Monday, 28 August 2017

Deighton & Le Carré .... spy fiction titans cut from different cloth

(c) Tom Jamieson, New York Times
This recent New York Times profile of John Le Carré is part of the growing pre-launch hubbub surrounding his new novel A Legacy of Spies, which is launched in September with a live interview of the author at the Royal Festival Hall.

The fever pitch reflects renewed interest in Le Carré's fifty years plus career as a novelist of note, arguably the greatest spy fiction thriller writer. The success of the TV adaptation of The Night Manager in 2016 and the film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, brought Le Carré's writing to a whole new generation.

While Le Carré's career has continued without pause since the end of the Cold War, by contrast Len Deighton's career has - since his last published novel Charity in 1996 - in effect trasnmuted into a well-deserved retirement (which he enjoys and which he evidently has no desire to leave). As such, their public - and online - profiles has gone in dramatically different directions over the last decade and more.

A contemporary of Len Deighton - Deighton is 88, Le Carré will soon be 86 - John Le Carré's life and writing career in a number of interesting ways contrasts with Deighton's.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

In the days before flat whites and skinny moccachinos, there was .... chagga

'Oh really, Bernard ...!"

This post was inspired by an email from Deighton Dossier reader Morgan Davies, who sent a link to a shop in London which is referenced frequently by everyone's favourite buffoonish (or is he?) spy in the Samson series of books, Dicky Cruyer.

The shop in question is H R Higgins, purveyor of fine ground coffee in London to the great and the good. Morgan confirmed they are still selling the mysterious "chagga" coffee, which was part of Dicky's daily routine as Head of German Desk at London Central, where he (in theory at least) had full control over agents like Bernard Samson in East Berlin.

This minor detail in an otherwise massive nine-volume text I think illustrates how great writers like Deighton and others use details and moments to round out their characters and deliver subconscious signposting to help the reader understand each character's personality and outlook, and their relationships to others.

Here's some classic back-and-forth repartée between Dicky Samson and his employee, Bernard Samson, when we first meet them in Berlin Game:

'He [Cruyer] had his coffee served in a fine Spode china cup and saucer, and he stirred it with a silver spoon. On the mahogany tray, there was another Spode cup and saucer, a matching sugar bowl, and a silver creamer fashioned in the shape of a cow. 
He sipped his coffee and then tasted it carefully, moving his lips while staring at me as if I might have come to sell him the year's crop. 'It's just a shade bitter, don't you think, Bernard?' 
'Nescafé all tastes the same to me,' I said. 
'This is pure chagga, ground just before it was brewed.' He said it calmly but nodded to acknowledge my little attempt to annoy him. 
'Well, he didn't turn up,' I said. 'We can sit here drinking chagga all morning and it won't bring Brahms Four over the wire.

In the reader's first experience of Cruyer and Samson's relationship over 'chagga', key things are established.