56: Len Deighton’s Berlin Game – Book Club

Berlin Game -Len Deighton – Spybrary Book Club Edition

Len Deighton's Berlin Game - Book Club Edition on the Spybrary Spy Podcast
Len Deighton's Berlin Game – Book Club Edition on the Spybrary Spy Podcast

Spybrary listeners voted overwhelmingly for Berlin Game to be the first spy book to be discussed in our first ever book club Spybrary edition. Listen to an in-depth conversation on this spy classic with Spybrary host Shane Whaley, Deighton expert Rob Mallows and newcomer to Len Deighton's work but not the spy genre Peter Newman.

WARNING – Please do not listen to the Berlin Game Book Club edition of Spybrary if you have not read the book. Unlike other episodes of the Spybrary Spy Podcast this episode if full of Berlin Game spoilers. It is a book club edition so we cover lots of aspects of the book including many of the twists and turns.

The Spybrary Spy Podcast Book Club
The Spybrary Spy Podcast. Book Club for spy fans

Spybrary Host Shane Whaley claims that this is one of the top 3 spy books ever written, if not the best! ‘Not just a multi-layered spy novel but also a love letter from Len Deighton to Berlin' he says.

Rob Mallows says Berlin Game is the book that got him hooked on Len Deighton.

Peter Newman delivers a fresh approach as this was his first time reading Berlin Game.

What did our panel think of the plot, the characters, the writing, the conclusion? Tune in to find out!

‘Fleming made spy fiction globally popular, but it took Deighton in the Sixties with novels such as The IPCRESS File to make it hip. His finest work, though, came later, in the Eighties, with this trilogy (completed by Mexico Set and London Match) about the disillusioned SIS agent Bernard Samson. Less exuberant than his early books but more subtle, Berlin Game is a terrific feat of plotting that out-le-Carrés le Carré in its sardonic portrait of Secret Service office politics. Tarantino (who had Max Cherry read a copy in Jackie Brown) should hurry up and film it, like he said he would.

Jake Kerridge – The Telegraph.


Notable Quotes from Berlin Game by Len Deighton

‘How long have we been sitting here?’ I said. I picked up the field glasses and studied the bored young American soldier in his glass-sided box. ‘Nearly a quarter of a century,’ said Werner Volkmann. His arms were resting on the steering wheel and his head was slumped on them. ‘That GI wasn’t even born when we first sat here waiting for the dogs to bark.’

Bernard Samson


‘Do you know some quiet restaurant where they have sausage and potatoes and good Berlin beer?’ ‘I know just the place, Bernie. Straight up Friedrichstrasse, under the railway bridge at the S-Bahn station and it’s on the left. On the bank of the Spree: Weinrestaurant Ganymed.’ ‘Very funny,’ I said. Between us and the Ganymed there was a wall, machine guns, barbed wire, and two battalions of gun-toting bureaucrats.'

Berlin Game - Len Deighton
Berlin Game – Len Deighton

‘Fiona didn’t have the faintest idea of what an agent’s life was like. Dicky and Bret had no idea either. None of these desk bastards knew. My father used to say, ‘Eternal paranoia is the price of liberty. Vigilance is not enough.’

‘‘Embarrass the KGB! Is that the word he used? They put sane dissidents into lunatic asylums, consign thousands to their labour camps, they assassinate exiles and blackmail opponents. They must surely be the most ruthless, the most unscrupulous and the most powerful instrument of tyranny that the world has ever known. But dear old Chlestakov is frightened you might embarrass them.’'

Berlin Game


“Both of us work the tough side of the business. I’ve been West a few times, just as you’ve come here. But who gets the promotions and the big wages – desk-bound Party bastards. How lucky you are not having the Party system working against you all the time.’ ‘We have got it,’ I said. ‘It’s called Eton and Oxbridge.” Bernard Samson – Berlin Game


Berlin Game, Bernard Samson on Spying
Berlin Game, Bernard Samson on Spying

‘‘You can’t run the Soviet Union as though it were the Chelsea Flower Show, darling.’' Fiona Samson – Berlin Game

Bernard Samson - Berlin Game
Bernard Samson – Berlin Game
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Spybrary Spy Podcast Discussion Group
Talk more about spy books in our Spybrary discussion group

With special thanks to:

Rob Mallows – Deighton Dossier
Peter Newman
and all you Spybrarians who sent in your comments on Berlin Game. Sorry we could not get to all of them but you can always continue the conversation in the Spybrary Listeners Group.


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3 Responses
  1. David Craggs

    A great discussion.
    I particularly enjoyed Peter Newman’s comments about Bernard’s inverted snobbery.
    There is an anti-establishment theme that runs through both the Sampson and ‘Spy With No Name’ books that adds enormously to their charm.
    We’ve all been in situations when the smartest guy in the room was definitely not the boss. I’m sure the teams I managed frequently felt that !
    The fact that the secret services are portrayed as the big dysfunctional organisations that they are, with all of their foibles, is well exploited by Deighton and makes for great authenticity and humour.
    I also think that the first person narrative is a great vehicle that Deighton uses both to personalise the story, make us feel for Bernard and to ramp up the tension.
    Len Deighton is undoubtedly the poet of the spy story and we are so lucky to have his works to enjoy.