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Mini review: “Eye of the Needle” by Ken Follett


This is the story of a German spy during the Second World War who discovers a secret plan by the British government to wrong-foot the Germans into thinking that the operation to liberate France and north-west Europe would land at Calais rather than Normandy.  The story itself is fiction but the plans were real, giving this a solid grounding in fact.

The book benefits from being relatively short and keeping the pace up all the way through.  It features a strong female character, which is refreshing.

I had heard that this is one of the great spy stories, up there with The Day of the Jackal.  I don’t think it comes close but it is a good thriller.



Mini review: “Winter: A Berlin Family 1899-1945” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)


Winter is a prequel to Len Deighton’s three trilogies featuring weathered English spy Bernard Samson.  The inside cover of my old copy of the printed book explains why it is the “fourth book of the trilogy“, meaning that it should be read between the “Game, Set and Match” and “Hook, Line and Sinker” trilogies.

I read the trilogies for the first time over a decade ago and did not read Winter until later – I did not know about it at the time.

Over the last couple of years the books have been re-issued as audiobooks and I listened to them as they came out.”Game, Set and Match” came out in 2014 / early 2015, “Hook, Line and Sinker” followed later in 2015.  Winter was not released until February 2016 which means that it has not been possible to listen to the books in their correct reading order until now .  If you are interested in reading the Bernard Samson series then read Winter in its rightful place: fourth.

You won’t be disappointed.

The book is brilliant.  It is the best book in the Samson saga (although the masterful Spy Sinker comes close).  It is at this point in the proceedings  that you start to realise the depth of planning that the author has gone to when putting this saga together.

Winter is very rewarding if you have read the preceding Samson stories. Getting to know Bernard’s father Brian and Werner’s father Isaac sheds more light on these central characters.  Then there are the characters who only appear as old people in the trilogies – you get to see them in their youth.  Certain influential characters from the trilogies have walk-on roles, giving you an idea of how they start out.

The story begins at the turn of the 20th century with the birth of a second son to Harold Winter, a German businessman.  Winter is the story of the two brothers, with the focus on the younger son Paul.  You follow their experiences as they grow up, through the first World War, the inter-war years and the second World War.

The eldest son, Peter, has an artistic streak and goes to work in the company firm.  Paul goes into the military, has a dreadful experience in World War 1 and becomes a lawyer and a bureaucrat in the Nazi party.

One of the special aspects of this story is how it depicts the rise of the Nazis and how the German people turned to their political point of view.  It is very unsettling seeing how the treatment of Jews moved from persecution to extermination and how the Nazi leadership seized control, stamping out any sign of dissent.

A strength of the book is how you can like the character of Paul and be sympathetic towards him yet you are increasingly appalled by his actions and attitudes.

You also get to experience the war from a German perspective, which becomes particularly impactful as you head towards the end of the story and see how the Germans themselves suffered through the devastation caused by RAF bombing of cities and huge losses on the battlefield.  The Russian invasion of Germany was carried out without mercy. (This is also highlighted in Field Grey by Philip Kerr).

A word about the narration: the book is read by the same narrator as all the other Bernard Samson novels so you are listening to a voice you are already familiar with.  He does the job well, as professionally as ever.  However, there is one oddity here that I found initially off-putting: the text often mentions the different regional accents of Germany and how they sound to people from other parts of the country.  To get over this point the narrator does not try to have the characters talking with different German accents but instead uses “equivalent” British accents.  You get used to it but it is strange at first, and is particularly jarring right at the start of the story as you are immediately assaulted by a very distinct regional English accent.  It’s not what you expect when you start listening to a book set in early 20th century Germany.  I could understand how some listeners might not be able to get over this stylistic hurdle, although I can see why the decision was made to present the narration in this way.

Also see…

The “Game, Set and Match” trilogy:

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “London Match” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

The “Hook, Line and Sinker” trilogy:

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Hook” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Line” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Sinker” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)


• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books (my original reviews of the books)

• Harper Collins: Len Deighton audiobooks


Mini review: “Trap for Cinderella” by Sebastien Japrisot


I was introduced to the author Sebastien Japrisot at school when I had to read his book L’été meurtrier (One Deadly Summer) in my French class.  I loved it, and it sure as hell beat L’étranger by Albert Camus.

Over the years I have collected a few more books by Japrisot on the basis that the plots of his crime stories always sound so cunning.  These days I still like the idea of reading the original French versions but when it comes down to it I just can’t bring myself to do it.  At some point I might appreciate the challenge but not … quite … yet.

 So when I was drawn towards Piège pour Cendrillon I turned instead to the English translation: Trap for Cinderella.  Here are some of the details from the back of the book:

One night on the French Riviera fire guts a house shared by two young girls.  There is only one survivor.  Her memory wiped blank and her fave desperately burned who can tell whether she is the mad-cap heiress or the companion, the victim or the cold-blooded murderer.

This story was written in the early 1960s, so forget any modern means of solving the problem…

I was hoping to be hugely impressed by this short (170 pages) story but it never quite happened even though the plot twists keep on coming and the end of the book is very satisfying.

I think that the problem is with the translation.  It starts off well but towards the end it starts to struggle.  I get the impression that Japrisot is crafting sentences in French that should be explained more fully in the English but that would not fit in with the tone of the rest of the book.  The translator has gone with the more literal meaning of the text and the result is unclear English.

Still, if you’re a crime fan looking for something different you could do a lot worse than this book.

Film: The Revenant


After being attacked by a bear, a man is left for dead.  He survives, driven by the desire for revenge.

Unflinchingly violent, achingly beautiful, this deserves to be seen on a big screen.


Mini review: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton (audiobook version)


When the film originally came out it blew most people away with its realistic dino special effects.  Straight after seeing it I read the book and enjoyed it immensely.  This audiobook is a recent 2015 release marking the book’s 25th anniversary and it doesn’t disappoint.

It is a reminder that the book is very well written, one of the best techno-thrillers ever.

The narrator does an excellent job all round, especially at putting over the tension and the (almost constant) sense of impending danger.

I recommend experiencing this again.  It is up there with The Silence of the Lambs when it comes to being a classic thriller with an audio performance that elevates the story even more.

Mini review: “Data and Goliath” by Bruce Schneier (audiobook version)

This book looks at the current state of internet data gathering (surveillance) by nation states and private companies.  They are involved in collecting as much data as possible about you in the interests of security and profit.  This has big implications for individuals and society both now and in the future.

It is well balanced, easy to understand and I agree with every word.  Do not miss it…

… Having said that, there are a couple of points I want to raise.


It frustrates me that a book that contains information that everyone should be aware of, with clear and reasoned arguments should be pitched at such a niche audience.  What this book needs is a new cover – and a willingness to get the book out in front of as many people as possible.  This is the only way that you are going to stimulate the debate that this issue deserves.

Look at what we have:


Look at the kind of thing that can be achieved:

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, jacket cover

Clean, simple, interesting – and approachable.


I listened to the audiobook version and the publishers got this right.

They used an excellent narrator who is able to make this an easy listen.  I know him from fiction –  the Nate Heller series of novels from Max Allan Collins.  When you have a subject that people need to pay attention to, you need to have someone who can put over a story.

This is what it takes to make the book approachable.  Compare the good “Data and Goliath” with the poor “The Second Machine Age” (my review – with criticism of the narration – is here).

Well done.


This is a book that needs to be read (or listened to).  Society has to decide where to draw the line when it comes to data gathering – not an easy task given the different points of view and the international nature of the issue.  There is probably not a definitive answer to this subject, but there should at least be a debate to highlight the situation.