Title: Funeral in Berlin
Author: Len Deighton
Deighton, Len (1964). Funeral in Berlin. New York, Putnam
Date Posted: September 22, 2015
This is Len Deighton’s third of four spy novels with a nameless hero from Burnley, Lancashire, who in the film versions is called Harry Palmer. It takes place between 5 October and 10 November 1963. [JFK was killed 12 days later.] The Berlin Wall had been built a little over two years before. There are Berlin-related newspaper headlines on the first and last pages of the book. The Six Day War was some three and a half years off, but some early stirrings appear in this book.
Tense times in Europe and busy days for its guilds of spies. Harry Palmer’s travails take him to France, East and West Berlin and Czechoslovakia. He meets with people with an often active WWII past: old and new spies and double agents, a Treblinka survivor, a former German general, etc., some of whom will return in other Harry Palmer adventures. The tone is set from p. 1 with Harry Palmer, working for the civilian spy agency WOOC(P), visiting the eccentric Home Office official Hallam in his cramped living quarters.
Some reviewers argue whether the Harry Palmer novels are Deighton’s best or not. My view is that the later spy books are more even, slower, with more plausible plots and less fun. His early preoccupation with WWII, science and technology gave way to epic searches for traitors and moles. The charm of his early books is that they are fast-paced, iconoclastic, with plausible and wildly improbable parts and uneven re quality of dialogue.
One cannot deny that some of the characters and atmosphere are brilliantly drawn. It was prophetic in letting a character long for a color TV with remote control, or Harry Palmer’s weird boss Dawlish pondering about how normalizing the legal status of gays would ease his job. [Such reforms followed from 1967 onward, too late for hapless, blackmailed Hallam]. It is, at times, very funny too: brands Len Deighton hates such as Nescafé and Omo [a cleaning brand] are trashed time and again.
See the entry at IPCRESS File for a listing of all of Len Deighton’s spy books.