Opening lines

How does each of Len's books begin?

An opening line in any book or novel is the reader's stepping off point. It should aim to grab their attention and draw them into the story from the get-go. A successful first line sets the standard for the rest of the book, and many of Len Deighton's opening lines are real crackers.

'They came through on the hot line at about half past two in the afternoon.' - The Ipcress File, 1962

'Marrakech is just what the guide-books say it is.' - Horse Under Water, 1963

'Many years ago I used to know a man named Pussy Bennett who was one of the country's leading fur-coat thieves.' - Drinks-man-ship, 1964

'I have assumed little or no knowledge on the part of my reader; on the other hand I have learnt enough while doing research for this book to claim that even the serious student of good food (only some of whom are cooks) will learn enough to justify reading it.' - Action Cookbook, 1965

'Europe has two distinct types of climate: a north suited to the production of fine cream and dairy produce, excellent beef and wonderful bacon; and a south that produces olives for olive oil, vines for wine of all kinds, luscious southern fruits, vegetables and sea food.' - Ou est le Garlic?, 1965

'It was one of those artificially hot days that they used to call "Indian Summer".' - Funeral in Berlin, 1966

'It was the morning of my hundredth birthday' - The Billion Dollar Brain, 1967

'The birds flew around for nothing but the hell of it.' - An Expensive Place to Die, 1967

'London is a large commercial and industrial city, at latitude 51ยบ 30' and no longitude at all.' - Len Deighton's London Dossier, 1967

'We'd been eight and a half minutes earlier on the dress rehearsal.' - Only When I Larf, 1968

'So many times it seemed that you would never hold this book in your hands.' - Len Deighton's Continental Dossier, 1968

'It was a bomber's sky: dry air, wind enough to clear the smoke, cloud broken enough to recognize a few stars.' - Bomber, 1970

'James Sidney Pelling was fifty-nine years old.' From the short story It must have been two other fellows, Declarations of War, 1971

'The heavy blue notepaper crackled as the man signed his name.' Close-Up, 1972

'Forty-three days without a night: six pale-blue fluorescent weeks without a sniff of air, sky, or a view of the stars' - Spy Story, 1974

'"The Guernica Network!" said Steve Champion, holding up his glass' - Yesterday's Spy, 1975

'"Smell that air," said Major Mann.' - Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, 1976

'History is swamped by patriotic myths about the summer of 1940.' - Fighter, 1977

'"Himmler's got the King locked up in the Tower of London," said Harry Woods.' - SS-GB, 1978

'The eyes of my two young sons search the skies looking for an airship.' - Airshipwreck, 1978

'In modern times, war has usually brought about accelerated social change.' - Blitzkrieg, 1979

'It was the development of the bomber that gave them their chance.' - Battle of Britain, 1980

'It was the invention of the steam engine that renewed man's dreams of flying.' - The Orient Flight L.Z. 127-Graf Zeppelin, 1980

'The German aircraft Graf Zeppelin flew to Cairo on April 9, 1931, and was back home four days later, having landed twice.' - The Egypt Flight L.Z. 127-Graf Zeppelin, 1981

'In May 1970, only days after Britain's new Conservative government came to power, the yellow box that contains the daily report from MI6 to the Prime Minister was delivered to her by a deputy secretary in the Cabinet Office.' - XPD, 1981

'Three buses moved with almost funereal slowness through the narrow, winding country lanes.' - Goodbye Mickey Mouse, 1982

'"How long have we been sitting here?" I said.' - Berlin Game, 1983

'"Some of those people want to get killed," said Dicky Cruyer, as he jabbed the brake pedal to avoid hitting a newsboy.' - Mexico Set, 1984

'"Cheer up, Werner. It will soon be Christmas," I said.' - London Match, 1985

'Winter entered the prison cell unprepared for the change that the short period of imprisonment had brought to his friend.' - Winter: A German Family 1899-1945, 1987

'When they ask me to become President of the United States I'm going to say, "Except for Washington DC."' - Spy Hook, 1988

'"Glasnost is trying to escape over the Wall, and getting shot with a silenced machine gun!" said Kleindorf.' - Spy Line, 1989

'Abricot: apricot.' - ABC of French Food, 1989

'"Bret Rensselaer, you are a ruthless bastard." It was his wife's voice.' - Spy Sinker, 1990

'"I like escorting prisoners," said Captain Albert Cutler settling back and stretching out his legs along the empty seats.' - City of Gold, 1991

'The smell of the rain forest came on the offshore breeze, long before they were in sight of land' - Mamista, 1991

'"There's a woman sitting on my window ledge," I said quietly and calmly into the phone.' - Violent Ward, 1993

'It's a natural characteristic beloved of the British to see themselves as a small cultured island race of peaceful intentions, only roused when faced with bullies, and with a God-given mission to disarm cheats' - Blood, Tears & Folly, 1993

'"Don't miss your plane, Bernard. This whole operation depends upon the timing."' Faith, 1994

'A caller who wakes you in the small dark silent hours is unlikely to be the bringer of good news.' Hope, 1995

'A bloated vampire moon drained all life and colour from the world.' Charity, 1996

'It was written in a bold, attractive and well-fromed writing style, on a cream-coloured heavy paper." Sherlock Homes and the Titanic Swindle, 2006, novella.


The first page of the original manuscript

Blood, Tears & Folly

'It's a natural characteristic beloved of the British to see themselves as a small cultured island race of peaceful intentions, only roused when faced with bullies, and with a God-given mission to disarm cheats'.