Spy Sinker by Len Deighton (1990)

This the third and final novel in the second trilogy of books about 40-something British intelligence officer Bernard Samson.

In the first trilogy (Berlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match) his gorgeous, clever wife Fiona was exposed as a high-level ‘mole’ in the Department and forced to flee in a hurry to East Berlin.

In the first two novels of this set Bernard began to suspect – and then had it abundantly confirmed – that Fiona was in fact a double agent and had been working for us all along.

But the rainswept night of her final escape back from East Berlin to our side turned into a bloodbath: Samson and Fiona manage to escape but the agent accompanying Bernard – and Fiona’s sister, Tessa – are shot dead, as are the East German agent Stinnes and another man, Harry Kennedy.

The ex-CIA hitman masterminding this carnage burns Tessa’s body in the car, and throws the British agent, Stinnes and Harry into a deep ditch – part of the roadworks where the whole shambles took place – and where they will be covered with concrete and never found… Leaving the reader in shock.

What next?

Up until this bloody shootout the main appeal for me of the Samson stories was the generally light, mocking tone of the first person narrative and the relaxed, almost sitcom, feel to Samson’s generally humdrum round of work, meetings, files and reports, and his similarly mundane domestic life, hanging with his kids, with the girlfriend Gloria he took up with after his wife defected, and the numerous drinks parties and dinner parties where we meet and remeet the cast of recurring characters who populate the novels in an almost Dickensian teeming.

I found this social scene far more convincing and solidly imagined than the often far-fetched and abruptly violent elements of the ‘spy stories’. Especially as the spy stories boil down to such a simple narrative arc:

  1. Fiona defects (Berlin Game)
  2. Interlude while a KGB officer we thought was defecting, Erich Stinnes, turned out to be a spy so we sent him back (Mexico SetLondon Match)
  3. But Fiona isn’t a traitor after all, but a triple agent (Spy Hook, Spy Line).

In the last few pages of Spy Line we see Bernard and Fiona flown to Bret Rensselaer’s luxury safe house in California for Fiona to be debriefed at length. The Department has accounted for Fiona’s disappearance by making it look as if she died in the car conflagration (though I still don’t understand why the opposition are going to believe the car burst into flames; specially since it was a night of heavy rain).

But she saw her sister murdered in front of her and realises that was done to protect her. How can she avoid having a massive nervous breakdown? How can she ever go back to her ‘normal’ life? And the Department has put word out that Bernard has run off with Tessa, to explain their joint disappearance. How can that ever let Bernard return to London, where his mere presence will expose the falsehood? I really like the character of George Kosinski, the rough-and-ready East End used car salesman Tessa was married to. He will be devastated Tessa has run off with Bernard.

How can any of these people return to their happy-go-lucky lives or the novels return to their amiable, chatty tone?

Third person narrator

Deighton deftly sidesteps all the problems he had created for himself with the biggest surprise of the series so far – by switching narrative voice to a third person narrator, and by leaving our heroes’ present dilemma altogether to travel back in time and recap the entire narrative of the previous five novels from other people’s points of view! It is a bold and sometimes bewildering move because the net effect is to undermine and question everything we thought we knew.

So Spy Sinker commences back in September 1977, before the start of the first novel – Berlin Game – with the story of Fiona’s recruitment and the hatching of the plan to make her a double agent, showing the earliest genesis of the plan in conversations between Bret Rensselaer – whose idea it is – and the Director General, Sir Henry Clevemore – who is persuaded to sanction it. Both know she’s married to Samson and both agree to keep Samson completely in the dark whatever happens.

Thus we realise almost everything Samson tells us in the first person narratives of the previous five books has been flawed, half-informed, and often completely wrong. We, the reader, have been ‘had’ just as much as Samson.

Seeing Samson’s world from the outside, and having events we’ve seen through his eyes retold by an omniscient narrator, is a revelation – or a series of revelations. The dominant effect is to show how thoroughly deceived and lied to he’s been by absolutely everyone: by his wife, his colleague Bret Rensselaer, his old friend Silas Gaunt and by the Director General of the Department – they were all in on the deception and kept it from him for five years.

At the end, and particularly bitterly, even his closest and oldest friend Werner Volkmann is let in on the secret and keeps it from him.

Same scenes, drastically different perspectives

Incident after incident from the earlier novels is retold showing us what really happened. To give a small selection:

  • When he was hijacked by a black nurse in Mexico Set in order to pick up Fiona, it turns out it wasn’t Fiona but an agent impersonating her in an operation set up by Moscow thug Moskvar. He wanted to provoke Samson into pursuing the black agent back to the Department safe house in Bosham, where they would capture, torture and then murder him. Samson, as intended (and as he tells us) believes the impersonator is his wife (improbably) but then sends a junior operative to track down the black woman, and it is he who is tortured and murdered. The failure of his plan badly damaging Moskvar’s reputation back in the East.
  • The whole plotline which dominated the end of Spy Hook – the Department’s growing suspicion that Bret Rensselaer is a double agent – created and fostered by the two-timing KGB defector Erich Stinnes — we see this from the East Berlin point of view, how the KGB plan it and plant suspicion of Bret via his handling of the Stinnes defection. Which eventually leads to a commission of enquiry in which Stinnes bluntly incriminates Bret. Their case is helped by the fiasco in the laundrette in Hampstead where Bret had insisted on being in the field with Samson when the KGB men turning up to collect some money turn nasty with shotguns: Bernard is forced to shoot them both. [As so often with outbreaks of violence in Deighton, despite having read two different accounts of it, I still don’t understand why Bret and Samson were waiting with money to pay KGB agents and have no idea why the latter started the violence.] But this and other incidents are all a backdrop to Bret suddenly fleeing in a panic to Berlin which is the point, in Spy Hook, where we saw him – from Bernard’s point of view – abruptly turning up on the latter’s doorstep.
  • At the end of London Match there is a prolonged shootout in the streets of Berlin following the hostage exchange of Samson’s friend Werner Volkmann for the ‘defector’ Stinnes, in which the brutal Moskvin is forced to flee through the streets, exchanging gunfire with the following agents until shot by his own side, not before shooting and badly wounding Bret. (As with the laundrette scene, I still don’t really understand why his own side wanted to kill Moskvin, even after two explanations, in London Match and here. Like the other bursts of violence, it seems illogical, unnecessary and amateurishly done.)
  • Bret, severely wounded in Berlin, is flown to the luxury ranch in California which – we now learn from this book – he uses as a base to continue receiving information from Fiona, cleanse it and pass it onto the CIA.
  • To my astonishment, Fiona recruits Werner Volkmann, just before his exchange  the exchange back to the West, to become a direct conduit between her and the DG Sir Henry. a) It seems immensely risky to hire a non-employee of the Department for such an incriminating role b) so Werner is let in on the secret that Fiona is a double agent and keeps it from his best friend, Bernard, for the next 4 years!
  • At various points we watch old Silas Gaunt and the DG of the Department callously making plans which toy with other peoples’ lives and it is upsetting the way they tinker with telling Samson Fiona still loves him and is loyal to her country and him, before deciding not to, and leaving his life in ruins. Possibly all this is permissible for the importance of the mission they’ve given her. But they cross a line when, towards the end, we watch them orchestrating Fiona’s escape back to the West and deliberately acquiescing in murder.
    • It is Silas who hires an ex-CIA hitman, Thurkettle (who Samson had run across in Spy Line) and makes him the murdering orchestrator of the bloodbath. In a manouevre which I didn’t understand it is arranged for Fiona to be at the rendezvous at the motorway works with Erich Stinnes – now, very implausibly, caught up in drug smuggling.
    • Thurkettle will arrange the meeting for the now-drug-running Stinnes to hand over a consignment of heroin. But I have no idea why Fiona, Stinnes’ boss, would be with him on what sounds like a criminal act. I have no idea why Fiona couldn’t just get in a car and drive down the Autobahn into West Germany then be spirited away. The reason given is that, if the KGB think she is dead, they will leave their security setups as they are, allowing us to exploit Fiona’s inside information for a while longer; if they knew she’d defected back they’d change all their arrangements. But is this intelligence really worth the murder of Fiona’s sister, Tessa – which is what it leads to? For Thurkettle goes to great lengths to arrange for a body like Fiona’s to be found burned to a crisp in a burned out car, and whose body will that be – her sister’s.
    • And I still don’t understand what the KGB are to meant to make of all this: why was the car ever meant to have caught fire? It’s parked stationary off the motorway so it’s not in a crash. Is this the best British Intelligence can come up with?
    • A ghoulish element is introduced because Tessa’s head must be sawn off so that her skull can be replaced with another skull with Fiona’s dental work to persuade the KGB it really is her. But won’t their forensic scientists notice that this corpse has had its head sawed off? Might they wonder why the corpse of their former East Berlin chief is found with its head cut off in a car parked by the side of a motorway which has burst into flames for no good reason?
      • It just seems like a rubbish plan, too random, contrived and unnecessarily complicated
      • I just don’t believe the two old Etonians, Silas and Sir Henry, can calmly sit drinking whisky and smoking cigars in their nice country house and planning the murder of an innocent woman, one they’ve met socially several times. I don’t believe it.

Another big shocker in the first half of the book is the discovery that, for some time before she defected, Fiona was having an affair with a Canadian psychiatrist, a sustained sexual infidelity to her husband. This completely changes the framework of the preceding five novels. Fiona’s betrayal of Samson is even more personal than we’d thought. He’s called Harry Kennedy and, like all Deighton characters who do so, he falls almost immediately into a trance-like and perfect epitome of ‘love’: ‘I love you darling.’ ‘I know, darling.’

[All Deighton characters fall in love the same way and then talk in the same lovey-dovey way: Fiona and Harry’s love talk sounds just like Bernard and Gloria’s and just like Jamie Farebrother and Victoria’s in Goodbye, Mickey Mouse.]

In a further revelation, towards the end of the novel Fiona, the DG and Bret back in London (and we the reader) discover that her Canadian lover in fact comes from a Ukrainian family, was a member of the Communist Party at university and has done bits of small work for the KGB in the past – a discovery which stuns and amazes Fiona, leaving her feeling even more paranoid and lonely in her isolated double role in the terrifying East. Was Harry set to spy on her? Is he a glorified minder? Yes. Is there anyone she can trust? No.

Lowering

The net effect is, I think, depressing. Samson who in the first five books is the virile, confident and amusing narrator – is now revealed as entirely fallible, misled about everything. This applies not only in his immediate life but the book also refers to the events at the end of World War Two in which his father’s career in the SIS was tarnished, and shows how unfair that accusation was (specifically, the killing of the two Winter brothers which concludes Deighton’s epic novel, Winter, which provides historical background to the Samson books). Thus Deighton makes the trail of doubt and deceit goes back indefinitely into the past…

Depressing because Samson is partly a symbol of all of us. Fictions, novels, give us the entirely spurious impression we understand what is going on in the world. Fictional characters’ lives are laid out in generally schematic ways, as they interact with a small and manageable number of people in sequences of events known as ‘plots’ which have a convenient beginning, middle and end.

That’s why the first five Samson novels are so reassuring and warm (despite the occasional outbursts of violence each one contains). The amused tone of the ever-confident Samson is buoyant, reassuring company. But this sixth novel systematically devastates our understanding of what went before, making us realise we’ve understood almost nothing. And along with the events it undermines, go the warmth and security the other books had created. This book destroys those feelings. We are alone on a darkling plain.

Skipping

Deighton speeds up the overview in the last 100 pages. An author who normally takes ten pages to describe two people chatting over a drink or in a bedroom or on a country walk, suddenly skips big sections of time. As when he begins to show us the investigation committee set up to review Bret’s management of Stinnes’ defection in great detail, showing the members arriving at the safe house in the country where Stinnes is being kept, describing each of the men sitting round the table, and beginning with verbatim accounts of what is being said, as if this scene alone will, characteristically, take another ten pages… But then – it is almost as if Deighton is bored with his own thoroughness – the text suddenly reverts to a high-level summary:

When Bret faced the wall of opposition which Moskvin and Stinnes had between them constructed brick by brick, he did something that neither of the Russians had provided for. Rensselaer went to Berlin and pleaded for the aid of Bernard Samson. (p.321)

In the last 100 pages there are several occasions when the narrative tires of its own detail and simply jumps mid-paragraph to a completely new scene. Some sections repeat or introduce characters we already know. Overall the text gives the impression of having been written at different times – maybe the objective scenes were written at the same time that Samson’s point of view was being written for the earlier novels – and not fully integrated into a seamless whole.

It is very bitty, jumping between the key scenes of the earlier novels, relying on our memory of them to give the narrative coherence.


Undermining the East German economy

In the scene early in the novel, set in 1978, when Bret suggests his plan of creating a triple agent to fool the East Germans – a plan they eventually name Operation Sinker, hence the title of the novel and, by extension, of all three novels in the sequence – it is explained how Fiona’s infiltration is designed to undermine the East German state in two ways:

  • to identify key engineers, scientists and intellectuals who can be enticed to the West creating a ‘brain drain’
  • to identify opposition groups, dissidents from left or right, church and human rights organisations and so on, which the West can tacitly support and thus undermine the communist regime

The DG and Bret are seen speculating wildly that if the operation succeeds, they’ll have the Berlin Wall crashing down in ten years time, by, ooh, say, 1990.

Now, as we all know, Soviet domination of Eastern Europe did crumble in the second half of 1989 and the Wall was knocked through in November of that year (even if it didn’t begin to be formally demolished till June 1990). This novel was published in 1990 by which time not only was the Wall down, but we knew how it came about – the final collapse of the Soviet model of the Command Economy under Gorbachev whose efforts at selective loosening of the reins of state control (perestroika) only hastened its decay, along with the rapid growth of civic groups opposing the regime (given more freedom of expression under glasnost) – including dissidents and especially groups based in churches. Then the final straw of Hungary’s decision to open its borders and allow free passage for any East European citizen to the West, which at a stroke made the Wall redundant.

I would dearly love to know whether Deighton had conceived Fiona’s mission in terms which so closely predicted the actual course of events right from the start and before the first novel in the series was published in 1983 when everyone thought Soviet domination, the Wall and all the rest of it would last indefinitely? Or was the alignment to historical fact, and the timescale, only introduced after all this came to pass? Was Len a prophet predicting the future – or a dab hand at cutting and pasting actual events into a long-pondered narrative?


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Granada paperback cover of Spy Sinker

Granada paperback cover of Spy Sinker

Len Deighton’s novels

1962 The IPCRESS File Through the thickets of bureaucracy and confusing misinformation which surround him, an unnamed British intelligence agent discovers that his boss, Dalby, is in cahoots with a racketeer who kidnaps and brainwashes British scientists.
1963 Horse Under Water Perplexing plot which is initially about diving into a wrecked U-boat off the Portuguese coast for Nazi counterfeit money, then changes into the exposure of an illegal heroin manufacturing operation, then touches on a top secret technology which can change ice to water instantly (ie useful for firing missiles from submarines under Arctic ice) and finally turns out to be about a list – the Weiss List – of powerful British people who offered to help run a Nazi government when the Germans invaded, and who are now being blackmailed. After numerous adventures, the Unnamed Narrator retrieves the list and consigns it to the Intelligence archive.
1964 Funeral in Berlin The Unnamed Narrator is in charge of smuggling a Russian scientist through the Berlin Wall, all managed by a Berlin middle-man Johnnie Vulkan who turns out to be a crook only interested in getting fake identity papers to claim the fortune of a long-dead concentration camp victim. The Russians double-cross the British by not smuggling the scientist; Vulkan double-crosses the British by selling the (non-existent) scientist on to Israeli Intelligence; the Narrator double-crosses the Israelis by giving them the corpse of Vulkan (who he has killed) instead of the scientist; and is himself almost double-crossed by a Home Office official who tries to assassinate him in the closing scenes, in order to retrieve the valuable documents. But our Teflon hero survives and laughs it all off with his boss.
1966 Billion-Dollar Brain The Unnamed Narrator is recruited into a potty organisation funded by an American billionaire, General Midwinter, and dedicated to overthrowing the Soviet Union. A character from Funeral In Berlin, Harvey Newbegin, inducts him into the organisation and shows him the Brain, the vast computer which is running everything, before absconding with loot and information, and then meeting a sticky end in Leningrad.
1967 An Expensive Place to Die A new departure, abandoning all the characters and much of the style of the first four novels for a more straightforward account of a secret agent in Paris who gets involved with a Monsieur Datt and his clinic-cum-brothel. After many diversions, including an induced LSD trip, he is ordered to hand over US nuclear secrets to a Chinese scientist, with a view to emphasising to the Chinese just how destructive a nuclear war would be and therefore discouraging them from even contemplating one.
1968 Only When I Larf Another departure, this is a comedy following the adventures of three con artists, Silas, Bob and Liz and their shifting, larky relationships as they manage (or fail) to pull off large-scale stings in New York, London and the Middle East.
1970 Bomber A drastic change of direction for Deighton, dropping spies and comedy to focus on 24 hours in the lives of British and German airmen, soldiers and civilians involved in a massive bombing raid on the Ruhr valley. 550 pages, enormous cast, documentary prose, terrifying death and destruction – a really devastating indictment of the horrors of war.
1971 Declarations of War Thirteen short stories, all about wars, mainly the first and second world wars, with a few detours to Vietnam, the American Civil war and Hannibal crossing the Alps. Three or four genuinely powerful ones.
1972 Close-Up Odd departure into Jackie Collins territory describing the trials and tribulations of fictional movie star Marshall Stone as he betrays his wife and early lovers to ‘make it’ in tinseltown, and the plight he currently finds himself in: embroiled in a loss-making production and under pressure from the scheming studio head to sign a lucrative but career-threatening TV deal.
1974 Spy Story The Unnamed Narrator of the Ipcress spy novels returns, in much tamer prose, to describe how, after escaping from the ‘Service’ to a steady job in a MoD war games unit, he is dragged back into ‘active service’ via a conspiracy of rogue right-wingers to help a Soviet Admiral defect. Our man nearly gets shot by the right-wingers and killed by Russians in the Arctic, before realising the whole thing was an elaborate scam by his old boss, Dawlish, and his new boss, the American marine General Schlegel, to scupper German reunification talks.
1975 Yesterday’s Spy Another first-person spy story wherein a different agent – though also working for the American Colonel Schlegel, introduced in Spy Story – is persuaded to spy on Steve Champion, the man who ran a successful spy ring in Nazi-occupied France, who recruited him to the agency and who saved his life back during the war. Via old contacts the narrator realises Champion is active again, but working for Arabs who are planning some kind of attack on Israel and which the narrator must foil.
1976 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy (aka Catch a Falling Spy) The narrator and his CIA partner manage the defection of a Soviet scientist, only for a string of murder attempts and investigations to reveal that a senior US official they know is in fact a KGB agent, leading to a messy shootout at Washington airport, and then to an unlikely showdown in the Algerian desert.
1977 Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain Abandoning fiction altogether, Deighton published this comprehensive, in-depth and compelling history, lavishly illustrated with photos and technical diagrams of the famous planes involved.
1978 SS-GB A storming return to fiction with a gripping alternative history thriller in which the Germans succeeded in invading and conquering England in 1941. We follow a senior detective at Scotland Yard, Douglas Archer, living in defeated dingy London, coping with his new Nazi superiors, and solving a murder mystery which unravels to reveal not one but several enormous conspiracies.
1979 Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk Another factual history of WWII: Deighton moves quickly over Hitler’s rise to power and the diplomatic bullying of the 1930s, to arrive at the core of the book: an analysis of the precise meaning of ‘Blitzkrieg’, complete with detailed notes on all the weapons, tanks, artillery and hardware involved, as well as the evolution of German strategic thinking; and then its application in the crucial battle for the river Meuse which determined the May 1940 Battle for France.
1980 Battle of Britain
1981 XPD SIS agent Boyd Stuart is one of about 20 characters caught up in the quest for the ‘Hitler Minutes’, records of a top secret meeting between Hitler and Churchill in May 1940 in which the latter was (shockingly) on the verge of capitulating, and which were ‘liberated’ by US soldiers, along with a load of Nazi gold, at the very end of the war. Convoluted, intermittently fascinating and sometimes moving, but not very gripping.
1982 Goodbye, Mickey Mouse Six months in the life of the 220th Fighter Group, an American Air Force group flying Mustangs in support of heavy bombers, based in East Anglia, from winter 1943 through spring 1944, as we get to know 20 or so officers and men, as well as the two women at the centre of the two ill-fated love affairs which dominate the story.
1983 Berlin Game First of the Bernard Samson spy novels in which this forty-something British Intelligence agent uses his detailed knowledge of Berlin and its spy networks to ascertain who is the high-level mole within his Department. With devastating consequences.
1984 Mexico Set Second of the first Bernard Samson trilogy (there are three trilogies ie 9 Samson books), in which our hero manages the defection of KGB agent Erich Stinnes from Mexico City, despite KGB attempts to frame him for the murder of one of his own operatives and a German businessman. All that is designed to make Bernard defect East and were probably masterminded by his traitor wife, Fiona.
1985 London Match Third of the first Bernard Samson spy trilogy in which a series of clues – not least information from the defector Erich Stinnes who was the central figure of the previous novel – suggest to Samson that there is another KGB mole in the Department – and all the evidence points towards smooth-talking American, Bret Rensselaer.
1987 Winter An epic (ie very long and dense) fictionalised account of German history from 1900 to 1945, focusing on the two Winter brothers, Peter and Paul, along with a large supporting cast of wives, friends, colleagues and enemies, following their fortunes through the Great War, the Weimar years, the rise of Hitler and on into the ruinous Second World War. It provides vital background information about nearly all of the characters who appear in the Bernard Samson novels, so is really part of that series.
1988 Spy Hook First of the second trilogy of Bernard Samson spy novels in which Bernie slowly uncovers what he thinks is a secret slush fund of millions run by his defector wife with Bret Rensaeller (thought to be dead, but who turns up recuperating in a California ranch). The plot involves reacquaintance with familiar characters like Werner Volkmann, Frau Lisl (and her sister), old Frank Harrington, tricky Dicky Cruyer, Bernie’s 23-year-old girlfriend Gloria Kent, and so on.
1989 Spy Line Through a typically tangled web of incidents and conversations Samson’s suspicions are confirmed: his wife is a double agent, she has been working for us all along, she only pretended to defect to the East. After numerous encounters with various old friends of his father and retired agents, Samson finds himself swept up in the brutal, bloody plan to secure Fiona’s escape from the East.
1990 Spy Sinker In the third of the second trilogy of Samson novels, Deighton switches from a first-person narrative by Samson himself, to an objective third-person narrator and systematically retells the entire sequence of events portrayed in the previous five Samson novels from an external point of view, shedding new and sometimes devastating light on almost everything we’ve read. The final impression is of a harrowing world where everyone is deceiving everyone else, on multiple levels.
1991 MAMista A complete departure from the Cold War and even from Europe. Australian doctor and ex-Vietnam War veteran Ralph Lucas finds himself caught up with Marxist guerrillas fighting the ruling government in the (fictional) South American country of Spanish Guiana and, after various violent escapades, inveigled into joining the long, gruelling and futile trek through the nightmareish jungle which dominates the second half of the novel.
1992 City of Gold A complex web of storylines set in wartime Cairo, as the city is threatened by Rommel’s advancing Afrika Korps forces in 1942. We meet crooks, gangsters, spies, émigrés, soldiers, detectives, nurses, deserters and heroes as they get caught up in gun smuggling, black marketeering and much more, in trying to track down the elusive ‘Rommel spy’ and, oh yes, fighting the Germans.
1993 Violent Ward Very entertaining, boisterous first-person narrative by Los Angeles shyster lawyer Mickey Murphy who gets bought out by his biggest client, menacing billionaire Zach Petrovitch, only to find himself caught up in Big Pete’s complex criminal activities and turbulent personal life. The novel comes to a climax against the violent backdrop of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in April 1992.
1993 Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II
1994 Faith Return to Bernard Samson, the 40-something SIS agent, and the world of his friends and family, familiar to us from the previous six Samson novels. Most of the characters (and readers) are still reeling from the bloody shootout when his wife returned from her undercover mission to East Germany at the climax of the previous novel. This book re-acquaints us with all the well-loved characters from the previous stories, in a plot ostensibly about smuggling a KGB colonel out from the East, but is really about who knows the truth – and who is trying to cover up – the real cause of the Fiona-escape debacle.
1995 Hope 40-something SIS agent Bernard Samson continues trying to get to the bottom of the death of his sister-in-law, Tessa Kosinski and is soon on the trail of her husband, George, who has gone missing back in his native Poland.
1996 Charity Ninth and final Bernard Samson novel in which it takes Bernard 300 pages to piece together the mystery which we readers learned all about in the sixth novel of the series, ie that the plot to murder Fiona’s sister, Tessa, was concocted by Silas Gaunt. Silas commissioned Jim Prettyman to be the middle-man and instructed him to murder the actual assassin, Thurkettle. Now that is is openly acknowledged by the Department’s senior staff, the most striking thing about the whole event – its sheer amateurish cack-handedness – is dismissed by one and all as being due to Gaunt’s (conveniently sudden) mental illness. As for family affairs: It is Bret who ends up marrying Bernard’s one-time lover, the glamorous Gloria; Bernard is finally promised the job of running the Berlin Office, which everyone has always said he should have: and the novel ends with a promise of reconciliation with his beautiful, high-flying and loving wife, Fiona.

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