on the gun was hired from London Zoo. The studio lights meant it would not stay still for the photo shoot, so photographer Adrian Flowers was advised to put the beetle in the refrigerator for half an hour, after which it could be posed in exactly the way he wanted.

YesterdaysSpy

Yesterday's Spy, UK first edition, 1975

Did you know?

Len Deighton wrote this book while staying in a small, family-run three star hotel in Villefranche. Many of the guests staying in the hotel later helped shape characters in the book.