MEXICO SET by Len Deighton
Kirkus Star

MEXICO SET

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Don't read this sequel (or even this review) if you're planning to read Deighton's Berlin Game (1984)--in which British spy Bernard Samson, a very likable narrator, prowled through an espionage maze. . . only to learn that the treasonous mole was his very own wife Fiona, who fled to East Berlin at novel's end. (The big Fiona secret is out in the open from the very first chapter here.) Now, together with slimily ambitious Dicky Cruyer, Samson has come to Mexico City, where old chum Werner--full-time banker, part-time spy--has spotted a Berlin-based KGB agent named Erich Stinnes. The apparent mission? To persuade Stinnes to defect. So Samson, after some roundabout preliminaries, makes an initial contact with the KGB man--who seems open to UK offers. Back in England, however, this seemingly clear-cut plot begins to thicken around poor Samson. It turns out that Stinnes is senior assistant to ex-wife Fiona, now a Berlin spy-chief; and Fiona makes an incognito London visit (a terrific scene) to warn Samson off, with threats relating to their small children (still in England). Moreover, it then appears that British Intelligence is using the Stinnes operation to test Samson's loyalty--he's been under suspicion since Fiona's defection--while Fiona may be scheming to incriminate her ex-husband! Soon, then, Samson is scrambling around Europe to figure out who his principal enemies are, and whether Stinnes' interest in defection is really just a trap. He's framed for murder in Paris, tricked into committing pro-KGB actions, grilled by an assortment of obnoxious colleagues. And the finale returns to Mexico for the tense defection-attempt--with some nasty interference from Werner's greedy wife Zena. . .and from Fiona's most ruthless KGB ally. (The story will continue in a third, final installment, a Match--in Paris, perhaps?--to go along with the Game and Set.) Again, as in Berlin Game, Deighton doesn't fully develop the potent personal aspects of Samson's dilemma: there are only the briefest glimpses of his mother-abandoned children. And the plotting is rather thin, with lots of repetition and loose threads. Still, if only sporadically gripping, this lesser sequel is still several cuts above the spy-thriller norm--thanks to Deighton's engaging hero, his fine-tuned bits of sardonic characterization, and his uncommonly readable, elegantly spiky narration. ("" 'I'm not an idiot,' said Werner, using the unemotional tone but exaggerated clarity with which a man might specify decaffeinated coffee to an inattentive waiter."")

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Knopf