Spy Line - 1989

The Samson series

Plot summary

The story has moved back to Berlin in the winter of 1987. Bernard Samson is on the run in the city of his childhood. Nevertheless, he has good cards in his hand: he knows the city inside out, and can call on old friends and useful contacts in order to evade the grasp of London Central as he aims to get to the bottom of his wife's defection.

Erich Stinnes is discovered to be running drugs into Berlin and Bernard is sent on a mission by London Central to Vienna, where he receives a Russian passport with his photo in it, a clue to his potential fate.

He travels to Czechoslovakia where he discovers the sender is Fiona, who reveals the truth about her work for the KGB in Berlin; there are hints that Bernard had already drawn the same conclusions. He remains anxious to get Fiona back to the West, and during a confusing end-game on a rainy motorway clearing there’s a shootout and someone close to Bernard is killed, along with Stinnes and the mystery man hired to kill them all and clean up a messy situation.

At each stage, Bernard questions whether he can trust those closest to him - family, friends, colleagues - and is exposed to the shadowy reality of espionage where a man who asks too many questions find very few simple answers.

Why it's enjoyable

This book completes the second epic story arc of the story so far and brings to a conclusion the saga of Fiona’s defection; but not every question is answered.

Fiona’s secret is well hidden until the end as a number of plates spinning in the air confuse the reader - the Vienna sojourn for example sheds little light in on what will eventually happen to Bernard - until, on the outskirts of Berlin, everything falls into place in a shocking ending that still leaves many questions unanswered.

Though hints at Fiona's real status with the department have occurred throughout the text, her sudden reapparance in Czechoslovakia is a shock to both her husband and the reader. At the end of five books, you really empathise with the emotional trauma both Bernard and Fiona Samson have gone through. The plot seems to be complete and loose ends are tied up, but all the reader's knowledge so far is shattered with the final novel in the trilogy.

Sample dialogue

'"And everything's all right? The children are well?" she asked again.

"Wonderful," I said....The children miss you, of course," I added.

"They haven't grown to hate me, have they, Bernard?"

"No, of course not, darling." I said it so glibly and quickly that she must have sense the reservations I had. It would not be easy for her to rebuild her relationship with the children.'

SpyLine

Spy Line, UK first edition, 1989

Writing in the key of 'spy'

Deighton on the tone of this book:

"Spy Line is a book written entirely in the minor key. It depicts Samson at the nadir of his life and career"