Review: Berlin Game

To celebrate the re-issue of Len Deighton’s Game, Set and Match trilogy, I’m posting a review of the books that originally appeared on my old website.  The book cover shown is the new re-issue cover…  All three books are worth checking out if you fancy some old style Cold War espionage.

Game, Set and Match trilogy:

Book 1: Berlin Game

Book 2: Mexico Set

Book 3: London Match


“Sharp, witty and sour, like Raymond Chandler adapted to the British gloom and the multiple betrayals of the private spy” – The Observer

I picked up this book as a beat up second hand copy, its pages fading to a great light coffee colour. The spine is beat and if it had any more wrinkles it would qualify for a pension. The quote on the back seemed to describe the book perfectly. This copy has obviously entertained many a reader.

Every new thriller these days promises a whizz-bang ride of a story and a fantastic sting in the tail. Every new thriller writer tries to invent their own flawed detective, dealing with their own demons and mysterious deaths; even better if they are on the trail of a twisted serial killer. Or something like that. With their fancy covers and designer quotes, the books gleam – promising everything but rarely delivering all the goods.

This book seemed to have a quiet confidence about it, as if it knew it was in a different class. Strange but true…

These books are often overlooked because they are set in the Cold War – a period that has been and gone, well overtaken by current events and seemingly irrelevant. Ever since reading The Day of the Jackal my opinion of these older books has changed and I was ready to give this a try.

The main character, Bernie Samson, is a middle aged, middle ranking official in the British secret service. He is pushed back into active service when one of their sources of information in East Berlin becomes convinced that he is about to be betrayed by a mole in the London office. Bernie is sent to calm his nerves.

Such a simple premise is possible because the book is totally driven forward by character. Conversations are perfectly pitched. The characters have their own individuality, mannerisms and moods. The importance of this cannot be overlooked. We are not dealing with the bright young things that appear in today’s thrillers. We are dealing often with a group of old men who increasingly feel bitter because they are no longer seen as relevant and are being sidelined. Cranky and set in their ways, they have had to ensure suffering.
They also have to face their own mortality.

The biggest character of all though belongs to Berlin itself. A city that is unique in the world, it has been totally defined and divided by the actions of men. The East side is dismal and foreboding, hostile and menacing, but it’s past glory and beauty still manages to resonate through. People there have adapted and they still have a pride in their home.

This book maintains the tension fantastically. You know what has to happen but you need to find out how and it doesn’t let you down. You won’t be disappointed.



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  2. Pingback: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version) | Spare Cycles

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