Sunday 24 June 2018

Book review: Mexico Set

Mexico Set is volume two of a nine (good grief) volume series by Len Deighton. In my youth I read the classic Funeral in BerlinThe IPCRESS File, Spy Story, Horse Under Water, and so on. And was always dead impressed by how he managed to never name the character. So I was a little unhappy that this one has a name. Or at least, I was when I first read it three decades ago; I've got over that now. I happened upon Berlin Game and read that in WS, and bought MS for a relaxing Saturday.

Aanyway, it's the same kind of genre and setup, and it now seems almost to be coming back into relevance, with a resurgence of evil under Putin.

Much of it is well done, the plots seem to work, the dialogue good, and all that jazz. Let me pick some nits, though:

1. Sometimes people are terribly careful about where and when they talk, to avoid being overheard. Nonetheless, they gratuitously use the full name / surname of their superiors: why would anyone do that? And at other times - there are several conversations in markets, in airplanes - for the sake of flow in the novel the characters talk in situations where they clearly wouldn't.

2. Stinnes showing up in Mexico where Werner and Zena went is far too implausible a coincidence not to trigger alarms immeadiately. The characters realise it for us far far too late, as is necessary for the plot, but it isn't believeable. Werner following Fiona to Boshar seems odd, too; though TBH I was a bit lost in that bit.

3. The Biederman sub-plot is odd. His only real function is to be killed by the KGB; but he's a multi-millionaire successful businessman with a large family; this isn't the sort of person you just rub out for trivia, it would be far too messy. I feel we're lead along with him, including to his distant house, for no particular reason.

4. Zena. LD is clearly fond of her character, perhaps she is typically Berlinische or something. But really, is it believeable that she'd be so mixed up in stuff?

5. Which brings me to my last quibble: at various points, especially the end, the plot depends on Our Hero accepting the word of various people that they're in charge; or that things will happen this way, and he never goes back to check with his superiors that this is so. Again, it's just not plausible.

Oh, but I should also add: there's a pile of shoppin-n-fuckin in there too. In the sense that people's shirt labels and shoes and so on are constantly described. It's a touch weird: Our Hero, though grown up Northern and non-Oxbridge, and outwardly contemptuous of that world, nonetheless has a detailed knowledge of it.