London Match - 1985

The Samson series

Plot summary

Having captured KGB general Erich Stinnes, who is now held at the London interrogation centre, Bernard Samson leads the questioning of this star defector, hoping to find out more about the defection of wife Fiona.

The interrogation doesn’t go well. Bernard, the narrator, comes under increasing pressure, not least from his boss Bret Renssellaer who decides to get more closely involved and co-managed the debriefing, much to Bernard's disgust. As things develop, Bernard beings to suspect a second mole in London Central, but the denouement shows he’s part of a wider game directed by the Russians which he cannot control, and the ending of which no-one can imagine.

He has become a pawn in the chess game played by his wife against darker forces within the Kremlin. After his friend Werner Volkmann is taken hostage by the Russians, Samson organises an unofficial exchange for Stinnes which ends in a bloody battle on a disused U-Bahn station in West Berlin. Pavel Moskvin, a threat not only to him but also apparently to his wife stationed in East Berlin for whom he still cares deeply, is shot. But who made the decision to send the hit squad?

Some questions are answered. But many more are raised, and plots left open, leaving the stage clear for a second trilogy, starting with Spy Hook.

Why it's enjoyable

The city of Berlin is the star of this novel. Deighton’s writing really carves out the atmosphere of a claustrophobic city which is at the centre of a global struggle for power. It’s evidently a city where careers are made or broken, as Bret Rensselaer finds out to his cost.

The ending, atop the high-level U-Bahn of West Berlin, is a real twist that the reader just doesn't see coming and is all the more enjoyable for that. The theme developing, which colours the whole series and which permeates the dialogue, is the uncertainty of loyalty and friendship at a time of global super-power tensions.

Sample dialogue

'"Can I have milk or cream or something in mine?" I said. "That strong black brew you make keeps me awake at night."

He always had a jug of cream and a bowl of sugar brought in with his coffee, although he never used either. He once told me that in his regimental officers' mess, the cream was always on the table but it was considered bad form to take any. I wondered if there were a lot of people like Dicky in the Army; it was a dreadful thought. He brought the cream to me.

"You're getting old, Bernard. Did you ever think of jogging? I run three miles every morning - summer, winter, Christmas, every morning without fail."

"Is it doing you any good?" I asked as he poured cream for me from the cow-shaped silver jug. "Ye gods, Bernard. I'm fitter now than I was at twenty-five. I swear I am."

"What kind of shape were you in at twenty-five?" I said.'

Related fact

Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station, where the shoot-out at the end of the novel occurs, was closed during the Cold War and became a flea-market.

LondonMatch

London Match, UK first edition, 1985

Deighton on Berlin

"Berlin became the place where the fate of the world would be decided.

What writer could resist such a fateful and bloody forum?"