Funeral in Berlin

I don’t read much fiction. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it’s that reality is already stranger than fiction, as Leg-iron regularly complains.

Nevertheless, today I plucked out Len Deighton’s 1964 Funeral in Berlin from a row of secondhand books in (of all places) the local Homebase. Which was a bit like finding the local greengrocer also sells kippers. You have to buy one.

The first chapter looked promising, and so I started reading. These days, any passage with “cigarettes” or “tobacco” in it jumps out at me as if it had been printed in red ink. And the action started fairly early on.

Hallam put the Player’s No. 3 into his ebony cigarette holder. He lit it while watching himself in the mirror… He felt in many ways the type of cigarette that man smoked typified him. So did the man’s clothes, they were mass-produced, off-the-peg clothes.

And a few pages further on the Russian spymaster makes an appearance:

Stok was sitting behind his desk almost obscured by a dense cloud of cigar smoke… ‘Ha ha ha,’ said Stok, then he exhaled another great billow like a 4.6.2 pulling out of King’s Cross.

And then, of course, the girl.

‘Cigarette?’ she said and flicked the corner of a pack of Camels with a skill that I can never master. I took one and brought a loose Swan Vesta match from my pocket. I dug my thumbnail into the head and ignited it. She was impressed and stared into my eyes as I lit the cigarettes, just like I didn’t have a couple of milligrammes of flaming phosphorus under the nail and coming through the pain threshold like rusty scalpel.

‘Are you in advertising?’ she said.

And the German agent.

Vulkan tapped a Philip Morris on his thumbnail, and noticed how brown his skin was against the white cigarette. He put the cigarette in his mouth and snapped his fingers.

The hero reports back to his British secret service boss.

Dawlish gently packed tobacco into the bowl of his pipe with a match. He put the pipe into his mouth before looking up at me.

‘Yes,’ he finally said. He lit the pipe with great care.

There is another bruising encounter with Stok.

I took out my cigarettes. Hallam hadn’t left me with many, but I offered Stok one. The yellow match flame reflected in his eyes as he lit them. He began to speak quietly again.

‘They are making a fool of you, English,’ Stok said.

Things start hotting up between the hero and the girl:

‘I was just going to light your cigarette,’ I said.

‘I’ll manage,’ she said. She flicked the corner of the Camels pack, put the cigarette in her mouth and lit it. She inhaled the smoke with cheek-sunken concentration and blew a great warm happy cloud of smoke across the room.

Until the smoke ruins her make-up.

She nodded and unzipped the side of her dress. She removed the dress unhurriedly like a Girl Guide at a medical. Her eyes were waterlogged. ‘It’s the smoke,’ she said. ‘I should never smoke when I’m tired. It wrecks my eye make-up.’ She smiled and planted three inches of unsmoked Camel into the Cinzano ashtray. She walked across the room in her black underwear, oblivious of my eyes.

The hero surveys the scene.

The steps were worn to a glassy smoothness and the inside was was like something whittled three lessons before Pinocchio. The overhead beams were painted with red and green vine leaves and varnished with about five hundred years of tobacco smoke. A tiny radio balanced over the tiled stove was beating out ‘Walking my baby back home’….

Vulkan, it turns out, is addicted to air.

Vulkan smiled nervously and twisted a cigarette in his dry lips to prevent it from sticking. He produced a gold lighter and put his head down inside his trenchcoat like a canary going to sleep. He lit the cigarette and tossed his head well back and sucked air in like an addict. ‘I suppose you think that Gehlen’s people are expendable,’ he said…

I offered him a Gauloise and lit one myself and, when we had finished lighting them and having that first inhalation that makes you dive for a cigarette, I said, ‘When was that?’

… He drew on his cigarette and the garage was full of the pungent aroma of French tobacco, and he drew on his cigarette again like this was all some complex dream he was dreaming while really he was in prison just a few yard-years away.

But, in the end, both the hero and the girl come through unscathed.

She lit the cigarette. Her hands shook. It was natural, it was the after-effect of all the work and worry, but there was still the airport to deal with.

So there you are. That’s Funeral in Berlin in a nutshell.  Or the principal red letter passages. I skipped over most of the shooting and car chase and funeral stuff. Main thing is: It’s got pipes, cigars, and a rich variety of brands of cigarettes. In short, it’s got more or less everything.

And the message of the book? If they smoke Camels or Gauloises, they’re okay. Pipes too. But if they smoke cigars, they’re not.  And don’t trust anyone who smokes Player’s No. 3.


About Frank Davis

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24 Responses to Funeral in Berlin

  1. reinholdfrombavaria says:

    If they smoke Camels or Gauloises, they’re okay. Pipes too. But if they smoke cigars, they’re not. And don’t trust anyone who smokes Player’s No. 3.

    OK, and what about Pall Mall Blue?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Well, of course that’s OK. It’s what Lana smokes, after all.

      • Margo says:

        Fantastically good read! Is this the new pornography? (An example of how if you ban something its appeal immediately doubles?)
        Anyway, it’s set me up for the day.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Is this the new pornography?

          Yes, it is. There was a time when I could instantly spot words like ‘nipple’ buried in any piece of text, but now it’s words like ‘smoke’. This is the acid test..

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    Smoking Signs Snuffed
    Court Kills Bloomberg Effort to Force Tobacco Sellers to Post Graphic Images.

  3. Walt says:

    Welcome to spy (and crime) fiction. In most of it, at least anything pre-90s, almost everybody smokes. In Thunderball, — where a subplot has everyone trying to quit (and no one succeeding or wanting to succeed)– there’s a long almost-love song/ soliloquy to Player’s. And you’ll like almost anything by Raymond Chandler. Start with “Farewell, my lovely.” As for Funeral, as you may or may not know, Michael Caine did the movie which, as I recall, was more cogent than the book.

  4. WinstonSmith says:

    I’m a little behind on your blog, so I read this, then scrolled down to your post from yesterday with fiction writing on my mind. I read the title and first two paragraphs, and it made me wonder if you told a very white, writer’s lie about being in that bookstore perusing fiction today, as opposed to yesterday.

    I wondered because “The Initiate of Sekhmet” would make a good title for a fictional work, and your second paragraph would make a great opening paragraph for a novel:

    “I was in Luxor once, on the eve of the Gulf War. The town was almost empty of tourists, and so the archaeological sites I visited were all nearly empty. If any official said a place was closed, I’d pull out my wallet and ease out a banknote, and it would suddenly be open. That was how I got into one of the closed tombs in the Valley of the Kings, descending wooden steps in semi-darkness deep underground, until I stood alone in a large chamber beside an empty sarcophagus, and wondered if I’d ever get back out again.”

    In a fictional context, that paragraph reads like you’re going to start hearing rumblings in the tomb, only to find the entrance blocked by a sliding stone door when you attempt to leave. That would be when some hat-and-suit-wearing Greene/Hammet/Chandler type pushes the button to let you out, and eventually reveals that he’s been tailing you for awhile.

    Of course, it’s much more likely that I simply projected the mention of fiction in today’s blog entry onto yesterday’s blog entry. Nonetheless, as a happy accident, it turns out that “The Initiate of Sekhmet” is a cool title. More importantly though, that paragraph is an utter gem of an opening paragraph for a fiction story.

    Sorry for taking so long to explain that, but I was struck by it enough that I wanted to make the effort. If my effort was in vain, I’ll ask permission to plagiarize that paragraph as a consolation prize.

    • Frank Davis says:

      it made me wonder if you told a very white, writer’s lie about being in that bookstore perusing fiction today

      Homebase sells stuff for homes, like paint and wallpaper and brushes and tools and lights and kitchen utensils and appliances. I was in there buying flower pots. But on the way out I spotted a little bookshelf laden with secondhand books. It seemed so out of place that I stopped to look (and ultimately to buy).

  5. WinstonSmith says:

    Now I’ve read the remainder of your post from yesterday, It’s one of your best, Frank.

  6. Real terrorists smoke ‘Roth HAendle’….or ‘Juno’…or Eckstein Nr.5

  7. Rose says:


    With the global human experiments of the last few years, the results are beginning to come in thick and fast. A picture seems to be emerging.

    One for Brigitte

    Ex-smokers ‘gain more weight than thought’

    “The average weight gain associated with giving up smoking is much higher than previously thought, experts have found.
    People can expect to put on up to 5kg (11lb) within a year of quitting, research published on suggests.
    This is more than the typical 3kg often quoted in advice leaflets and the 2.3kg many women smokers say they would be willing to tolerate in order to quit.
    Most of the excess weight was gained during the first three months.

    But the changes in body weight varied widely from person to person. About 16% of quitters lost weight, while 13% gained more than 10kg.

    Whether the individual used nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or gum, made no difference in terms of weight.

    So that’s the “nicotine prevents obesity” theory of last year out of the window.

    Nicotine: A cure for obesity?
    “A new study suggests it is possible to get the appetite-suppressing benefits of smoking without the cigarette… or the health risks”
    http: //

    Smokers gain up to 5kg after giving up habit

    Weight gain in smokers after quitting cigarettes: meta-analysis
    http: //

    Taken together with what we already know about the metabolic disorders created by sudden cessation after a period of years, the inflammation and the anti-inflammatory effects of the suddenly missing low dose carbon monoxide and it’s newly discovered role in digestion.
    Plus the observed sudden onset of diabetes type 2 in new quitters.

    Is this all beginning to fit together?

    • Rose says:


      Behind the Headlines: Is diabetes linked to quitting smoking?

      “Quitters face an almost doubled risk of developing diabetes in their first three smoke-free years.
      Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, studied 10,892 adult smokers, none of whom had diabetes at the start of the study.

      The participants were studied for nine years during which time, 1,254 developed type-2 diabetes.
      In the first three years after giving up, new quitters were 91 per cent more likely to develop diabetes.”

      “Extra weight put on by new quitters explains around a third of the increased risk, the researchers said. A further third of the excess risk is accounted for by systemic inflammation, as assessed by increased leukocyte counts.

      However, after adjusting for this weight gain and inflammation, new quitters were still at higher risk compared with participants who continued smoking. This risk may be a result of differences in the two groups that the study was not designed to detect, say the researchers.”

      “Patients should, however, be made aware of the risk and advised to consider countermeasures, particularly for heavy smokers, they said.”

      ‘The health benefits of giving up smoking far outweigh the risk of developing type-2 diabetes from modest, short-term weight gain,’ she said.”

      I wouldn’t call 5 – 10Kg modest

      Now the “systemic inflammation” is understandable if it’s down to the sudden loss of the supplementary low-dose inhaled carbon monoxide.

      Though nicotine too is supposed to be anti-inflammatory, today’s study puts that in doubt.
      “Whether the individual used nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or gum, made no difference in terms of weight.”

      Increased Bodyweight After Stopping Smoking May Be Due to Changes in Insulin Secretion

      “ScienceDaily (May 7, 2012) — Fear of putting on weight is one of the major reasons why smokers do not give up their habit.

      The reasons for this weight gain are believed to be in part due to metabolic changes in the body, but until now precise details of these changes were not known.

      On May 8, 2012, however, a researcher from Austria told delegates at the International Congress of Endocrinology/European Congress of Endocrinology that her work had shown that changes in insulin secretion could be related to weight gain after smoking cessation.”

      “We believe that the alterations in insulin secretion could possibly be related to the increased carbohydrate cravings ( ? ) and weight gain experienced by many smokers who give up.”

      Bearing in mind that they have to stick to a theme and we don’t have to, are we beginning to get somewhere?
      Of course an obvious experiment would be to give new quitters low dose carbon monoxide releasing tablets or inhalers to find out, but those don’t seem to exist just yet.

      • Rose says:

        Research to spotlight carbon monoxide benefits

        22 January 2007

        “Scientists at the University of York have won a grant of £110,000 to investigate potential uses of carbon monoxide in treating disease.

        Dr Jason Lynam and Dr Ian Fairlamb, of the University’s Department of Chemistry, have been awarded the funding by the Leverhulme Trust for a three-year study into the use of metal compounds for the controlled release of carbon monoxide into the bloodstream.

        Carbon monoxide is an anti-inflammatory, and they want to explore its potential in treating high blood pressure, heart disease and possibly cancer. The project builds on a study conducted by Roberto Motterlini (Northwick Park Hospital in London) and Professor Brian Mann (University of Sheffield), and preliminary studies conducted in York, supported by funds from the University and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

        Dr Fairlamb said: “You can use certain carbon monoxide molecules to elicit a whole range of biological effects. Carbon monoxide causes vasorelaxation and is produced naturally as a result of the breakdown of haemoglobin. This can be seen in the healing process of a bruise, where various colour changes indicate the degradation of haemoglobin and release of carbon monoxide. The slow release of carbon monoxide reduces blood pressure for someone who has angina, for instance.”

        “This work is very much in its infancy. We became involved because some of our organometallic compounds, which carry carbon monoxide, were showing potential to release carbon monoxide slowly in a controlled manner. They degrade to give benign non-toxic products which do not target immune response.”

        If only anti-tobacco would slow down long enough for remedial measures to catch up.

        • Margo says:

          This is so interesting. I’m still convinced that the excess weight gain is about desperation for the oral fix. I also think people are being strongly encouraged to get fat: every night there are about 5 ‘food’ programmes on TV, interspersed with constant ads reminding you to go and get a snack, and every weekend newspaper has a magazine with about 16 pages of food and drink. For middle-class non-or-ex-smokers, cooking is the great craze. Eating is their ‘new pornography’. These two things, giving up smoking and being constantly reminded of food, were pretty much bound to result in a rise in over-weight, diabetes, etc.

      • Frank Davis says:

        My father was a 60-a-day smoker for much of his life, until he quit. And that was round about the time he developed what was then known as maturity-onset diabetes.

        • Rose says:

          I remember you saying, it happened to the chap down the road too, he used nicotine patches to quit and keeps helpfully suggesting I try them.
          I smile sweetly and say nothing.

        • beobrigitte says:

          This could explain why diabetes is/was non-existent in my family. In my family it’s also unheard of smokers giving up smoking their much loved cigarettes.

  8. Rose says:

    * now puts her trenchcoat back on, turns the collar up, puts a cigarette between her lips and slides furtively back into the garden.

  9. Jim says:

    Frank, you read more fiction than you think. Most of it in the form of “…the latest studies show…”

  10. harleyrider1978 says:

    Its always nice to see a sweet headline:

    Smokers might win the ‘battle’

    The Law Review Project says smokers could have sufficient grounds to challenge the government’s plans to ban smoking in all public places.

    The NGO’s Tebogo Sewapa says the draft regulations on tobacco control may be unconstitutional. He believes the regulations proposed in the Tobacco Products Control Act are unlawful because they’re being made by executive decree – rather than through parliamentary legislation.

    Comment on the proposed smoking legislation closed at the end of June.

  11. timbone says:

    Whenever I watch a documentary with old footage, (and BBC4 is pretty good for this), I get a mixture of thrill and confusion when I see that there is always a pipe, cigar, cigarette, or all three in abundance. It looks so normal, (sorry, I used the N word). New pornography? You know what? I am suspecting that I am getting the same feeling I used to get when I was a teenager and heard the word panties or bra.

  12. Pingback: The New Pornography | Frank Davis

  13. harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank your gonna love this:

    Man who tried to ban smoking narrowly escapes further punishment
    At a fraught meeting last night, a controversial town councillor was allowed to keep his honourary title of Alderman by the narrowest of margins.

    Paul Bartlett, who proposed a smoking ban on the streets of Stony Stratford, is currently suspended from the town’s parish council following a Standards Board ruling that he had broken a councillors’ code of conduct.

    But last night (Wednesday) there was a heavy atmosphere in the chamber at Milton Keynes Council as its 51 members discussed whether to impose an extra sanction of removing his honourary Alderman status, which was given to him for his work in the community.

    It was found by the Standards Committee that Mr Bartlett had used his title when signing off an e-mail, addressed to the brewery bosses of a landlady with whom he was having a dispute.

    It was thought, with many people not understanding the title of Alderman, this was used to add extra ‘weight’ to his communication.

    In a highly rare step, there was no ‘party whip’ for the meeting, meaning councillors did not have to vote along party lines and could each make their own personal decision on the issue.

    Eventually 18 councillors voted against removing his title, with 17 voting in favour and 14 abstaining from the vote.

    Mr Bartlett could not attend the meeting for personal reasons, but speaking this morning he said: “I feel much better now.

    I was hoping it could have been held when I was there, but I think it’s a fair result, and common sense and fairness have prevailed.

    “I’m thankful to the people who have stuck by me throughout this affair.”

    Many of the Conservative councillors who know Mr Bartlett personally, and many others who do not, expressed their personal difficulty and unease at having to make such a decision.

    The vote split parties, and even Conservative brothers Peter and Andrew Geary voted differently.

    Many others, particularly within the Liberal Democrats, expressed their anger that the motion had even made it to the meeting, claiming the Standards Committee should not have been able to make such recommendations.

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