Before starting this post, I would like to wish all my readers a happy new year and the very best in all of their endeavours in 2016. I’d also like to apologize to everyone for not publishing any post for the past three weeks, the reasons for which were some pressing personal and professional concerns. So let’s start this review in earnest.
Yesterday’s Spy is a novel in the Harry Palmer Series of books by British author Len Deighton. Like all the books in the series, this one too is told in first person narrative form with Harry narrating. Harry, Deighton’s protagonist in the pre-Bernard Samson days, gets into business as his one-time mentor in the spy business during the second world war and friend, Steve Champion, who led the Guernica network in the War, is accused by the Department of having murdered a young agent, Melodie Page. There are also rumours linking Champion to Arab arms dealers, and accusations that he’s sold his soul to the devil. Harry is disbelieving and does a thorough investigation of his own that seems to suggest that either Champion is guilty or there’s a big conspiracy afoot. Harry is called by the name Charles (or Charlie) throughout the novel and but for the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, there’s no indication or clue whatsoever anywhere that this is the same character that was the protagonist of such brilliant books as The IPCRESS File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain.
Yesterday’s Spy starts with the three aforementioned characters in jovial conversation as the author slowly gives us a bit of referencing background against which to understand or judge the characters. As is standard fare with Mr. Deighton’s books, it starts as a slow-burn character portrayal drama before changing course midway through the book to full-blown blockbuster action. The novel is not very bulky. Infact, I concur with Mr. Deighton’s views expressed in the Author’s Note that he could have made it much more descriptive. There is no time wasted in any of the 26 chapters that the book is divided into. There are portions where it is nicely lyrical and poetic about the violence happening, almost operatically. The mystery regarding Champion,his allegiances and the arms deals keeps getting darker and twisted until an explosive finale where all the layers are revealed and the lies and betrayals are laid bare. There’s absolutely no inkling, and I’d emphasise this, no inkling of what twists and turns are going to come ahead at any point in the book which is one of the hallmarks, in my opinion, of a good thriller.
The book is set mainly in Nice, France, sometime close to the 1975 period when it was first published, although the story takes us from London to Wales to Germany too. There are some character beats that would, a decade later, be explored in much more depth and presented in a better polished manner to go down as hallmarks in Mr. Deighton’s Bernard Samson series (My all-time favourite spy saga and the single such drama and character-based spy series ever, IMO; more on that some other day), like the middle-aged British spy protagonist who is underrated by his colleagues and his old hotel-owner acquaintance in a foreign land (Frau Hennig there and Princess here) or the two sisters, one of whom is married to a spy but both of whose lives are in disarray (Fiona and Tessa there and the Baroni sisters here).
At various points in the book, there are nostalgia-fuelled trips as characters reflect on their lives during the Second World War, comparing the hope and exuberance of that time to their bleak, dysfunctional lives at present.
For those readers who have never had the pleasure of reading Mr. Deighton’s books, I’d advise them to be a bit patient with the start of this book, as and when they choose to read it. That’s because the book starts slowly. You might find yourself a bit confused or even uninterested since there’s a cloud of confusion as to the motives and affiliations of various characters and all that they are supposed to do, and there’s almost no action. But once the book gathers its wheels, it’s an exhilarating ride, one you’d savour for long.
Rating : 4.5/5.