THE DEIGHTON DOSSIER

The online resource about writer Len Deighton

UNDERSTANDING DEIGHTON'S WRITING

Len Deighton the writer - and particularly, the writer of spy fiction - is often lauded by critics and reviews as one of the big beasts of 20th century popular (as opposed to literary) fiction, alongside the likes of Ian Fleming and John Le Carré, among others.

A writer reaches that level of global market awareness and popularity through writing books that, frankly, sell in spades. And they sell as a result of a number of factors: compelling characters, great marketing, timeliness. Above all, they sell - and remain popular - because they are well-told stories, written in a way that captures and retains the reader's imagination.

Over his forty-plus year career as an active writer, Len Deighton's books have succeeded in the goal of giving readers compelling, readable, believable and suspenseful stories and characters which deserve reading and re-reading. Deighton's overall style and approach delivered that. His writing is recognised as exemplary in the genre and he is sufficiently regarded to add his own descriptive to the language of literary criticism: 'Deighton-esque'.

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DEIGHTON'S WRITING STYLE

What makes a Len Deighton book 'Deighton-esque'? What does he do in his choice of words, phrasing, plot structure and narrative that brings a book out of the ordinary and turns a story into a compelling narrative that demands to be read?

Below are some themes and writing techniques which, across his fiction and sometimes also his non-fiction work, mark out Len Deighton's writing approach.

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    Sparkling dialogue
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    An artist's eye for detail and form
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    Thorough, intensive research

POPULAR THEMES AND TROPES

Len Deighton is primarily known as a spy thriller writer, so his writing often reflects many of the tropes found in the genre: spy-craft (the mechanics and techniques of spying); betrayal (personal, political, country); danger (the ever present threat of violence, both explicit and implied) and the loneliness of the spy.

Also found in his books are other frequently occurring themes which reflect how Deighton, as most other authors do, has drawn on his own life experiences to populate his books and flesh out his main characters. For instance, his early life as a child and then students in London is reflected in the use of this city as a foundation for many of his most popular works, his vivid descriptions of London - its glamorous and seedier sides in equal measure - match his writing about Berlin. His status as a food writer is reflected in his use of food as a signifier to explain his characters.

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    The fate of the 'poor bloody infantry'
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    Class & hierarchy
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    Words infused with flavour
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    Olympic standard bureaucracy
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    The suburban spy

ACADEMIC AND CRITICAL ANALYSIS

As a world-renowned novelist, Len Deighton's contribution to the development of the spy fiction genre has attracted some detailed analysis from both literary critics and academics alike, who have sought to analysis his contribution to defining the genre and his wider contribution to popular culture.

For instance, the reference book Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers is one of the foremost printed guides to the great and the good, the well known and the lesser lights of the thriller world. A hefty tome, it provides biographies and bibliographies for pretty much every writer who has ever published a novel or short story that fits within this broad genre.

In the second edition, published in 1985, George Grella provides an excellent analysis of Deighton's writing and approach to story telling which made him, in Grella's eyes, "a writer to be cherished."

In due course, further extracts from academic and literary papers on Deighton's writing will be added.

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    Crime and Mystery Writers
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    Armchair Detective
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    Spies in the Suburbs
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