Picks and Pans Review: Spy Hook

updated 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Len Deighton

Some dissatisfactions are built into this novel. As the first part in a trilogy, it has a frustrating, cliff-hanger ending. Bernard Samson, the 40ish British MI6 agent who has been suffering the consequences ever since his wife, Fiona, defected to the Soviets five Deighton novels ago (in Berlin Game), is the one left hanging. What gives this book its appeal is that Deighton makes up in characterization what he lacks in action. Samson does not do much. By James Bond standards, he is a washout, spending much of his time wondering if he should have bought the suburban London home he shares with his much younger girlfriend, Gloria, a clerk at Ml6 headquarters, and his two teen-age children. But Samson starts finding himself involved—apparently as a scapegoat—in a scandal involving embezzlement of government funds and what seems to be the execution by British Intelligence of one of its former agents. Since he just wants to be left alone to do his routine spying in Berlin, he is sincerely puzzled, and that puzzlement is the foundation of the book's minimalist tension. While other fictional spies are preoccupied with exotic weaponry, the intricacies of counterespionage or global politics, Samson muses about commuting: "Gloria seldom came with me in the car. She enjoyed going on the train; at least she said she enjoyed it. She said it gave her time to think. But the 7:32 was always packed with people from even more outlying suburbs by the time it arrived and I hated to stand all the way to Waterloo." Samson (or maybe it's Deighton) also has a fixation with the sensual pleasures of hearty eating and drinking. That may be why, when Samson is invited to a dinner party by Cindy Matthews, the missing agent's widow, he looks askance at "the sort of meal that women's magazines photograph from above." It consisted, he recounts, of "Three paper-thin slices of avocado arranged alongside a tiny puddle of tomato sauce and a slice of kiwi fruit. The second course was three thin slices of duck breast with a segment of mango and a lettuce leaf. We ended with a thin slice of Cindy's delicious homemade chocolate roulade. I ate a lot of bread and cheese." When something dramatic finally does happen in the novel, it seems a little contrived. But it sets Samson straight on a collision course with the next part of Deighton's trilogy. This de facto coming attraction for the second installment is surely no coincidence, and it should prime Deighton fans, and fans of gentlemanly spy fiction in general, for the author's next novel. (Knopf, $18.95)

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