The Importance of Len Deighton’s BERLIN GAME

Terrence McCauleyTerrence McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His first techno-thriller, Sympathy for the Devil, was published by Polis Books in July 2015. Polis also reissued Terrence’s first two novels set in 1930 New York City – Prohibition and Slow Burn.

In 2016, Down and Out Books also published Terrence’s World War I novella – The Devil Dogs of Belleau Wood. Proceeds from sales go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund.

Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.

A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction.



Twitter: @tmccauley_nyc

Whenever someone asks me for a good example of what a spy novel should be, I usually point them to Len Deighton’s Berlin Game. That doesn’t mean that John LeCarre or Charles McCarry or Robert Ludlum or Ian Fleming aren’t important. I simply believe that reading Deighton’s book is an ideal way for a new reader to break into the genre.

LeCarre’s prose is beautiful and his plots are densely realistic. But many of his books, particularly those in the Smiley series, aren’t always the easiest for a new reader to follow. McCarry is America’s answer to LeCarre and he’s equally masterful at creating believable characters who find themselves in difficult circumstances. But his pacing is slower than someone new to the genre may expect. Ludlum’s books are action-packed, but tend to be a bit predictable and may be disappointing to those who have seen the Jason Bourne movies. The same goes for Fleming’s Bond novels. They’re different than the films and may disappoint the reader when the printed word is different than what we’ve come to expect from the silver screen.

Deighton’s work, on the other hand, has elements of all four of the thriller masters I reference above. His Samson novels are written in the first person, so we have the benefit of experiencing the complicated life of an intelligence operative from his own perspective. We never know what’s coming around the corner, save for Samson’s intuition and action. It’s a technique that can help readers and writers alike appreciate a different way of introducing elements into a story.

Samson is an incredibly reliable and vulnerable narrator. He’s also relatable to the reader because we see him endure all of the highs and lows each of us experience in our own lives. He’s also well aware of his surroundings and often sprinkles his perceptions with a dry humor that made me literally laugh out loud several times as I read through the Samson series.

Berlin Game was first published in 1983 at a time when the Cold War was still in full swing and a wall divided the city of Berlin. Samson is a British agent assigned with the task of helping an old asset defect to the West. Samson is about as far from James Bond as we can get and the reader is better for it. He has been working a desk job for years and fears his skills have grown rusty after so long away from the field. He’s a character to which each of us can relate – unsure of himself, yet dedicated to the task at hand. He’s not a buffoon and he’s more than capable of handling himself when he has to. As with all good spy thrillers, nothing works out quite as planned and Samson finds himself scrambling to react to new realities and dangers that face him throughout his quest to save an old friend. It’s very difficult for an author to convey a sense of urgency, humor and plot development all at the same time, but Deighton found a way to do just that. He also has a cast of odd, yet believable characters who the reader will remember long after they’ve finished the book. Berlin Game also has a great plot twist that might seem over-the-top in less capable hands, but Deighton manages to sell it convincingly.

Berlin Game is strong enough to stand on its own, but when combined with the next two books in the series – Mexico Set and London Match, the entire trilogy stands as an important, unique entry in the genre.

Fortunately, Deighton continues the adventures of the Samson character in two subsequent trilogies: Spy Hook, Spy Line and Spy Sinker as well as Faith, Hope and Charity. I haven’t read any of those yet, but believe me, I plan to do so in short order.

If I could make an honorable mention, I would also add Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. The novel inspired the movie Three Days of the Condor, but is strong enough to stand on its own. It’s a much shorter work than Deighton’s books, but certainly worth reading. It’s one of my favorites.

About A Murder of Crows

A Murder of CrowsFor years, every intelligence agency in the world has been chasing the elusive terrorist known only as The Moroccan. But when James Hicks and his clandestine group known as the University thwart a bio-terror attack against New York City and capture The Moroccan, they find themselves in the crosshairs of their own intelligence community.

The CIA, NSA, DIA and the Mossad are still hunting for for The Moroccan and will stop at nothing to get him. Hicks must find a way to keep the other agencies at bay while he tries to break The terrorist and uncover what else he is planning.

When he ultimately surrenders information that leads to the most wanted terrorist in the world, Hicks and his team find themselves in a strange new world where allies become enemies, enemies become allies and the fate of the University – perhaps even the Western world – may hang in the balance.

Can Hicks and the University survive an onslaught from A Murder of Crows?