The Deceiver (novel)

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For other uses, see Deceiver.
The Deceiver
First edition (UK)
Author Frederick Forsyth
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Spy
Publisher Bantam Press
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 416 pp
ISBN 0-593-02346-3
OCLC 59972987

The Deceiver is a novel by Frederick Forsyth, about a retiring agent of the British SIS named Sam McCready. He is the head of Deception, Disinformation and Psychological Operations, and his maverick but brilliant successes have led to his nickname "The Deceiver."



It is discreetly explained to the Chief of British Intelligence that, in the new atmosphere of detente, and the warming of relations with the Soviet Union, that the SIS's role will have to be redefined, and some of its more aggressive agents will have to be taught a lesson. The Chief is ordered to make an example of a maverick officer, and Sam McCready is suggested.

McCready's deputy is unwilling to let his mentor retire without a fight, and insists on a hearing, during which four of McCready's most celebrated cases are recalled.

Pride and Extreme Prejudice[edit]

The SIS is approached by a high-ranking Soviet general, offering to turn over documents with crucial details of Soviet military plans. The meeting is to take place in East Germany. McCready is in charge of the operation, but he is too well known by the Soviets to risk going himself. So, he recruits his old ally, ageing BND agent Bruno Morenz. As a favour to his old friend, and in stark violation of his BND employment rules, Morenz agrees to enter Eastern Germany, and manages to get the documents into his hands.

Morenz, however, is already on the verge of nervous collapse because of events in Western Germany (he was having an affair with a sluttish woman who later insulted him and led to him accidentally killing her and her pimp boyfriend) and makes a rash escape while involved in a minor traffic accident. A man-hunt ensues, with the East German security services eventually realising that they have a substantial spy case on their hands. McCready also realises that Morenz is in deep trouble; digging into Morenz' past, he locates a potential hiding place. Against all orders, he assumes a false identity, uses old friends to cross the border without being noticed, and manages to locate Morenz. Since the search is already closing in on them, and Morenz is in no state to make an escape, Sam hands him poisoned alcohol, takes the documents and slips again through the border, thus protecting the general from exposure, saving Morenz from an uglier fate, and retrieving the sought-after document.

The Price of the Bride[edit]

During a visit of the Soviet Military Intelligence Corps (GRU) to Britain, one of them phones the Central Intelligence Agency's London outpost, and defects to the US He introduces himself as KGB Colonel Pyotr Orlov.

Orlov's information prove to be highly valuable, leading to the arrest of Russian spies in many countries, and providing important information on USSR military planning. While the CIA is delighted to have such a valuable asset, Sam McCready has a gut feeling that something might be wrong with Orlov; his suspicion is confirmed by one of his own agents, the head of the KGB's London residency, who secretly works for McCready (Codename Keepsake). Keepsake claims that Orlov is not a defector, but a plant, tasked with denouncing a high-ranking CIA officer as a Soviet mole and thus bringing chaos and distrust to the entire agency.

At this point, the co-operation between the US and the British turns into mutual distrust, with both sides vouching for their own sources. The events accelerate when Orlov finally (though indirectly) identifies the supposed CIA traitor; at the same time, Keepsake suddenly departs for Moscow. It looks like Sam is wrong.

But to prevent the disintegration of the CIA from within, and also to prove to himself that Keepsake was not deceiving him, McCready prepares Keepsake's escape from Moscow. Keepsake reveals that he returned to Moscow to bring back incontestable proof of both his own loyalty to Sam, and of Orlov's treachery.

It is, however, too late: an over-eager CIA agent has already killed the officer identified. The story ends with Orlov being exposed, and stoically accepting his immediate execution.

A Casualty of War[edit]

The SIS uncovers evidence that Libya is preparing a shipment of arms to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other European terrorist groups.

Sam McCready recruits an ex-SAS soldier-turned-novelist named Tom Rowse, to pose as a weapons buyer, thinly covered by the pretense of conducting research for a new novel. He manages to get into contact with the Libyan arms provider, and manages to get his weapons cache included in the IRA shipment.

With his information, the British are able to identify the ship transporting the weapons. McCready enlists the help of the elite Special Boat Service (SBS), seaborne equivalent of the SAS, to intercept the vessel. A woman, in whom Tom was romantically interested, is found to be directly involved with the IRA terrorists, and is shot dead when the vessel is boarded.

A Little Bit of Sunshine[edit]

Sunshine is a small (fictional) island in the Caribbean, in transition from British rule to independence. The island is about to hold its first election for governor, and, since no political parties have developed yet, the two leading candidates are both expatriates, without any financial backing or popular support from the population.

When a vacationing Florida law enforcement officer recognises a notorious hired killer amongst one of the candidates' campaign workers, he flies back to Miami in a hurry, but his plane explodes in mid-air. His partner flies to Sunshine to investigate. At the same time, the British territorial governor has been murdered, and Scotland Yard sends an investigator; Sam McCready, who is in the USA, hears about the murder, and decides to pay a visit to Sunshine.

The three investigators team up on the island and McCready exposes the two presidential candidates as, respectively, a Bahamian cocaine smuggler, and an agent of the Cuban secret service, both seeking to exploit the island for their own ends. It takes some quick thinking on McCready's part to apprehend the criminals – including forging a document appointing himself Governor for a day – but McCready is able to foil both candidates' schemes, and ensures that Sunshine's transition to independence will be smooth.

The DEA agent catches his partner's killer in the smuggler's house, but it takes the Scotland Yard Investigator too long to find out who killed the governor. McCready figures out first the murder was committed by an elderly expatriate American lady, with the sole purpose of drawing the authorities and the press to the island to deal with the entourage of both candidates. Given her age, and extreme popularity with the island's people, McCready decides to keep her crime a secret.


At the conclusion of Sam's case, his appeal is rejected. The SIS hierarchy decided, weeks ago, that Sam's office was no longer necessary, since the Cold War was over. Offered a variety of desk jobs, Sam declines in favour of early retirement, deciding that he's done his part. But on his way out, he warns his deputy to keep focused on his job because, despite what the bureaucrats in charge of the SIS think, the world is still a very dangerous place that will always need spies.

As he leaves the building, he passes a newspaper headline stating the official end of the Cold War. Four weeks later, he is fishing outside his retirement cottage, when he hears over the radio that Saddam Hussein has invaded Kuwait. Hearing this headline, McCready, vindicated and unmoved, decides it's "time to change his bait".

Television Adaptations[edit]

The four stories were filmed as a miniseries for British television in 1989 and 1990. McCready was played by British actor Alan Howard.

Common Themes[edit]

Similar to John Le Carre, Forsyth's novels often depict a schism within the British espionage community (and within the British government as a whole), between those officers who favour a conciliatory, subservient relationship with the better resourced American C.I.A., and those who favour a more independent approach. Sam McCready definitely falls into the latter camp. Much like MI-5's Brian Harcourt-Smith in The Fourth Protocol, the S.I.S. bureaucrat who wants a very effective but older operative like McCready sent out to pasture for biased, stupid reasons plans to make himself important and accomplish great things when he becomes the leader; and just as Harcourt-Smith's subpar performance leads to him being passed over as leader, it is revealed that the S.I.S. hotshot will NOT get his prized position ever, when an experienced S.I.S. official who supports McCready makes it clear he won't support him because he doesn't approve of the selfish reasons presented for retiring McCready.

A corollary of this division is the debate between the usefulness of Sigint (signals intelligence, the gathering of information through electronic interception) versus Humint (human intelligence, gathering information through recruiting agents). In several of his novels, Forsyth ridicules the C.I.A. and the "subservient" camp of the British S.I.S. as being over-awed by technology, such as sigint and satellite photography, and regarding spying through human agents as a thing of the past. Whereas experienced field agents like McCready know that these approaches can be avoided or fooled, and it takes a human agent to gather reliable intelligence.

In Forsyth's subsequent novel, The Fist of God, taking place during the Persian Gulf War, the Americans and British become suddenly (even comically) aware of the inadequacy of these approaches in giving them real insight into Saddam Hussein's true intentions, and begin searching desperately for a way to infiltrate the Iraqi regime with a living agent. In an afterword, Forsyth makes his point explicit, that humint is still a necessary part of espionage.