Of all the novelists in the espionage industry, Len Deighton seems best suited to survive the demise of the Cold War. After all, his enjoyable SS-GB was based on the premise that England had lost World War II, and he has always been a lot more interested in the fecklessness of the British ruling class than in the evils of communism.

Even so, the collapse of the Berlin Wall left Deighton in a bad spot: two thirds of the way through his second trilogy about the tangled affairs of Bernard Samson, the rumpled curmudgeon of London Central, and his treasonous wife, Fiona. When last seen Fiona had apparently exchanged her position as upper-class bitch of the Western World for an equally prestigious job with the KGB in East Berlin. But never fear, in Spy Sinker it turns out that, unknown even to her husband, Fiona has been a double agent all along. That wasn’t a love affair she’d been having with the American Anglophile Bret Rensselaer, as Bernard had suspected. The pompous, though undeniably clever little twit has in fact been Fiona’s British intelligence ”control.”

As Deighton insists in a preface, familiarity with the preceding five novels is hardly necessary to see that this revelation — which incidentally comes in Spy Sinker‘s opening pages — requires looking at things a bit differently. But only readers who know at least Spy Hook and Spy Line will be able to recognize the fiendishly clever way Deighton has been setting things up all along, and they will be eepecially amused to see his vivid fictional world turned playfully upside down.

As for the psychology and motivation of Spy Sinker‘s characters, on the other hand, there’s little to praise. As the ultimate careerist, Fiona’s mind, we’re told, ”had been bent by pedantic university teachers to think in terms of male priorities and [she] had sacrificed many of the unbridled joys of femininity in order to become a surrogate male.” So she abandons her beloved husband and two young children to become a make-believe traitor? Sorry, no sale. And if Fiona’s such a cool, cerebral number, how come she can’t tell that the dashing Canadian psychiatrist who picks her up in Waterloo Station — where she goes on her lunch hour to weep unobserved by watchful colleagues — is an obvious plant? No operative wise in the ways of spy novels could possibly be fooled. For devotees only. B

Spy Sinker
  • Book