Although a tense spy thriller, Berlin Game is really a slow and thoughtful tale where much of the tension comes not from pyrotechnics but from the nagging doubt about whether or not there is going to be a sudden burst of action. The first in a trilogy which itself was the first trilogy of three, Berlin Game nonetheless works well as a standalone novel.
It is set against the background of a really well drawn picture of Berlin, the Cold War and the ossified nature of those who made up British intelligence. That world has very much faded now, and the class-based absurdities of some of MI5 and MI6’s real life failings look so implausible to modern eyes that I suspect some readers will now wrongly think it is Deighton being implausible. Rather, it was Britain that was like that.
The plot benefits from careful thought as it unfolds, because the characters rarely fully discuss all the different possible explanations for the clues, loose ends and nagging details they uncover. Yet if you stop regularly during reading to ponder what the full story might be, there is a nicely played wide range of options as to who is really on which side and motivated by what, with the options kept open through most of the book.
For fans of audio versions of books, James Lailey has served up a treat with his narration, and particularly a good use of accents to make the large cast easy to follow.