Spy Sinker - 1990

The Samson series

Plot summary

In this book, Deighton changes track and introduces a fantastic plot device which shakes up the reader's relationship with the characters. With the series concluded in Spy Line, Deighton peels back layers of the plot to reveal twist, insights and conclusions you would never have imagined when reading the first five books, by using Fiona’s viewpoint as the main narrative driver and switching from first person to third person narration.

In comparison with the other books, with this device Deighton can reveal the truth behind Fiona’s development as an agent and the apparent web of deceit to which her husband was subjected all their married life. All those close to Bernard in London Central, all those upon whom he relies are revealed to be complicit in some way in the extensive deception of the previous decade, are shown to have been duplicitous in some way. Most shocking of all is the discovery that Werner, too, has been keeping secrets from his best friend.

Why it's enjoyable

If the reader thinks they have understood the first five novels, they are forced to think again, and that's the key to this book.

Deighton's switch to the third person narrative shows that Bernard’s apparent savvyness and in-built detective skills haven’t uncovered half of the truth of the story. He’s not as clever as he thought he was and his judgement has proved unreliable. It is Fiona who has played the long game better. She is, clearly, the better agent.

This volume fleshes out the Fiona character superbly and the reader sees the reality of how vulnerable she was as an agent, wife and mother, forced to lie to her closest friends for half her life. Her ambition to do well within the secret service is formidable, something which a self-absorbed husband didn't fully appreciate. A change of pace finishes this second trilogy. The reader is forced to think: is that it? Apparently not.

Sample dialogue

'"I really don't understand this plan to keep her alive," said the D-G.

Silas sighed. The D-G could be rather dense at times: he'd still not understood. Silas would have to say it in simple language. "The plan is to convince the Soviets she is dead."

"While she is back here being debriefed?"

"Exactly. If they know she's alive and talking to us they will be able to limit the damage we'll do to them."'

Related facts

The design of the jacket for this volume is unusual, in that it depicts presumably Fiona Samson, suggesting a woman stressed and torn apart by the deception of which she is a part. It is designed by Adrian Bailey, who also took the author photos. Raymond Hawkey designed the previous five; it's not clear why the publishers made this change.

By the time this book was published, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Cold War was over.


Spy Sinker, UK first edition, 1990

Deighton on his 'heroine' Fiona

"Fiona's life and work is cocooned by several layers of secrets. Sinker opens that cocoon and so inevitably Fiona dominates the story. Here is a new Fiona, very human in some ways and yet coldly dispassionate in her work"