Mexico Set - 1984

The Samson series

Plot summary

Fiona Samson has defected. Her husband has to pick up the pieces, but he's also under suspicion. Bernard must convince his bosses in London Central that he’s the innocent party by securing the defection of his wife’s KGB aide in Berlin, Erich Stinnes. The story is a text-book introduction into the art of enrolment, which is more like a seduction.

Stretching from Mexico to Berlin, the story builds the storyline about Fiona’s defection and sees Bernard Samson torn between conflicting loyalties and facing the pressure of being a single-dad spy.

Under pressure, he begins to question who he can really trust. Enrolment is tough - a seduction, Bernard describes it as - but in Erich Stinnes, Bernard sees someone on the opposite side with whom he can empathise: a spy who's been overlooked for promotion and working against idiot bosses who don't know what they're doing. Is this the key to bringing him over?

New characters are introduced to the story, such as Stinnes' colleague Pavel Moskvin. What is his relationship to Stinnes, and what effect will he have on the success of the deal to bring Stinnes back to London, for which London Central is risking a lot of money? And why is Werner's ambitious wife Zena Volkmann involved? It's clear that she has more than just the safety of the Western world in mind when she offers to help enrol Stinnes. The book weaves new patterns into the picture laid out in the first book.

Why it's enjoyable

One of the best aspects of this narrative is the interplay between Bernard and Dicky Cruyer, his superior in terms of the department but not in terms of fieldcraft, when they're both negotiating the strange surroundings of Mexico. They are two people who demonstrate the limits of the term teamwork. They may not like each other, but the fact they have to work together makes for some great dialogue.

The extent of Bernard’s almost brotherly relationship to Werner Volkmann develops a lot in this book as he relies on his help to reel in KGB major Stinnes, while worrying about the faultlines in his marriage to Zena, twenty years his junior. The introduction of Gloria, a third strong female character - Bernard's new girlfriend now that Fiona is 'over there' - is a master-stroke and demonstrates that in this genre Deighton was always looking to break new ground.

Sample dialogue

'"Dicky? Are you joking? Dicky enrol Stinnes? Stinnes would run a mile."

"He'll probably run a mile when you try," said Werner. "But Dicky has no record of work as a field agent. It's very unlikely that they'd do anything really nasty to Dicky."

"Well, that's another reason," I said.'

Related fact

The front cover of Mexico Set, along with the other books in the trilogy, was designed by Raymond Hawkey, Deighton's art school friend and the designer of the iconic 1960's covers to the unnamed spy novels. The apple motif hints at the corruption and betrayal at the heart of London Central.

The front cover of the 2010 edition, designed by Arnold Schwartzman, features a papier-maché mask from Mexico, used to hint at the two-faced nature of the business Bernard Samson is involved in.

MexicoSet

Mexico Set, UK first edition, 1984

On location

The ITV film of the trilogy had an £8m budget, much of that due to extensive on-location filming in Mexico. Despite blocking further showings of the film, Deighton recognises the Mexican filming "brought from the actors their brilliant best"