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.
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
This is the first Bernie Gunther book I’ve read and I will definitely be reading more. To have the story being told by a German character from a German point of view is something new for me. Bernie is an appealing character to spend time with due to his dry, dark humour and disregard for authority. However it is also clear that he is a very flawed and damaged person – no doubt I will learn more about what he has gone through when I read other books in the series.
In this story he is summoned to Prague at short notice to solve a murder. A body is found in a room locked from the inside. Someone in the house is the guilty party. A deliberate setup by the author – Bernie makes a particularly bad-ass Hercule Poirot.
The period and places are evoked well and I do generally enjoy stories where fictional characters mix with real people such as the Nathan Heller series by Max Allan Collins (an American ex-policeman and PI, so in the same vein as Gunther) and American Tabloid (and others) by James Ellroy.
The narrator does a very good job. He also does other audiobooks in the series.
I’m glad I picked this book up, although I think that others in the series may make more unpleasant reading.