Title: Spy Story
Author: Len Deighton
Deighton, Len (1974). Spy Story. London, Cape
Date Posted: September 17, 2015
The story opens with Armstrong and his colleague Ferdy Foxwell returning from a six-week mission aboard a nuclear submarine during which they gathered data on Soviet communications and electronic warfare techniques in the Arctic Ocean. He and Foxwell visit “The Bonnet”, a rural Scottish public house. On returning to London, Armstrong’s car breaks down on his way home and he decides to use the phone in his old flat, for which he still has the key. He is surprised and disturbed to discover that the flat has been refurnished, including photographs which he owns, but with an unknown individual replacing him in the images, and clothes identical to his own. He also discovers a door hidden in the back of the wardrobe leading into the adjoining flat, which has been fitted out as some kind of medical facility. When he leaves the flat thinking that a taxi he ordered has arrived, he is confronted by Special Branch officers who have a former member of the Studies Centre verify who he is before releasing him.
While they have been away on their six-week mission, the Studies Centre has acquired a new boss, the abrasive American Charles Schlegel, a former Marine Corps Colonel. Foxwell and Schlegel do not get on at all well, and even less so when Schlegel makes Armstrong his Personal Assistant.
Shortly after his return, Armstrong is about to leave his flat when it is ransacked by KGB Colonel Oleg Stok and two assistants, who even blow open a safe left by the previous occupant. They offer no explanation for this, leaving Armstrong yet more puzzled.
At a party at Ferdy Foxwell’s palatial London house, Armstrong learns that Foxwell is close to MP Ben Tolliver, and has even been passing him classified information. Foxwell shows him a photo of Rear-Admiral Remoziva of the Soviet Northern Fleet, who Armstrong immediately recognizes as the person who had been inserted into the photographs at his old flat. Also at the party is Dawlish, the head of the intelligence organization WOOC(P) of earlier books. We learn that Armstrong worked for Dawlish before deciding to quit intelligence work altogether. Dawlish tries to recruit him, but Armstrong turns him down.
Tolliver has a suspicious car accident returning home from Foxwell’s party. Armstrong traces the woman who was reported to be with him to a small French restaurant, where he discovers photos of Remoziva and a Soviet Admiral’s uniform being made. He returns to the restaurant later to discover it deserted. Breaking in, he discovers all traces of what he had earlier seen have been removed along with all paperwork.
Leaving the restaurant, he is met by a high-ranking police officer who escorts him to Battersea, from where a helicopter takes him to Heathrow Airport, from where in turn he is flown north in a small single-engine aircraft. It takes him to a remote location in the West of Scotland, where he finds Toliver and his co-conspirators. It appears that they have been running their own unauthorized intelligence operation to arrange the defection of Admiral Remoziva, who will die within a year if he does not receive treatment for a kidney condition. The plan is to meet the Admiral on the Arctic ice, and leave a corpse in his place. They had planned to keep him at Armstrong’s former flat, and use the adjoining medical facility to treat his condition. Armstrong receives a message from an unidentified member of the clique advising him to leave, which he does. After a nightmare journey through a snow storm, he reaches a road, where he finds Dawlish and Schlegel waiting. They tell him that the defection is still to go ahead, though using a USN submarine instead of a British one.
Out on the Arctic ice, they make the arranged rendezvous with Remoziva’s helicopter, but it turns out to contain Colonel Stok. After a brief struggle the helicopter takes off with one of Stok’s men holding on to Foxwell. Armstrong grabs Foxwell’s legs and is also hauled aloft. He fires at the man holding Foxwell and they both fall to the ice. He manages to lift Foxwell and staggers off to where their submarine has surfaced, but by the time he reaches it Foxwell has died.
At the end of the book it is revealed that the scheme’s real intent was to discredit Remoziva and, by association, his siblings; his sister was playing a crucial part in talks to unify Germany and is forced to step down, causing the talks to collapse.