Monday, December 10, 2012

Hook, Line & Sinker

I've just finished reading Len Deighton's Hook, Line & Sinker trilogy, which I picked up for a steal in a secondhand bookshop in Shelburne, Nova Scotia this summer.

It's a strange series of books. They're all tightly plotted, as is the way with Deighton, but there's a definite feeling of dissatisfaction at the end of the first book: it follows the classic structure of so many trilogies where there's vast amounts left unresolved. What I didn't realise at the time is that the whole series is about how people aren't satisfied, how their lives are made miserable by forces beyond their control.

The second book ends in gloomy fashion, but the third is ever more horrible. It runs over a much longer period, finally explaining the background to events that were only alluded to in the first two books, and finally explaining why Deighton would go on so much about apparently irrelevant details in some of the earlier books. When there's a lengthy digression about the elms at Silas Gaunt's farmhouse in Line, it struck me as odd; something that didn't fit with Deighton's style. But the reason for the elms' presence is so that in Sinker you've got a better idea of what's happening when, and relating that back to the complexity of the whole.

It's not entirely gloomy. There's a great comic piece in the third book, when Bret Rensselaer meets his wife in an awful Belgravia Italian restaurant, but that's a chapter close on the heels of a properly horrific visit to the East German mental clinic at Pankow, where we see the bad consequences of actions from many years before.
The whole knits together into a very well crafted design; a nihilistic one, where every good turn is punished, and even the innocents (well, the heroin addicted) must die. It's not the kind of book that makes you feel very happy about the 1980s, or Britain, or very much at all.

There are some rather clunky parts where Deighton discusses the psychology of women, those strange beasts that are quite like, but not the same as, men. It's also hard to tell if the stereotypes cast around for each nation are in the minds of the characters, or Deighton going a bit Ian Fleming all of a sudden. But overlooking those (possibly imagined) faults, you have to admire the masterful way it's assembled.
It's just not the kind of thing that's all sunshine and flowers. Fortunately, now they're out of the way I can get on with the more cheerful books my wife bought me for my birthday...


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