on 9 April 2010
Two civilians leave as soon as their submarine anchors at a remote, secret Scottish base. They are Patrick Armstrong and Ferdy Foxwell (PA;FF). They have spent 43 days without alcohol and tobacco under water and under the North Pole's thick and uneven icecap, esp. when seen from below: time for a drink or two in the first pub in this barren, cliff-ridden region, before moving on. They survive an attempt to tip their vehicle over the edge by another car, whose occupants are already settled in the pub when they arrive. Is it a warning?
PA and FF take all this in their stride, staying cooler than you or I would. Attentive readers may suspect at this stage that we are mere spectators in a long-planned drama, and that PA and FF are pawns or larger pieces in some Cold War chess game.
More incidents occur, esp. to PA, such as a brutal armed burglary of his new flat by Russian intelligence officers led by KGB Colonel Stok (who reappears as an adept of the Scottish poet Burns in Billion Dollar Brain). Another warning to desist? Earlier, upon arrival from Scotland, PA uses his abandoned flat to call for a taxi and finds it curiously changed and extended, with medical equipment added to and a passage made to the flat next door. What alarms him most is plenty of evidence that his identity has been stolen to benefit another man...
At work (PA and FF work at a War Office institute devoted to studying historical conflicts with the aid of computers) a new broom has been appointed, the abrasive Colonel Chuck Schlegel (USMC, ret.). His task is to merge the institute with similar war games institutions in NATO-land. He orders a naval war game between the Red Room commanded by Ferdy) and the Blue Room (top US admirals)to secure more funding and legitimacy for the institute. Or what? PA is referee Schlegel's Personal Assistant and able to move between Red and Blue. It gives him a crash course in decision-making and playing foul to obtain higher objectives.
Spy Story is about a carefully-planned defection of a key Soviet submarine commander. Len Deighton must remain in print. Spy Story is not for claustrophobics. His knowledge in 1974 of the intelligence capabilities of submarines and computers is awesome. Colonel Schlegel makes a comeback in Yesterday's Spy. Authentic, convincing and with a chilling finale.
Plot (without giving too much away) - the hero/antihero of Ipcress File et al. is back; he now has a name, but that seems to be a new one - for a new job, although Dawlish (his old boss) crops up as well, as does our old 'friend' Colonel Stok; this time decidedly less friendly, and not quoting Burns any more, either. Our hero now works for the Games Study Centre in London, where various war scenarios (and sometimes political ones) are wargamed. The Americans are taking over the Centre; new scenarios are being wargamed; treason is in the air, too, and subplots are legion.
My opinion: the detail, as ever, is impeccable; the dialogue entirely believable; the personalities multilayered, and with shifting loyalties and purposes. (use page 208 top for quote - written in Madagascar withouut the book!). Very good on details on the Anglo-American powerplay and relationships; the British class system, wargames in the Arctic... vintage Deighton, which means it is very very good. A lot is not spelled out, but inferred, so if you like your books with a twist of subtlety, this could well be for you. With a good dose of Cold War Realpolitik!