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Spy Hook by Len Deighton
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This was my first Len Deighton book after having heard about him for years. I knew he wrote spy books. I thought they might be like MaClean or Forsyth books. I was dead wrong. This wasn't a spy book. It was a mystery, and not a very good one. Additionally, this was the fourth book in what very well might be a nine book series, and it's not much of a stand alone novel, so that hurts it.

In this book, Bernard Sampson is a "spy" working for the "Service" who has a buddy who has moved to America who confides in him that there are some funds no one knows about in the Service that are missing and wonders if Sampson's wife, who has defected to the KGB, has something to do with it. Days later, Sampson is told this man has been murdered, which turns out to be false. Sampson's curiosity is piqued, so he asks a few questions and before you know it, everyone he talks to is telling him to shut the F*** up and mind his own damn business, even old, trusted friends he's known for years. He's even sent out to L.A. where he's to be given instructions, is picked up at LAX, driven to a compound and is reunited with an old friend he thought was dead, but is obviously not. This guy gives him the same line. On the way back to the airport, the CIA picks him up and gives him the same line. What the hell is going on? He goes to visit an old family friend in the English countryside who tells him the same thing and who makes him promise not to go visit his new hot girlfriend's unstable uncle, which he immediately does, and who tries to kill him. He's saved by a friend. He goes to the director of the Service and spills all, thinking this will solve things. He's then sent to Berlin, where, as he and a friend are getting off the plane, he spots MPs waiting -- for him. The director has set him up. His friend claims to be him and is dragged off so he can escape and he goes to East Germany, returns, goes to an old Service friend's house, confronts him about the money, his wife, his friend, everything, is given some money and sent on his way and leaves. End of story. AND THAT'S IT!!! NO QUESTIONS ANSWERED. NO RESOLUTION. NOT EVEN ANY REAL ACTION. WTF??? What kind of spy story is this? This is pathetic. And Deighton has this annoying manner of presenting his characters as clowns, jokes, with sad attempts at humor. It's bad writing. And Sampson is grouchy and a real asshole to everyone he meets, except his 22 year old girlfriend, whom he adores. I mean, you can't like this guy. I was rooting for him to get shot. Nothing happens in this book and I read this criticism on a lot of reviews, apparently because the author uses this book to set up the next book in the series. But I'll be damned if I'm supposed to buy a book just to buy another! That sucks! That's marketing, not authorship. The irony is, I did buy the sequel when I bought this and I started reading it immediately to find out what the hell happens to this jerk, but if I don't get some resolution out of this book, I'm writing this author off permanently and burning both books. I already hate the guy. What a schmuck. Definitely not recommended -- at all. Under any circumstance. ( )
  scottcholstad | Jul 1, 2015 |
I read the Game, Set and Match trilogy a long time ago and recall virtually nothing about the books or the main character, Bernard Samson. Deighton's introduction to the 2010 paperback states his intention to write the three books in this trilogy so that they may be read in any order, each one being complete in itself. I don't think he has really succeeded in this. Spy Hook throws the reader into a meeting between Samson and a former colleague, now working for an American financial company, about a significant amount of money missing from British intelligence service funds. As the novel is written in the first person, apart from conversations with others and occasional ruminations from Samson himself, there is no easy way to let us know rather important things about the background. Samson's wife has defected to East Germany, leaving him with his two children. It would be interesting, to say the least, to know more about that event but we are going to have to wait for the next book or maybe have to go back to London Match to find out. Quite a lot of this story concerns Samson's father, also a British intelligence officer, and his work in Europe after WWII. Again we are starved of detail, in part because the narrator himself does not know the facts. We'll have to go to the prequel, Winter, to clear this up. The most obvious failure of completeness is in the ending when, after a relatively slow start, the story is precipitated into a major cliff-hanger. There is no way that you could avoid reading the next book. I suppose that Deighton is a sufficiently deft and entertaining writer for it not to be a hardship to read the other Samson books, but he doesn't make allowances for a new reader's lack of access to his card index and storyboard.

There are a few typical Deighton-isms around. We learn again of his liking for Southern California. He will include jokes for no obvious reason - in this case a non-PC jibe at the Chinese. I worry a bit about Samson's relationship with his new girl-friend - half his age and multi-talented - whose attraction for him seems a little improbable. Deighton was approaching his sixtieth birthday when he wrote the book so maybe this was part of a ageing male's personal fantasies.

The author is a competent writer who creates fluid plots and, generally, believable characters. As with all these cold war spy stories those coming new to them have to see them as historical fiction, but the better ones are none the worse for that. I'd rate this as one of the better and recommend it to anyone prepared to go the distance with the series. I have committed to Line and Sinker and I suppose I will go for the prequel as well. ( )
  abbottthomas | Jan 6, 2015 |
The first three books (Game, Set and Match) I read more than 20 years ago and remember enjoying the series quite a lot. The idea of Checkpoint Charlie has always stuck in my mind as an exciting place filled with intrigue. Having now gone there (post reunification), it's not quite as thrilling as I'm sure it was for spies of that era (especially the ones living in works of fiction), but it was still exciting and I have books like Len Deighton's to thank for that impression.

This book, Spy Hook, the first in the Hook, Line and Sinker trilogy picks up a couple of years after the end of the last one where Bernard's wife has defected to the Soviet Union. He's managed to pick up the pieces, settle in to a new house (with a new partner, 1/2 his age!) and go about his life as best he can, being the spy who's wife defected.

I won't go into any more details (read the official summary) but will tell you that the book reads either like a much longer book or a book that is part of a series where you're being provided lots of information about characters and backgrounds. By that I mean not much happens at all through most of the book (exciting events filled with spy intrigue that is), it's more like the book is setting the reader up for future stuff. That is, until you get to the end of the book when things really start to happen, and the final pages really demonstrate the excitement that is this genre.

I've given it 3 stars but the way the book ends I've been left with a feeling of great anticipation and excitement and optimism about the next book being even better, with intrigue more reminiscent of the first series. Can't wait to get reading the next now. ( )
  SpasticSarcastic | Apr 1, 2013 |
Len Deighton is certainly one of the best writers about 20th century espionage. This novel can either be read as part one of a trilogy, or more accurately as part four of a six part story arc - a story of betrayal and espionage, in this particular case set in London, Berlin and the States. Deighton portrays 1980s Berlin brilliantly in particular, and in this book sets a lot of hares running in different directions. Having, in Bernard Samson, an unreliable first person narrator, Deighton gives us partial views and glimpses of a complex jigsaw of personal and political relationships. Who is betraying who? Of course we now read cold war stories as period pieces, somehow less real than the geopolitics we play now across the world. But the stakes were high then (global nuclear war, anyone?) and the rules of the game just as unpredictable.
  otterley | Dec 30, 2011 |
Another very good Bernard Samson book. If you've read the Game, Set and Match trilogy, this has the same sort of feel. This time Bernard is investigating the disappearance of several millions of pounds from a mysterious account in London Central. I know that sounds like someone walked into his office with a case, like he's a PI, but in reality Bernard is a spook, of sorts, and he's just curious as to what happened to the money, especially because it may involve his wife, and it certainly seems to involve a good friend of his in the Department. However, the Department is not keen on people asking too many questions, especially people with a shadow on their record like Bernard.

Overall this was very well written, with a good voice. Bernard is just as I remember him from the Game, Set and Match trilogy: world-weary, coming to terms with himself at middle age, and at times still shockingly naive, especially when it comes to technology (for example, when he tells Gloria that he got all these Access Denied messages when trying to find out about the file, she says, "You do realize that every time you get a message like that, the computer records your name and access number and what you were searching for." Evidently Bernard was not aware of that). His eye for detail is also very keen, as one would expect from a Deighton protagonist. And the story ends on an excellent cliffhanger, leaving the reader satisfied but also looking forward to the next installment of the trilogy. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Feb 23, 2011 |
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When they ask me to become president of the United States I'm going to say, "Except for Washington, D.C." I'd finally decided while I was shaving in icy-cold water without electric light, and signed all the necessary documentation as I plodded through the uncleared snow to wait for a taxicab that never came, and let the passing traffic spray Washington's special kind of sweet-smelling slush over me.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586068961, Paperback)

The long-awaited reissue of the first part of the classic spy trilogy, HOOK, LINE and SINKER, when the Berlin Wall divided not just a city but a world. Working for the Department was like marriage is supposed to be - "til death do us part' - but the Department is really not like that; and neither are many marriages, including that of Bernard Samson. The cool and cynical field agent of the GAME, SET and MATCH trilogy has grown older and wiser. But things have not gone well for Samson: old pals are not as friendly as they used to be and colleagues are less confiding than they once were. Now, starting with his mission to Washington, life has become even more precarious for Bernard. Ignoring all warnings, friendly, devious and otherwise, he pursues his own investigation and, in California, meets with the biggest surprise of his life...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:08 -0400)

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Bernard Samson has been put in a precarious position in the Department by the defection of his wife Fiona. Now, against all warnings, he determines to pursue his own investigation of the affair. Bret Rensselaer, meanwhile, the American-born head of European economics at M16, has also embarked on a personal project - nothing less than the undermining of the Eastern bloc economies.… (more)

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