Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Game, Set ... but not Match? A reader invites answers on perplexing questions about the Samson series

Adrian Bailey's illustration for the Game, Set and Match series. Can you recognise each character?
The Samson series of ten novels is, in my opinion, the apogee of Deighton's fiction writing. Over these novels he creates such a web of well-developed who all have some part to play in their respective futures.

But opinions on the novel and the characters are not uniform. Canadian blog reader Milan Stolarik got in touch with the Deighton Dossier to offer his views on this series of books having just read the novels in sequence.

He had some questions about the characters and the books, and I thought it would be best to encourage blog readers to read his thoughts and respond. Here's Milan's contribution:

"I only recently discovered Len Deighton's books, and rather late in life. I really like the Samson series and I have just read all ten books (including Winter). I was particularly intrigued by the semi-tragic Fiona character. 

However, I wasn't able to reconcile the person Len describes as a very smart, mature, and happily married secret service agent, with the woman who became a kind of love- and sex-starved harlot who could not apparently stop herself falling in love!

It is rather bizarre that this 'brilliant' SIS agent swallowed the hook proffered by a KGB agent, by initiating the affair after the first contrived meeting and keeping it going for for nine years! I wonder, how realistic was this scenario? Perhaps Len Deighton knows more about the vulnerabilities of married women better than I (remember the character of Veronica in Winter?). Or am I just showing my naïveté?

Seduction has been a prime method of spies gaining information since the time of Delilah. By yielding so readily and willingly to this age old technique, Fiona I feel broke every rule of state security, fidelity, and morality for an illicit sexual relationship which lasted many years. She evidently fell in love with this known KGB agent. 

I wonder: is this Deighton's version of The Spy Who Loved Me? Where was SIS security while this adulterous affair was going on for five years in London? Even her super sleuth husband did not catch on, but he did suspect she was having an affair with Bret, which she easily denied. The first of two betrayals.

The story is certainly very titillating fiction, but I like a strong dose of reality with my fiction. The believability of the story is somewhat tempered by this episode and confuses me. I'm interested in what Deighton Dossier readers think about this and other questions raised in my mind from my first read through of all ten books. Perhaps I missed some things? Maybe other readers have developed different views of the characters?

Some questions to consider:
  • Fiona agreed to stay one or two years in East Berlin, yet she stayed for four years? I did not read any satisfactory explanations for this extended stay beyond what was originally planned. What extended her stay in Berlin?
  • Why were Stinnes and Kennedy in Fiona's car when she was being extracted? I can't figure it out!
  • Fiona in her suicide note wrote "I soon guessed that Kennedy was spying on me", yet the affair lasted nine years. I cannot wrap my mind around that. How soon was it? According to the book she officially found out he was spying on her while in East Berlin (six years after the affair started). Did she continue the affair to hide her secret, or was she addicted to sex with Kennedy, or both? 
    • Subsequently, she dismisses Kennedy as one who loved Karl Marx and would betray her without hesitation. It's very hard to digest because she must have loved him passionately (even though she admitted it reluctantly): "Just speaking to him on the phone sent shivers down my spine" and "having a drink with Harry near his office provided me with deep satisfaction"
    • Just a simple post card form Harry, via the hair saloon, sent her into a state of euphoria. There had to be a lot more there then what meets the eye in this relationship. Deighton rather confused me on this! Does anyone have any explanations to set me straight?
  • Fiona never confessed her infidelity to Bernard, nor did she confess a mea culpa for abandoning him and the children for the service to the Queen and London central. Was this one of the character defects that Bret talked about?
  • Did Fiona know, or was she told that her sister died in order to keep her extraction from East Berlin a secret? I never read anything that would indicate she knew the reason for Tessa's death! In this regard, why did Fiona want Bernard to stop investigating the death of Tessa, when she was originally so passionate to solve the issue? Did London central tell her the story and and ask her to stop for the good of the service. Yet another betrayal of Bernard by all?
  • The author originally described in detail how Werner briefed, paid and killed Thurkettle, yet the SIS group, including Bernard, concluded that Petyman did it. I don't understand the logic. Did the author forget what he wrote in the previous book? Not likely. So what is the answer?  
    • A similar occurrence happened when Fiona's extraction was described for the first time. In that one Fiona was in shock and did not recognize her sister lying in the mud, nor the other persons killed. She had to be told by Bret that her sister died there. Yet in the subsequent description of the event she readily recognizes her dead sister on the ground, as well as Kennedy, whom she admitted she loved. This actually is the first time I heard it from her own mouth. What gives?
I found the character of Werner a little disappointing [Ed. note - here Milan and I have different opinions!]. Bernard thought Werner was his best friend and confided in him most of his secrets, Werner on the other hand not only kept information from him, but spied on him. Werner, like Fiona. was loyal to London Central. The betrayal of a friend is a major conceit and I found it troubling, but compelling to follow.

The other two characters I found interesting and perplexing were Bret and Gloria. While Bret created a lot of the problems and heart-aches suffered by Bernard, he acted like a human being at the end. Even though Bret must have been in love with Gloria some months before asking her to marry him, why did he sent her to meet Bernard in Sweden, when he brought in Kozinski, and then bring him back to London in a private jet with her?

Why did he send her to Berlin on a special assignment while Bernard was there. Was he testing them? I cannot figure it out! Furthermore, did Gloria have anything to do with Bret giving Bernard a full time contract and a pension and eventually the job of the Berlin station chief? Somehow I think I know the answer. The heroine in the end is Gloria, but the jury is still out on Fiona. What does everyone think?

I enjoyed the books tremendously. However, these are the issues that baffle me and any explanations or clarifications would be appreciated.

So, blog readers - any thoughts and clarifications on Milan's questions?

70 comments:

  1. There is a US omnibus hardcover edition of Game/Set/Match that came out back around 1990 and featured a new introduction by the author. One of the points Len makes in that essay is that every incident is described from someone's (usually Bernard's) point of view and reflects that person's biases. There is no omniscient narrator in these books. So one possible explanation for a scene being described differently at different times is simply that someone else's POV is being used, or even that the same person's POV is being used at a different time. Many of us, after all, might describe an incident in our lives one way if asked shortly after it happened, but describe it differently if asked years later. In particular, Len warns that Dicky Cruyer is not really the bumbling incompetent that Bernard shows us; and Len also says, "We will never really know what happened that year." All we know is what the characters themselves tell us, and even when they try to be completely honest (which often is not the case), they remain limited by their own biases and their own limited knowledge.

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    1. Interesting observation, thank you. Now can you explain, if possible, the different descriptions of the death of Thurkettle?

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    2. Interesting observation, thank you. Now can you clarify for me, if possible, the different versions of the killing of Thurketlle?

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  2. I have to say, I think Werner is one of the key characters and one which draws me to the stories each time. The fact that we find out in Spy Sinker that he's been acting as Fiona's 'handler' if you will is such a plot twister precisely because Deighton played out so well the brotherly relationship that Werner had with Bernard which the reader would think would preclude any form of betrayal or lying. I think Bernard's relationship with Werner is interesting because, given that he's a link back to his idealised childhood in Berlin, Bernard is capable of overlooking aspects of Werner's life that on the face of it might be questionable - e.g. his frequent, quasi-criminal dealings with the GDR government. Deception is one of the key features of the ennealogy and it highlight's people's capacities to sometimes not see what's in front of their faces. That's why sometimes incredible situations can become credible, I think.

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    1. Plausible as you indicate, but Werner is a very devious character nevertheless. The main character that fascinates me is Fiona because as Bret indicated, she was acting totally out of character in her affair with Kennedy. Any views and or thoughts about her?

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  3. Regards your question as why Stinnes and Kennedy were in the same car when Tessa was shot, if I recall this is because, as Samson subsequently discovered, both Stinnes and Kennedy were involved in the heroin trade (or was it cocaine?) and that would explain their presence at the location together, would it not?

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    1. I recall reading about Stinnes being in the heroin trade, but do not recall the mention of Kennedy (I will double check). I presume that Thurkettle was going to pick up the heroin from them which just arrived as he was in business with them. However, why was Fiona with them? She was supposed to be extracted alone at that location from a car provided by Werner and company. I have no clue why the three were together. Was she forced to join them, or was it set up that way by Thurkettle?

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  4. I think an important element of the Fiona character, and perhaps her willingness to continue the affair with Kennedy even when she suspected he was spying on her, is the need for affection and love, passion. I think in Deighton's writing and character development he cleverly plays on the influence of her upper middle class upbringing on her personality - i.e. it's clear that David Kimber-Hutchinson, her father, didn't lavish much affection on her growing up - he clearly wanted a son; equally, one reads at times in the book the extent to which Bernard's job and Fiona's job - plus his reluctance perhaps to appear overly romantic and affectionate - had an impact on the romance in their relationship. Kennedy therefore became an emotional safety valve during this most stressful of missions, I think

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    1. Yes, I got all that. This just proves that she was emotionally unfit for the assignment particularly after she was caught in bed with Kennedy the first time!

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  5. Also, Fiona didn't apologise for taking the mission to Berlin because it was made clear in the development of the character, and in her explanation of her developing a male fictional counterpart Stefan to console herself during her time in Berlin, that Fiona felt that she needed to compete with and prove herself the counterpart of her male colleagues, even be more impressive than them - again, this is a product of her upbringing I think. I think also what's clear in the text is that this generated a fierce sense of service and loyalty to the job first, which allowed her to compartmentalise the fact that she effectively abandoned her children.

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    1. Yes, I understood all that. It just proves that she was an unfit mother and a cheating wife. No wonder she tried to commit suicide. Yet she persisted, as having learned nothing, with this fierce sense of service and loyalty to the job after she returned to London.
      I will give you my new perspective and views about the Sampson series after you and/or other bloggers would be kind enough to answer all the other questions that I raised in my missive above.

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    2. Since there has been so little feed-back from bloggers I thought I should expand on my thinking. I must say that the author stunned me when he turned Fiona from a hero to a zero in my mind. Her initiation of the affair with Kennedy after the first contrived meeting really surprised me, as it was totally out of character. In retrospect even Fiona agreed, she blamed on Stefan. Furthermore, she took on a perfidious personality, continued in her narcissistic ways and also turned into a nymphomaniac. Perfidious because she lied with a straight face to Bernard when he accused her of having an affair "there is no one else but you darling". She also lied to Bret who believed that the affair was over (she swore to him that it was). Perhaps good training for her job in East Berlin. Her narcissistic personality really came on. She needed romance, passion and love and she went out to got it and kept getting it for nine years. While she claims that she felt some quilt, she quickly rationalized this by claiming that she needed to feel glamorous and desirable all of which Kennedy provided. He nymphomania manifested itself when she claimed that she tried to stop a thousand times, but each time she went back to Kennedy for rough sex and other sexual experiences she was not even aware of. Quite shocking!
      In normal circumstances if a married person does not get the satisfaction he or she wants out of marriage, you divorce. This, of course, would not work because it did not fit into the author's plot since he needed Bernard to denounce Fiona a Russian spy and then suffer the horrendous consequences of her betrayal to satisfy the Kremlin that she was a genuine defector! Not to mention his subsequent activity to reveal that in fact she was a double agent and come to her rescue!!!

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    3. Even after her attempted suicide I found Fiona to be a cold, calculating woman who shoved very little wifely feelings toward Bernard and the children (she was in no harry to get them back). The only time she shoved emotion was her jealousy toward Gloria, but she never confessed her infidelity to Bernard! Her narcissism continued, designer clothing, fancy car, a star in the department and other forms of attention (a commissioner under each arm at conferences) etc. She showed very little concern for her husband's career. Yet I must give credit to the author because he did feature Bernard as the good guy who understood that Fiona was not fully recovered and stood by her at the cost of giving up Gloria who was the best thing that happened to him and the children. But the author had other ideas!

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  6. After reflecting for a few days and re-reading some parts of Sinker I have concluded that Deighton, particularly though the character of Fiona, must be poking fun at the incompetence of the SIS and the members of the British establishment who run it. Letting a retired DG, with the concurrence of the present DG, run its most important operation which, amongst other things leads to the planned and deliberate death of Tessa Kaminsky and others to save Fiona's extraction secret for a few months is totally outrageous, unreal, and unbelievable even in fiction novel.

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  7. Any competent security and intelligence agency would not choose an agent for assignment who goes to cry at a railway station because of the pressure and anxiety created by her job. It would not choose an agent without a psychological assessment. It would not choose an agent who was emotionally unstable and susceptible to seduction. Even so, no respective married women, let alone a secret service agent, would jump into bed with the first man who showed a little interest in her to relieve her anxiety! It would immediately eliminate and agent after catching him or her in a compromising situation and press her to continue the assignment. It would do a thorough check on the person who seduced their agent. It would not miss a five year illicit affair of one of their agents, in their back yard no less, with a KGB plant of all things, particularly after catching her once before! It would not deliberately go out to ruin the lives of a whole family by making Fiona abandon not only her husband, but most importantly her children. No rational women would ever abandon her children for a job, no matter how fierce her loyalty to the department! The reality is that Deighton set up a completely unrealistic and unbelievable story.

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  8. Deighton continues to disparage the SIS and the establishment by pointing out that the only honest and competent officer in London Central was Bernard and everyone else was on his case. What struck me though was the attitude of Fiona once again. After the guilt of her two betrayals caught up to her, she tried to commit suicide. She conceded in her attempted suicide note to Bret that she was foolish for having had the affair with Kennedy and professed her deep love past, present and future for her husband and that she desperately wanted to hang on to him. Yet she reverted to norm in her fierce loyalty to London Central by trying to sideline Bernard from continuing the investigation into Tessa's death (which she initially wanted to solve very disparately), the reasoning behind her change of mind was never properly explained (unless she was told the truth and Bernard was not). Furthermore, she asks Bernard to stop fighting with Dickey and to be loyal to the department. Then she tells him that he may loose his job in London due to cut backs and that as his wife she could not intercede on his behalf to save his position because it would not be proper. Totally incomprehensible since she was the darling of the department and could have anything she wanted. Perhaps it was part of the plot she cooked up with Dicky to ship him of to Berlin to keep him away from Gloria. The latter by the way was the only likeable character on this whole series who in the end was probably responsible for Bernard getting a proper contract, pension and maybe even the job of Berlin resident.

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  9. There were many loose ends and inconsistencies that occurred in the books from Sinker onward that really bothered me. These were never properly explained and left me perplexed and irritated while I was searching for some rational explanations. This left me totally unsatisfied and disenchanted. If you can shed any light on then please do so. They are itemised in my missive above. Thanks to all.

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  10. Readers, what do you think. Milan's put up some very critical comments about this series, many of which I disagree with. What are other readers' views?

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  11. All I can say is that the inconsistencies between the character and actions of Fiona as described by her husband and those described objectively in Sinker are a major part of what makes this 10-novel series so worthwhile and memorable. Perhaps Mr Stolarik has never experienced such crushing and apparently unbelievable revelations about a partner, but I can guarantee that Bernard is not the only person in this world who has.

    Regarding the mixture of apparent inconsistency and incompetence in SIS's dealings with Fiona, surely this is all part of the way such a complex issue as a double agent plays out both among the fallible human beings who find themselves involved.

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    1. You are absolutely right Mr. Somerset, Bernard is not the first nor the last man to be cuckolded. What surprised me even more was the spontaneity of the affair. Since Fiona ignored all the SIS protocols about such encounters, I guess she fancied him as the saying goes. She spent more time in bed with Kennedy then her husband during the story, yet in the end she readily dismissed Kennedy as being in love with Karl Marks and one who would denounce her without batting an eye if he found out she was a double agent. At the same time pronouncing her ongoing love for Bernard. Somewhat bizarre! I guess Deighton introduced Kennedy in the story not only to perform his duties as a KGB agent, but to stroke Fiona's ego (she loved it) and to provide stud services whenever she needed them? Oh, and Dayton found the cure for anxiety and depression. It was illicit sex. I hope he got a patent on it.

      So Mr. Somerset, Dayton can write whatever his fertile imagination conjures up, but I don't have to agree with him. As a matter of fact, the whole Fiona operation from am operational point of view was a bunch of unbelievable non-sense!!

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  12. I truly sympathize with Mr. Stolarik. I also found the ending to the Samson series very troubling. I think Fiona's story caused much of this, but not all. In any genre of fiction, anticipation of a character or characters getting their just desserts builds up in proportion to, and as, their bad behavior accumulates. So much treachery, betrayal, murder and knives in the back go unpunished for me to utter a sigh of satisfaction by the time I finished 'Charity'. I read the 9 Samson novels over the past 2 months and was so confounded, I read them again. There was quite a bit I missed the first time round, but nothing to really ease my discomfort. I'll save my thoughts on Fiona for last.

    The reader quickly sees Bernard as the intrepid hero, but, with only few exceptions, no one else does.
    Bernard saves Brett's life in the launderette. He stops the Stinnes operation to end Brett's career dead in it's tracks.

    He saves Dicky's life in Warsaw from 2 armed thugs who are about to murder them both. Bernard isn't armed, but he does have an umbrella that he's beefed up with some steel bars.

    He brings George back from Poland in what was probably his neatest op of all. He and George are being followed to the airstrip by 4 well armed bad guys. George is in near panic but Bernard calmly says we'll steal their car. He does of course and the op goes off without a hitch. Bernard's only concern was if he should have killed all 4 instead of one or two.

    He gets Zena back for Werner. Werner is moaning how he loves Zena and desperately wants her back. Bernard takes the afternoon off, locates Zena when no one else can, breaks up her romance with Frank Harrington and has her back in Werner's arms in time for Tea.

    For all this and more, he receives no thanks or credit. Dicky's always telling him 'the other guy's in charge', Brett tells Bernard that Fiona left two suicide notes, one for him and one for Bernard, kept his and burned Bernard's before riding off into the sunset with Gloria in his chauffer driven Bentley. Werner never repays the kind of loyalty Bernard constantly shows him.

    This of course is all very annoying. At least two characters however, see Bernard much more clearly and pay him the proper respect: Thurkettle knows that going up against a professional like Bernard on the autobahn is a no-go, Bernard's far too deadly. The other is the man Brett hires out of his own pocket to keep an eye on Fiona in London. He's the one who finds out about Harry Kennedy, but he also wonders why Kennedy, when just from his observations he can tell Bernard is ten times the man Kennedy is and greatly admires him.

    Now as for Fiona, I missed this little snippet of conversation the first time, but when I read Sinker the second time, I had to put down the book and take a deep breath. It answers why Kennedy was in the car. It's tucked away at the end of a chapter and easily overlooked. Werner is meeting Fiona in her East Berlin apartment. It's their last meeting as controller and agent and he is preparing her for her escape. He also tells her the Department is aware that she's still sleeping with Kennedy. He then tells her that if Kennedy is there when she's extracted, he will be 'liquidated'. She asks why would he be there?
    Werner only says 'why indeed'. Later, when Werner is briefing Thurkettle about who is to die on the autobahn, he shows him Kennedy's picture, confident Fiona will bring him. Why she lures him to his death, a man she loves and who loves her even more, isn't so clear. Kennedy is a bit player for the KGB and not even active anymore and he's certainly not part of the Stinnes/ Thurkettle drug operation. He's just there to be murdered. Is it just pure evil, or have I greatly misinterpreted how this played out? I don't think so, but no other readers seem to have caught this.

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    1. William, I agree with some of your points. I'm currently re-reading the whole ten books - as I do every few years - and I took picked out that conversation you refer to between Fiona and Werner explaining what happened to Kennedy. As a clear KGB plant, it was clearly too dangerous for Fiona for him to be kept alive, I guess.

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    2. Thank you for the reply Rob, that was fast. Kennedy was a threat and had to die only if he was there. He, like the rest of the KGB, were to be fooled by the body in the burned car.

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    3. Thank you for a very reasoned responds William. I did note the conversation between Werner and Fiona and wondered what it was all about, but did not make the connection you did. While brutal, it seems the only logical one now that you mentioned it.

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  13. I feel your pain Mr. Stolarik. A woman like Fiona is Bernard's reward so all his efforts, suffering and anguish?

    To answer, perhaps, another of your questions about why Bernard maintains that Prettyman killed Thurkettle, I believe Bernard is keeping Werner's role to himself. Here's why. When Bernard find Thurkettle's body, Bernard examines the case that the money was in. He sees the mark one of the bullets made on the underside of the case and tells Werner something to the effect of ' Prettyman concealed the gun under the case as they were facing each other when he shot him..... the same way you did with the man in Dresden'. Why this matters at all is a better question, it was another successful operation for Werner. Also interesting, but annoying is when Fiona meets Bernard in the East, soon before her return. She's at the breaking point and tells Bernard of an operation in Dresden where '...a man was killed' but says no more. Same operation? Another sacrificial lamb to protect her cover? We have no idea. We do know that when Bernard seeks out Prettyman, who is pretty much on his deathbed, he lays out the scenario for him, including Prettyman as Thurkettle's killer. Prettman says Bernard has it wrong, but says no more. Prettyman later thinks better of this and tells his wife, just before he dies, to contact Bernard to say Bernard got it all right, essentially giving Bernard permission to finger him instead of Werner. But again, why?

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    1. You are a very astute reader William, I missed the fact that Werner was involved in the Dresden matter. It was where Fiona lost her engagement ring. I guess my answer now would be that Bernard, being the true friend that he always was, was protecting Werner as the killer of Thurkettle from the official record of the Department. Thanks again for your excellent observations.

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    2. Milan, my dear co-sufferer, I forgot about the ring, but when I re read that scene, Fiona says a man died, it was a terrible night, I washed my hands... That just sunk in to me.... 'I washed my hands'. A dark thought came to me, that Fiona is on a journey to lose her moral compass, her humanity. She loses the ring because it represents sentiment, something that's inconvenient. She goes from being stricken at the thought of what happens to Blum, her first betrayal, to not blinking when she lures her lover Kennedy to his death, her final betrayal. Now... either the DG gets canned after Charity, or he soon retires. Where do you find a replacement for a man who'll send off loyal agents to their deaths, and I don't mean like an infantry officer sends troops off knowing some will be killed. This kind of killing is part of the plan. A person who'll destroy a happy marriage, plot the murder of a completely innocent civilian and let children suffer with the loss of their mother. Those folks don't grow on trees.....Fiona?

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    3. Right on again William. After thinking more about Fiona luring Kennedy to his death it became clear why she dismissed him in her attempted suicide note as one who was in love with Karl Marks and would denounce her without blinking an eye if he found out that she was a double agent. Furthermore, the night mares that visited her during the night were not only about people being killed and seeing bodies on the ground, but about her direct involvement in the killing of Kennedy and indirect involvement in the killing of Tessa and the others. Some moral redemption?
      Since you solved the riddle of why Kennedy was in the car during the extraction process perhaps you can advise why Stinnes picked up Fiona and brought her to the exchange point. I know that there was to be a delivery of drugs to Thurkettle, but what was Stinnes told about bringing Fiona along? Was he told that she was to meet her sister? I am puzzled?
      Another mystery that has been bothering me was why Fiona stayed four years in the DDR when the plan called for a stay of one, or two years? Was it because Silas and the DG did not care about bringing her out as long as she was providing useful services and information? In that regard, I found a dearth of information about what it is that Fiona did in the DDR for the KGB to account for all that time, and of course, what information did she sent west, how did she work with the church groups, through what networks and how was the secret stash of money distributed??? There were snippets of information that came out particularly after she returned to London, but overall not much. After all, the whole purpose of the DDR operation was to infiltrate and work against the subvert the government in place. I was left wanting.

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    4. From the beginning, when the DG told Brett that Mr. X would really be Mrs.X.... and Mrs. X would be Fiona Samson, the whole operation would last 10, or hopefully 12 years. If you recall, Brett was stunned that the DG would choose a happily married woman with a family. Fiona was already in 'deep cover' since being recruited by Silas when he was the DG years before. Makes you wonder if Silas steered Fiona towards the young Bernard back when she was fresh out of College. Anyway, Silas ran her personally, nothing on paper, he said that was how it was done 'back then'. So, operation Sinker kicks off, Brett starts running Fiona in London, briefing her often, and why Bernard has suspicions about them. She soon meets Kennedy and their affair lasts 9 years. But it really is a slow, subtle operation, it's 5 years until Fiona defects, and another 4 with her in place in East Berlin. Fiona complained to Bernard during the 'engagement ring' chat that it was he that was bringing the op to an early end, because of his meddling and 'leaving a trail'. But in her early months in East Berlin, when she brings Werner into the plot as her contact, she tells Werner it will only be for a year or so. But the bottom line is simple, Brett lied to Fiona, telling her it would only be a year or two, but the plan from the very beginning was always for at least five.

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    5. Good points again, William. I'm currently working through Faith, Hope and Charity and what's clear in the text is a) the multiple layers of the story that need time to develop and be revealed over ten books and b) the amount of exquisite planning that Len would have had to do to ensure that all these threads - such as you've highlighted - hung together and made sense by the end. The early conversations that Bret has with the D-G and Silas in the mid-seventies, when he floats the idea of the deep-penetration - indicate that this was indeed a ten-year plan. What I also find fascinating was that Bret's core thesis - about the role of the marginalised church groups in helping to undermine the DDR economy and support the brain drain of talent from the country - wasn't that different from what happened in reality. Given that Len Deighton started writing the ennealogy in 1981, he was either (a) incredibly prescient or (b) knew the right people in London and Berlin who could see the way the future lay.

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  14. I disagree with many of Milan's points, and agree with others - however, it's positive that his often harsh words for the author have generated a positive discussion on the blog.

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  15. Here's the answer to the Fiona in the car with Stinnes riddle: The DG and Silas are meeting at Silas' house to discuss and plan the endgame of operation Sinker. It's over three years since Stinnes was swapped for Werner and his operation to torpedo Brett. They both plan Tessa's murder, Teacher being there ...etc. Stinnes name comes up with the DG asking if Stinnes has passed anything useful lately. Amazing how the DG is really getting briefed by Silas. Anyway, Silas says that in the last few years, Stinnes has been working both sides 'against the middle'. This made Stinnes feel safe enough to get into heroin smuggling, which is a key part of the operation to bring Fiona back. So, Stinnes, at some point, started taking Department money and working for them in some limited capacity. Again amazing that Silas has to tell the DG this. So, Stinnes is told to bring Fiona, Fiona is told to go with Stinnes and Fiona brings Kennedy. Even though Stinnes is a nominal Department asset, it's certain he has no Idea Fiona is a plant. What and how he was told the reasoning or purpose behind bringing her was never revealed, but it's still a stretch. Stinnes was no dummy.

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    1. Ambiguity in the motivation, loyalty and priorities of each of the main characters is, perhaps, what makes this a challenging novel to work out - but all the better for it.

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    2. Rob, I'm quite an avid reader, my bookshelves have hundreds of titles, and my kindle, another hundred. I must confess, the kindle is what makes jumping around for answers about the Samson series so easy. My tastes have always leaned towards non fiction, history in particular. In the past few years, non fiction being a somewhat finite supply of good reading, I turned to espionage. Le Carre of course, Vince Flynn and everything Tom Clancy, even though Clancy isn't strictly a spy novelist (he does do 'tradecraft' well though), the complete works of Conan Doyle who invented the genre of course and gave us the never gets old tradition of the wrap up, where he tells Watson how everything really went and how it was deduced. No series of novels ever sunk a hook in my psyche like the Samson set. It truly is a tribute to Mr. Deighton's skills as a writer, I just wish it didn't keep me up at night so much. I'm truly grateful for your well administered blog. As to my angst, this too shall pass.

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    3. I'll pass on your nice comments to Len - he always appreciates hearing readers enjoy his works

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    4. Thanks William for at least a partial explanation about the Stinnes matter. I never did properly understand who Stinnes was working for. I guess the answer is for himself! This is the frustrating part about reading Deighton's books.
      I have one final question for you. Why did Fiona so suddenly loose interested in finding out who ordered her sister's death? Was is because "senior staff" was told who issued the order and was told to close ranks? Werner knew of course, but he did not tell Bernard. As a matter of fact he tried to convince Bernard that the latter may have shot Tessa by mistake???? Furthermore, he betrayed Bernard by spying on him and reporting all to Brett. Some friend!!!

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    5. Milan - you describe Deighton's series as frustrating. Couldn't you make the case that it is the complexity, and the fact that nothing about any character is absolutely certain - by design - makes it a more compelling story because it retains an air of uncertainty right through all ten novels. I.e. even with what's in the text, how much did Bernard really know about people like Stinnes, and his hero Silas.

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    6. Rob - I know, of course, that you are very loyal to Mr. Deighton otherwise you would not have set up and run this blog. For this I am grateful, otherwise I would not have found the answers to many of my questions. Yes, I found the novels frustrating and irritating and in my opinion not very believable. These are the reasons for my criticisms to which you seem to be very sensitive. But I am sure you agree, that an author has to take the good with the bad. I am certain that Mr. Deighton is a big enough man to take both in stride. He may, indeed, be a good writer as William points out, but he is not my type of writer. At my advanced age I do not need to be confounded, frustrated and irritated and I do need my sleep, so I have taken your earlier advice and have stopped reading his novels. I may read some of his historical books because I heard that they were pretty good. As you probably discerned from my last name I am of Eastern European descent and spent part of my early childhood in Austria after the war, so I am very interested in that time period and subsequent events.
      I just finished reading an interesting book about that time period called "Leaving Berlin" by Joseph Kanon. It is also about the DDR after the war and it is the type of novel I enjoy reading. It is challenging, but believable and not frustrating nor irritating. The ending is surprising, but nevertheless plausible.
      So there you have it. A little controversy is always good for debate. Cheers.

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    7. Milan - yes, I suppose I'm loyal to Len as a writer, but I wouldn't say sensitive particularly; I am aware that he's fallible and not every book he's written has been a masterpiece. However, I think that looking at some of your criticisms, in light of the recent feedback from William Bree, didn't seem to be justified in the end. I don't think this ennealogy would be regarded as one of the top spy novels of the last fifty years by "the poet of the spy story" if they were incomprehensible and irritating. However, honest feedback, debate and criticism is healthy and this has become the blog post with the most comments ever generated

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  16. My Dear Friend Milan, if I may call you that, all along I've shared your frustrations. So many twists and subtleties in the plot, so many false leads and counter intuition. In this train of thought, about Mr. Deighton having flaws as a writer, I'm afraid I side with Mr. Mallows.
    His character development simply has no equal, his dialogue is superb. He has a technique that employs a literary devise wherein he buries a juicy tidbit inside an otherwise boring scene, rich in background but still tends to make the reader's eyes glaze over, making this little bit of information easy to miss. How many times does a character engage in mindless chit chat only to drop a quiet bombshell as they make their way out the door? I'll give you an example I just discovered today, and I really mean today: Tessa is helping Bernard move his kids to the new house, from his mother's. She's at her most lovable, but complaining about her marriage, George taking 'business trips' with a possible mistress. She really goes on and on and on. Then, in classic Deighton style, in the doorway, on the way out, she says she had an absurd dream, Fiona called her collect from Bosham (of all places), asking for photos, and would she bring them to terminal 2 at the airport? KaBOOM!.... More about this later, I need to get my thoughts in order.

    Deighton readily admits that as he works long time with the same characters, they sometimes move the plot as much as he does.

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    1. William - a useful and apposite summary, I think!

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    2. I suspect Mr. Deighton indulged himself in a bit of revisionism. I suspect, after reading another's take on the series elsewhere, that Fiona was a genuine traitor and that she was really in the car herself with the 'nurse'. This reader posited that in the first trilogy, Game, Set and Match, that Fiona was a genuine traitor. The dreamy phonecall, which could in no way be a dream, given the two facts of Bosham and Terminal 2, support this. As I've said, I'm still ordering my thoughts on this.

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  17. You may, indeed, call me your friend because I think you are a true detective William who can see, or interpret tit-bits of information that I cannot. You seem to like the twists and turns and subtleties which, in fact, frustrate me and that is why I very much appreciate the answers you provided to some of my questions. Many other questions remain, but we must move on. It is the believability factor that annoys me the most and you have, in your subtle way, agreed with many of the points that I have so bluntly enumerated (job description of the old DG for example). I fully realize that it is all fiction of course and that Deighton writes well, nevertheless having been closely associated with our security service, I cannot bring myself to even remotely believe that any of this could occur (they would all be in jail or the funny farm).
    I do enjoy debating the issues with you and also for bringing to my attention Vince Flynn, about whom I did not know. I will check out his books. I hope he is an easier read then Deighton.
    I look forward to you additional thoughts and revelations. Rob has paid you the utmost complement for engaging in our debate and enliving his blog, so now you have two fans on both side of the ocean! Cheers.

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  18. You and the other reader may be onto something. I recall Fiona, or the impostor talking about the children. That person gave him a year to keep the children. There was a second discussion about them (I do not recall when) about sending them to the best schools in Moscow, but Bernard talked her out of it pointing out that the KGB would never let them return to make sure she keeps her loyalty to them. After that, there was no discussion about the children. Perhaps a better indication and one of the many things on my mind is why the KGB/STASI never sought revenge on Fiona (they never came after her, or her family and she would have been an easy target with all her travel in Europe?). After all her penetration was the biggest success the west ever had. In spite of the fact that Bret lied to her, Fiona never objected to her extended stay in the DDR why? One has to balance that with her suicide attempt because it was all too much for her (was it genuine?). You can go on and on. Mind boggling!

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  19. My dear friend William, I hope I can call you that as well. "You have to let me go" as Gloria said to Bernard. Now that you have opened my eyes, I am much more comfortable looking at Fiona as a traitor/real KGB agent for a number of reasons besides the one you already identified. I always thought her seduction was too easy and too quick. Her miraculous recovery from anxiety/depression after a couple of sessions in bed with Kennedy was remarkable (no more pills needed). If that in fact was the case, I owe an apology to Mr. Deighton. Kennedy must have been introduced to perform a more important function then just a lover. Perhaps that of a controller masquerading as a lover (real, or otherwise) which was a readily deniable position. That also explains why she continued to see him after officially learning he was a KGB plant. She already knew and that is why she never asked him how he knew she was in East Berlin (so many of my questions answered). I also found it strange that she could travel so easily to London (if it was her at the airport) and then to the Netherlands to see her aunt and Tessa (remember that) so early after her defection. Even her trip to the Czech Republic to meet Bernard is suspect (too easy).
    She did not resist too strenuously about going to the DDR, Even pretended to be black-mailed by Brett when the issue came up. But she always insisted that Bernard not be told about the affair, nor her suicide attempt. She always thought that Bernard was smarter then his bosses and made sure important information was kept from him. Furthermore, she never really cared about the children (she said so) in spite of her many questions about them. Even upon her return to London she preferred to leave them with her parents and send them to boarding school while she beavered away for the KGB. Brilliant!

    I will now return to my original premise that Mr. Deighton was poking fun at the SIS and the Oxbridge establishment that ran it, because this is the only way I can rationalize this series. They had plenty of experience with double agents, such as Philby, McClean, Blake and others and learned very little from it if there is any truths in these books.Finally, imagine Fiona becoming the DG (she was after all the darling of the department), or at least the "haus frau" married to the Berlin resident, where all the action was and still probably working for the department. What a coup!! Unfortunately, or fortunately only for a little while longer as the Soviet Union and the DDR collapsed. Now I feel much better having got all this of my chest. I hope I am free.

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  20. Rob, I read somewhere that you were going to interview Mr. Deighton shortly. This is my question. Was Fiona really a traitor? I am sure he will smile and say that he will leave the answer to the fertile imaginations of his readers, but its worth a try. Thanks.

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  21. Here's a very deep question. Seriously, think about it. At the end of 'Match', Fiona tells Bernard at the Stinnes/ Werner swap that 'there is no other man, there never will be'. Is she telling the truth? We know from later books that Harry, at this point has been her lover for 6 years. But at the time Deighton sent his manuscript to the publisher, was it the truth?

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    1. Fiona did a lot of lying. She said the same thing to Bernard when he accused her of having an affair with Bret which she denied, but she was already having the affair with Kennedy.

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  22. It's been a journey for me, Mian, Like Bernard... figuring out what really happened. I am just a reader, Bernard et al, are really just characters. We are confounded, then wonder how? This didn't happen to me after 'Tinker, Tailor' or 'A Scandal in Bohemia'. Deighton's jumping around in time is brilliant, but offers the threat of paradoxes. This confounds the reader, but why do we care? It's because Deighton involves us so deeply in his characters. I'm glad I was able to unravel some riddles, I was hoping others could do the same for me.
    More to follow abut what REALLY frustrates me.
    ...It's not the riddles.

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  23. My goodness no wonder I was frustrated, all the questions I had and things I did not understand were actually clues to Fiona's real identity and I did not connect the dots. Here are some more of them. You may recall Bernard noticed that Tessa willed her apartment to Fiona after she defected. Bernard wonders whether Tessa knew that Fiona was coming back. The latter denies it. Yet the author had some purpose inputting in that dialogue. At the debriefing Fiona requested that Bernard not be present because he made her nervous, how and why? I think she felt that she could fool Bret about her activities in East Berlin because he knew nothing real about the country, never having been there and never been an active agent (she also knew the interrogation techniques, after all Bret taught them to her). Whereas Bernard would have seen through her answers having been in the DDR many times and knowing a lot about it. Bernard was never shown the report of her debriefing. Furthermore, at the briefing with Prettyman where Bernard was present, she did not identify Kennedy, but rather called him the Moscow liaison man. Her attempted suicide could have been staged to gain Bret's sympathy for the debriefings and later work in the department. She may have taken some extra pills drank some vodka, dumped the rest and left the note where Bret would find it and come looking for her. At the worst, she would have had a good long sleep and a head ache. Bernard did not see the suicide note until the third last page of the last book so he could not act on any of the info in it and Bret conveniently burned the note to Bernard as you previously reported. She could have faked her night-mares to keep everyone thinking she was mentally frail and gain their sympathy. Silas reported that she had a medical and came out A1, but she refused to see a psychiatrist. No one is going to mess with her mind. I also think that she conspired to keep Bernard away from her so he could not pry, by sending him of to Berlin and being on the road all the time. Bernard complained that that they did not have even five minutes between trips to talk to each other. One other thing that stood out was the discussion with the East German pastor who complimented Bernard of having such a great wife. It turns out that he did not know her through his church, but rather as a STASI officer (did Fiona expose that particular church network?). The recruitment of Werner was much too easy (a KGB colonel would not go to get a prisoner). There may be other clues that I missed but these should suffice.
    There, I got most of it out of my system. If this was, indeed, the way it turned out it took much too much time and energy to get there!
    Rob, did you know all about his???

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  24. I've just finished reading Faith, today, and it reminded how, if the question is were there traitors in the 'London side', the real candidate was George Kosinski, who was - based on the evidence in the books and the dialogue - playing London for fools by reporting for the Bezpiecka since 1978, Always took me by surprise when reading that, because George's Polish 'roots' are in the first few books relatively well hidden, other than references to his name and his cockney character being out of sync with it. George's treachery could have been excused if it had been solely in the name of his dead wife, but it was persistent and continuous.

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  25. Now going through "Game' for the third time, I no longer think Fiona was a genuine traitor. Deighton had the 'Sinker' operation in mind all along. Bernard is driving home the same night Giles tries to commit suicide. He's discussing the 'Karshorst' matter and Fiona asks him why he wasn't with her that night in 1978?
    He says he was on an op in Gdansk...and that it went badly. She says but you made it out Darling. He reflects that all his ops turned bad since then, he always made it out, but everyone else 'wasn't so lucky'.
    Now why does this hint at Fiona is a triple agent? Bernard gets suspicions about her dinner with Brett about the same time the large parcel of leaked Dept. Docs shows up in Berlin. It's the final bit that sends Bernard on the path to discover her as the KGB mole. Brett is meeting her because it's getting close to her being inserted. Lets get every last detail down pat, she's going in and Bernard will be the instrument of her defection.

    Now why did I and many others think she's a genuine traitor at this point, and into 'Set' as well? First is her coldblooded encounter with Bernard on her first day in Berlin as a KGB Col. The reader thinks it's enough to plunge a knife into his heart to satisfy her masters that she's genuine, but why twist it so?
    And she mentions that in every operation since 'Gydnia', she kept him safe. Bernard says she's betrayed every operation since then. Please note, Gdynia is a suburb of Gdansk.

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    1. I got the sense too from chatting with Len about the GSM series that he had the broad plan, if not the detail, for the whole story planned out.

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  26. Her cover requires that she plunge a knife in Bernard's heart, can anyone offer an explanation why she twists it? I believe I have an answer.

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  27. One can speculative about Fiona until one is blue in the face. Perhaps the author wanted it that way. I am moving on. I have read three new novels since Charity including, Girl On A Train, and enjoyed them all without tying myself in knots trying to figure out what happened. Have fun in your continuing struggle to figure out Deighton's intentions. I will monitor your progress.

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  28. I enjoyed 'Girl on a Train' as well, I found the Samson Saga afterwards. The crux of my frustration is simple. In any Passion Play, and the Samson series was quite passionate, the final act always includes rewards. Fidelity, honor, loyalty, treachery, faithlessness, hubris and outright stupidity all get rewarded in kind. I'll say no more

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  29. Thanks gentlemen - good discussion

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  30. It was a pleasure discussing the Samson series with you William and I did appreciate all your inputs. If I may, there are a couple of authors you may enjoy who write books of this nature namely W.E.B. Griffin and Philip Kerr, but are more understandable. If you have not read them, you may wish to have a go. Cheers.

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  31. Thank you Milan for those recommendations, I'll definitely explore them. If I may suggest Daniel Silva, at least his villains get what they deserve!

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  32. Thanks, I will check him out. Good reading!

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  33. The final pieces of the puzzle manifested themselves to me most recently. Fiona had her buddies of the KGB assassinate the Swede. She knew Bernard was planning to run, but she needed him and the children as her cover, so the deed was done. The department was monitoring the movements of Bernard and they knew he met with the Swede and so, of course, did Fiona. I never thought Dickie's explanation for the killing was logical (it kept festering in my mind). Fiona delivered the coup de gras to Bernard when she replenished the 3000 pounds he paid to the Swede in his bank account (is this what you meant by twisting the knife William?). The author let her get away with it all. Is this another poke in the eyes of the SIS???
    The ending was pathetic. Bret, one of the bad guys, rides into the sunset with Gloria, the only decent person in the whole series. While the author stabs his hero Bernard in the back by leaving him to deal with his cheating, betraying, and treasonous wife! Wow!!!

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  34. I've read and re-read this series many times since I started collecting the books in the 1990s. The Samsons, their friends and family live for me, and I often wonder about the inconsistencies within the series and try to unravel them. I won't try to do that here, but instead I wonder if commentators on this discussion have considered the realities of the espionage world, the effect that being an agent has on the psyche, the personality type of a field agent, and the experience of being a woman in the late 1980s in any career.
    The history of 20th-century espionage is rife with 'unsuitable' personalities employed in the field. A spy needs to be a thief, a liar, a furtive type with a moral code that is completely adapted to the needs of the job. Thus Werner takes a great, secret pleasure (as Deighton makes very clear, to Werner this is the best kind of pleasure), in keeping some of his actions from Bernie. Even though it's destructive to her marriage and mental health, Fiona holds herself apart. I don't think she ever loved Kennedy, but compartmentalised her relationship with him as a release valve. Many agents have been promiscuous. Bernard often doesn't tell Gloria his secrets, but she is smart enough to join the dots herself in many scenes. It is a secretive, brutal world, in which the players are disposable. If you want a spy story in which the 'good guys' are rewarded and the 'bad guys' punished, don't read quality fiction. Deighton is too good to lie to us.
    Living with this pressure, in fear of one's life, constantly pretending, would produce a psychological stress that civilians can only guess at. Sex, drugs, violence and manipulation are behaviours that almost all of the characters indulge in at various points in the story. Even someone as rigid and stoic as Stinnes cracks up and gets involved in the heroin trade. This is one of the biggest shocks for me in the character developments during the series, and unfortunately we are not privy to his breakdown. My grandmother, who lived through WWII in East end of London, told me that under that stress, nearly everyone behaved immorally – affairs with foreign servicemen, looting bomb sites, buying black-market goods – and we can be sure that many servicemen also behaved badly overseas. Once the war was over, everyone tried to paper over the cracks and return to 'normality', deliberately forgetting or dismissing their questions and their guilty feelings. This resulted in an repressed atmosphere and a morality that seemed to have regressed in many ways (especially in gender and sexual relations) from that of the inter-war years that was exploded violently in the 1960s. This kind of post-traumatic stress reaction seems rife in 'Hope, Faith and Charity' – everyone wants to pretend in the hope that silence equals peace.
    If I was to write a treatment of the Samson series, I'd take 'Sinker' as my starting point. In many ways, this whole novel cycle is the story of a woman trying to prove to her father that she is the son he craved. She makes poor decisions and cannot interact honestly with any of the people in her life. She has no real friends except Tessa, and she will not let down her guard to Tessa, either. I think Deighton makes it very clear why and is more sympathetic to Fiona than many of the readers seem to be. Fiona is a person of multiple masks. Even more than other women (especially 30 years ago) who complain of having to play many roles in order to satisfy their bosses, families, partners, children, friends. You have to do this if you cannot wield power directly. Fiona has to manipulate everyone around her to achieve her goals. This is demeaning as well as difficult. No wonder she keeps secrets, has a risky and stupid affair, and eventually cracks up, for a time losing her memory (Fiona's heroic success results in Tessa's death). Bernie is by far the more sympathetic Samson, but he is without many of Fiona's stresses. And ultimately Fiona proves the better agent.

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    1. Thanks for your interesting comments. I think Spy Sinker is such a telling book because it explores characters' pysches in a way you cannot get just from Bernard's perspective.

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  35. I'm writing this in hopes that someone out there might have some information. I'm in the U.S. and trying to find audiobook versions of the complete Samson series. Audible usually has everything, but it only has a couple of the books available in the U.S. However when I go to Audible without signing it, it lists all the books. Upon contacting Audible, they explained that U.S. distribution rights have not been sold. Thus if I had a U.K. credit card and Audible thought I was a U.K. resident I could buy any book in the series. Not the case with my U.S. credit card. Another very frustrating by-product of the publishing industry not recognizing the realities of digital distribution. Do you or anyone know when U.S. rights may be sold/granted so Audible could distribute the entire series in the U.S.? I'm on this quest because I read the series in book form in the past and now I'd like to go through it again in audio version. Thanks.

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  36. Len really needs to release the ITV series of GSM, despite his feelings for it. It simply would have channeled many to the books, showing him as the superb writer he is. I believe the storyline stands on its own and comes through in the series successfully and more people deserve to see that.

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  37. I haven't read all the posts in detail but I don't think anybody has suggested the possibility that Kennedy was effectively working for Bret in order to black mail Fiona who was obviously reluctant to defect. I actually thought that in the last 3 books Bernard would discover this and kill Bret, Silas and the DG for being such bastards and then inevitably end up silenced by SIS. I was disappointed when the last three books fizzled out the way they did.

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  38. Was Kennedy chosen and employed by Bret in order to black mail Fiona into the job ? I honestly expected Bernard to discover this in the last 3 books and then proceed to kill Bret, the DG and possible Silas in revenge before inevitably being silenced himself by SIS. Did Bret black mail Gloria in a similar fashion ? The last 3 books were a real let down.

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    1. You need to write to Clerkenwell Films - they've been sitting on the TV rights for all nine books for over three years now!

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  39. I hope it is not too late to join this discussion. I'M m a latecomer to Deighton's Samson books and just discovered this blog. I have many questions about this series; many have been posed in the previous discussion above. But here are two questions that weren't:
    1. What was the narrative purpose of introducing Gloria's father, the dentist? Doing do heightened the suspense, with Gloria fearing for his life when he returned to Hungary. And I think there was a connection between his dental research and the dental work SIS did on the skull as part of the plan to make DDR think Fiona was dead. But once moved to Hungary he was never mentioned again and he came into no danger. Further, Bernard never seems to make to dental connection, does he? Maybe I'm missing something, but the subplot about the father seemed like a red herring.

    2. It's established that Bernard is an unreliable narrator, but can we assume that the omniscient narrator of Sinker is reliable?

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  40. I think it serves more to provide and develop Gloria's back story and why she's at London Central, perhaps, almost that espionage and secrecy runs in the family.

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