His career started with a brand new type of spy fiction and went on from there. It is stories like The Ipcress File, Yesterday's Spy, Winter and Berlin Game for which Len Deighton has become world-renowned and it is through his fiction that most readers will be aware of the author.
His plots, characters, dialogue and innovation in story telling, particularly in the spy genre, have put Len Deighton up alongside writers like Eric Amberley, Ian Fleming and John Le Carré in the pantheon of 'greats'. Like these other authors, most of Len Deighton's fiction books remain in print and most sell very, very well. To mark his eightieth birthday in 2009, Deighton's publishers Harper Collins re-issued all of his fiction works with new covers by his friend Arnold Schwartzman, which served to highlight just how reliable these stories are, even though the world in which many of them were written has changed so much, with the ending of the Cold War and the rise of the online spy.
This section illustrates that as well as the spy fiction novels for which he's famous, Len Deighton has also produced other works of fiction which the general reader may not be aware of but which are well worth checking out by readers who have enjoyed his other works. Stories like Violent Ward, Close-Up and Only When I Larf are testament to Deighton's skills.
This section provides information on every story Deighton's written and published and provides the reader with a guide to each book and why it makes an impact.
Indelibly associated with Len Deighton, his first five books - and the un-named, working class spy who featured in them - are arguably his most successful based on their impact on popular culture (thanks, in part, to the film adaptations).
Published at a time when Ian Fleming's Bond was the archetype spy hero, Deighton's agent - subsequently named Harry Palmer by film producer Harry Saltzman for the movie adaptations - was something new in the 'sixties, a refreshingly recognisable spy who took the bus to work and complained about his superiors. His back chat and sardonic pleasure in defying his bosses rang a bell with readers at a time when the Cold War was taking a firm grip on the West and spy scandals were frequently in the news. Here was a spy who wasn't part of the Eton establishment … a spy you could trust.
The five Harry Palmer novels - most readers are not aware that An Expensive Place to Die is, to all intents and purposes, the fifth novel in the sequence - represent a great place to start reading Len Deighton's fiction. They're fun, accessible, full of cracking dialogue and full of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.
Explore the world of Harry Palmer in more detail below.
The mysterious narrator (later renamed Harry Palmer by the producers of the hit movie) works for the British Secret Service department W.O.O.C.(P). and must get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of some of Britain's top biochemists. They are being held captive by a mysterious freelance agent known as 'Jay'. In the search for the missing scientists the novel takes us from London to the Lebanon to Tokwe, a Pacific atoll used for atomic testing, and - it appears - to Eastern Europe.
With each chapter well-known learn more about the hero. He is from Burnley and has a chippy attitude to his public school-educated colleagues. He's constantly worried about his expenses. He knows his way around a kitchen and has an eye for the ladies.
Captured and apparently imprisoned in Hungary, our protagonist is forced to sit through the latest in brain washing techniques, the 'Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS' - IPCRESS. His resolve is tested to the limit. Close to breaking point, he escapes and determines to track down the mysterious figure behind the treachery who, it emerges, is much closer to him that he originally thought. Who can he trust?
Why it's enjoyable
The novel that began Deighton's career was an instant smash hit and that's mostly because it was different from what had gone before. The character of the narrator and his spiky relationship with his superiors (and the sense he's not whiter than white) give real depth to a cracking spy story which at times is quite complicated for the reader to follow.
The introduction of a spy who defies normal conventions about loyalty and obeying orders represented, arguably, the start of the modern spy genre and provided a counterpoint on the page (and in the cinema, subsequently) to Ian Fleming's establishment figure of James Bond. There were certainly critics at the time who were happy to use Harry Palmer as a stick with which to beat Ian Fleming's Bond.
'"You are loving it here of course," Dalby asked.
"I have a clean mind and pure heart. I get eight hours' sleep every night. I am a loyal, diligent employee and will attempt every day to be worth of the trust my paternal employer puts in me."
"I'll make the jokes," said Dalby.
"Go ahead," I said. "I can use a laugh - my eyes have been operating twenty-four frames per second for the last month.
The covers of the 'secret file' books are some of the most famous and beautiful example of the book designer's art. They were prepared for Deighton by his art school friend Raymond Hawkey and set the standard for the genre. There was consternation from the publishers about Hawkey's use of a predominantly white cover as this was frowned up up to that point by publishers because it showed dirt easily. However, Deighton insisted and hindsight shows he was right, given the universally positive reaction to the cover since.
Our anonymous secret agent from The Ipcress File is now working with his W.O.O.C.(P). boss Dawlish. The plot centres on the retrieval of items from a German XXI-type U-boat sunk off the Portuguese coast. At first glance this is just forged British and American currently to be used to finance a revolution in Portugal and our hero is required to undertake a Navy diving course to help with his investigation.
Later he discovers heroin on board (hence the title, 'horse' being a euphemism for the drug). In subsequent chapters the narrator reveals that the true treasure is a secret list of Britons who were prepared to help the Third Reich set up a puppet government in Britain, had Germany prevailed in the War. Developing a theme which would feature in many of Deighton's books, our hero is concerned with safeguarding the secrets behind new military technologies; in this case, secret 'ice melting' technology which could be vital to the missile submarines which in the 'sixties were hiding under the Arctic sea ice (a theme Deighton returned to in Spy Story).
Why it's enjoyable
Multiple plot twists mean that for some readers things only become really clear on the second or third reading. The unusual setting for a Cold War spy novel of Salazar's Portugal is an interesting touch as it was somewhat off the beaten path. (Deighton has a holiday home in Albufeira, Portugal).
The gritty dialogue of the main character is now familiar to readers and remains one of the most attractive aspects of the novel: Deighton does dialogue very, very well. The crossword motif (early copies had a competition crossword slipped in - see the picture) reflects the protagonist's habit of constantly doing a crossword, and is repeated at the start of each chapter, the questions each giving a clue to what happens next.
'"I head you have a sexy little secretary tucked away in London, darling."
"I wouldn't say sexy," I said, "she has two kids, three chins and five per cent of the gross. She drinks like a fish and cooks the sort of food advertised on television." Charly gave a high-pitched giggle. "You nasty old liar, you left a photo of her in your shirt last week. I know what she's like."
"Do you wash our shirts too?" I said.
"Well, of course I do, who do you think does your laundry? But don't change the subject. I've got the photo of your secretarial sex-bomb and what's more I can see the glint of matrimony at fifty paces."
"Fifty paces from you is close enough," I said.'
This is the only one of the first four 'unnamed spy' novels not made into a film. A movie was planned by producer Harry Saltzman for 1968, but the poor reception of Billion Dollar Brain and the controversial subject matter meant the idea was shelved permanently.
As part of the marketing push for the book each first edition carried a laid-in blank crossword competition form, the clues for which were in the crosswords printed on the endpapers of the book.
'Harry Palmer' - unnamed in the novel but familiar to the public from his film moniker - is asked to go to Berlin to arrange the defection of a Soviet scientist called Semitsa. This is brokered by Johnny Vulkan, a shady character who treats will all sides of Berlin's intelligence community. This introduces a frequent theme in Deighton's fiction: the uncertainty of loyalty.
Soviet Colonel Stok seems anxious for the deal to go through; the plan is to use a mock funeral to cross the Wall from East to West. However, 'Harry' starts thinking: why does the fake documentation for Paul Louis Broum need to be so specific and why is the Home Office's Hallam pushing for the deal to be done? Furthermore, what is Israeli intelligence agent Samantha Steel's game? It is from these questions that a story, which can only be described as labyrinthine, emerges.
What the reader is challenged with is a mix of plots and sub-plots, dead ends and multiple agencies from the UK, USSR, West Germany, the USA and Israel all competing for the same prize: secret information. The reader is forced in every chapter to ask: who is playing off who against whom?
Why it's enjoyable
The book introduces the memorable Colonel Stok, who in the film is played by legendary Austrian actor Oskar Homolka. Reflecting the metaphorical biting cold of the Cold War in the 'sixties and the proxy Cold War of international chess matches, each chapter with a chess game reference. In the novel Stok boasts to the unnamed spy that he is one of the best chess players in Berlin. It is clearly an extended metaphor for the complicated nature of the plot and the espionage war, where there is a need for each side to think many moves ahead.
Overall, the plot has twists and turns that keep the reader guessing how it all fits together. It is, in truth, overly complex and it is only on the second or third reader - as with each book in the series - does everything start to fit together. The dialogue, however, is sparkling and connects the weary cynicism of the leading character with the uncertainty and intrigue of a divided Berlin.
'"It's official then?" I asked. "An official exchange." Vulkan chuckled and glanced at the major.
"It's more what you might call extra-curricular. Official but extra-curricular," he said again, loud enough for the American to hear. The American laughed and went back to his shoelace.
"The way we hear it, there is a lot of extra-curricular activity here in Berlin."'
The marketing wrap-around (rarely found now - see photo) on the first editions has a photo of Len Deighton and Michael Caine from the Ipcress File movie and, on the back, a press shot of Deighton and Bond author Ian Fleming having lunch together in 1963.
When the Penguin edition was launched in 1966 it was preceded by an aggressive marketing campaign by chief editor Tony Godwin. He chartered an aircraft decorated with the book's motif and flew a planeload of journalists to Berlin, where they were given a tour of Berlin by Michael Caine.
A billionaire Texan, stolen virus-filled eggs, saunas and an army driving across a frozen sea: all the imponderable elements of a face against time for 'Harry Palmer', the unnamed spy who remains our narrator for this fourth novel.
Employed on a freelance basis for the government department W.O.O.C.(P)., he is working with Dawlish, his boss from the earlier novels, which guarantees some wonderfully caustic exchanges. In the novel he is asked to infiltrate a far-right organisation called Facts for Freedom led by a Texan, General Midwinter. He is set on bringing down the USSR by creating a civil war in one of the Baltic states occupied by the Soviets through using the world's most sophisticated computer to control a Latvian spy network.
Making contact with an old friend Harvey Newbegin, who works for Midwinter, Palmer uncovers the gap between the General's plans and the reality on the ground, a gap exploited by his old adversary Colonel Stok.
Why it's enjoyable
In the 'sixties the sort of computations Midwinter's computer (the 'brain' of the title) were doing were revolutionary; now, of course, a mobile phone would be sufficient. Back then this was the future of spying and a sign of the increasingly technological path which the Cold War was taking.
With the introduction of the Newbegin character, the narrator's old friend from the field, the reader starts to get a fuller picture of Palmer's character through seeing the sorts of friends and colleagues he's kept over the years. The reader also gets further hints at his dubious past.
'He munched into one of Wally's salt-beef sandwiches and said, "You know what they'll do next?" "No sir," I said, and really meant it.
"They will send you to school." He nodded to reinforce his theory. "When they do, accept. It's got seeds in," he said. Dawlish was staring at me in a horrified, faintly maniacal way. I nodded. Dawlish said, "If I've told him a thousand times."
"Yes sir," I said.
Dawlish flipped the switch on his intercom. "If I've told him one I've told him a thousand times. I don't like that bread with seeds in."
Alex's voice came through the box with all the dignity of a recording. "One round on white, one round on rye with seeds. You have eaten the wrong ones."
I said, "I don't like caraway seeds either." Dawlish nodded at me so I said it again at the squawk-box, louder and more defiantly this time.'
Raymond Hawkey's silver front cover gives the title as Billion Dollar Brain, but the title in the facing paper of the book itself says Billion-Dollar Brain, with a hyphen. The movie version of the film also lacks this hyphen. It's not clear from where the difference arose, but it could simply be a stylistic change.
For the launch campaign publishers Jonathan Cape sent booksellers and envelop from Finland containing a facsimile letter from author Deighton. This was accompanied by a notebook containing the author's sketches and notes made when writing the novel, together with an Aeroflot baggage ticket, a ferry ticket and a ticket for Othello at the Helsinki Opera. This is incredibly rare, as it was never on commercial sale and only a limited number were produced.
The US edition of the book was published two months before the UK edition, also with a similar marketing campaign for the trade.
The story's narrator must deliver NATO nuclear files to a Chinese general who is a regular client at Monsieur Datt's house of ill repute in Paris, where Datt films guests' sexual proclivities in the hope of securing ransom money.
Datt, it turns our, is just a patsy of the Cold War superpowers which are using him to bring their scientists together to avoid a nuclear war. Our hero is at one point drugged and given a truth serum but is helped by the beautiful Maria, Datt's illegitimate daughter, who is married to Loiseau, the French police inspector.
The denouement involves the disposal of the pornographic recordings and a shoot-out on a ship off Belgium, leading to the death of Datt. Again, this is a labyrinthine story where nothing said by any of the characters should ever be taken at face value. The narrator is again unnamed. There are clues which suggest he's the same narrator from the earlier novels, however, but it deliberately opaque in that regard. Subsequently, in the introduction to the Jubilee edition, Len Deighton stated that it is 'the fifth and last in a sequence of novels that began with The Ipcress File.'
Why it's enjoyable
The novel offers something different from the first four books by introducing new characters and widening the scope of espionage beyond the Soviets. The first edition of the book contained a dossier of secret NATO files on a nuclear attack on China and the likely fallout, which according to legend even spooked the real security services for a while; it was offered for sale to the KGB by a con artist in the 'sixties.
The plot is less a spy novel and more of a mystery in the espionage world, but a good story nonetheless. One of the main characters that comes across well is 'sixties Paris itself which is beautifully depicted. There is a complex story to piece together and readers will need one or two re-reads before it all makes sense.
The other cool element is the ultra-realistic file of 'secret files' which came with every first edition. Readers feel they are in on something big because it contains convincing looking correspondence from the White House and US military data on the effect of a nuclear attack on China. This is characteristic of Deighton's penchant for getting the details right and using them to boost readers' involvement in the plot.
'It was a large black case and contained a ream of reports. One of them he passed across to me.
"Read it while I'm here. I can't leave it."
"No, our document copier has gone wrong and it's the only one I have."
The novel's title is adapted from an Oscar Wilde aphorism: "Dying in Paris is a terribly expensive business for a foreigner."
The laid-in dossier bears the Deighton hallmark of absolute authenticity and attention to detail. In 1967 it was reported by the New York Times that these papers had been offered to the Russians for $100,000 by a New Yorker, having been found in a bin. The papers were so convincing that they were held up at customs by the FBI.
Despite Deighton admitting that this was in effect the fifth of the 'un-named spy' novels, it is curiously not written or marketed as 'secret file No. 5', following the format of the first four novels. The cover, although by Raymond Hawkey, is of a markedly different design.
An ennealogy is the name for a series of nine novels. In fact, in the series built around agent Bernard Samson - arguably, Deighton's magnum opus and most complete set of novels - there are ten novels; Winter provides a prequel to introduce many of the characters in the nine main books.
The series starting with Berlin Game is a spy fiction classic which updated the genre at the height of the Cold War and perfectly replicated the tensions and uncertainties of the 'eighties in the relationship between top field agent Bernard Samson and his wife, Fiona. What follows is a story on an epic scale with numerous story arcs and hidden character flaws revealed over the ten books. These books deserve the description 'unputdownable.'
The illustration on the right is by illustrator Adrian Bailey, who depicted all the main characters in the series. In the end, only the image of Fiona Samson - bottom right, the lady with the scarf - was used by publisher Hutchinson for the first UK edition of Spy Sinker (see below). The figure on the far right is Len Deighton himself!
Immerse yourself in the world of one of espionage fiction's greatest characters.
A Berlin spy network is under threat from one of its members, condemned Brahms Four. He wants out and is getting jittery, threateningly the whole painstakingly constructed network.
The only man he trusts - one-time British agent Bernard Samson, now retired and stuck behind a desk of the German section of London Central after the failure of a mission to extract another member of the Brahms network from East Germany years before - is sent from his semi-retirement back into the field in East Berlin, the city in which he grew up and feels at home.
The person he seeks out to help him is his boyhood friend Werner Volkmann, who is anxious to get back into London Central's good books as an agent for hire. Samson has to stay one step ahead of an apparent mole in London. Can he uncover the treachery at the hear of the Secret Service and protect his family and the woman he loves, Fiona Samson, his wife, who is rising fast up the promotional ladder in the service and now outranks him?
The disruption of the network soon reveals a bigger betrayal, as Sansom uncovers the clues which lead to the awful discovery that it may be someone close to him who is the Soviet mole. Does he face the ultimate betrayal?
Why it's enjoyable
Deighton here creates a new twist on the theme of betrayal in the spy genre: it is a [spoiler] female spy who is cast as betrayer and the husband as doubly betrayed - cuckolded, even - by his wife and colleagues. Bernard Samson is - in the opinion of this website - Deighton's greatest character and this book starts to build up the picture of a sardonic, working-class field agent who rails against the Oxbridge boys running London Central while still needing their help who also has to run a family as well as increasingly fractious spy networks. His constant desire to return to Berlin, his birthplace, has to be matched by the need to stay in London and protect his position from ambitious colleagues. His struggles to do so help propel the narrative.
Samson is arguably the first 'gritty' spy character to have a domestic hinterland fully portrayed in a novel; Deighton gives an equally strong role to Samson's wife Fiona, who is the more ambitious and talented of the couple but doesn't have Samson's canny knack of sniffing out trouble, or his tradecraft skills. But, there are clues in this book which point to the pivotal and formidable character Fiona will become over the eight books to come.
'Dicky become absorbed in the problem of rolling The Economist up so tightly that no light could be seen through it. After a long silence he said, "I didn't tell the stupid bastard to sell out his country. You think because he's a Balliol man I want to go easy on him." He got out his cigarettes and put one in his mouth unlit.
"I never went to college," I said. "I don't know what you're talking about."
In the introduction to a later edition Len Deighton states that Bernard's testimony in the books is unreliable. This is because Samson is biased, especially towards his superiors, and is prone to regard himself and his skills too highly. It is only when readers reach the sixth novel, Spy Sinker, which recounts the events of the previous five novels with a third-person narrator, that doubt is cast upon Bernard's reliability as a narrator, especially in his assessment of his colleagues' capabilities and motives which, in many cases, in hindsight he completely misjudges - the motives of Werner Volkmann, for example.
The cover, designed by Raymond Hawkey, uses and illustration by Hargrave Hands, who provides the illustrations for the first three novels in this series. Arnold Schwartzman designed the cover for the Deighton 80th birthday reissue.
Fiona Samson has defected. Her husband has to pick up the pieces, but he's also under suspicion. Bernard must convince his bosses in London Central that he’s the innocent party by securing the defection of his wife’s KGB aide in Berlin, Erich Stinnes. The story is a text-book introduction into the art of enrolment, which is more like a seduction.
Stretching from Mexico to Berlin, the story builds the storyline about Fiona’s defection and sees Bernard Samson torn between conflicting loyalties and facing the pressure of being a single-dad spy.
Under pressure, he begins to question who he can really trust. Enrolment is tough - a seduction, Bernard describes it as - but in Erich Stinnes, Bernard sees someone on the opposite side with whom he can empathise: a spy who's been overlooked for promotion and working against idiot bosses who don't know what they're doing. Is this the key to bringing him over?
New characters are introduced to the story, such as Stinnes' colleague Pavel Moskvin. What is his relationship to Stinnes, and what effect will he have on the success of the deal to bring Stinnes back to London, for which London Central is risking a lot of money? And why is Werner's ambitious wife Zena Volkmann involved? It's clear that she has more than just the safety of the Western world in mind when she offers to help enrol Stinnes. The book weaves new patterns into the picture laid out in the first book.
Why it's enjoyable
One of the best aspects of this narrative is the interplay between Bernard and Dicky Cruyer, his superior in terms of the department but not in terms of fieldcraft, when they're both negotiating the strange surroundings of Mexico. They are two people who demonstrate the limits of the term teamwork. They may not like each other, but the fact they have to work together makes for some great dialogue.
The extent of Bernard’s almost brotherly relationship to Werner Volkmann develops a lot in this book as he relies on his help to reel in KGB major Stinnes, while worrying about the fault lines in his marriage to Zena, twenty years his junior. The introduction of Gloria, a third strong female character - Bernard's new girlfriend now that Fiona is 'over there' - is a master-stroke and demonstrates that in this genre Deighton was always looking to break new ground.
'"Dicky? Are you joking? Dicky enrol Stinnes? Stinnes would run a mile."
"He'll probably run a mile when you try," said Werner. "But Dicky has no record of work as a field agent. It's very unlikely that they'd do anything really nasty to Dicky."
"Well, that's another reason," I said.'
The front cover of Mexico Set, along with the other books in the trilogy, was designed by Raymond Hawkey, Deighton's art school friend and the designer of the iconic 1960's covers to the unnamed spy novels. The apple motif hints at the corruption and betrayal at the heart of London Central.
The front cover of the 2010 edition, designed by Arnold Schwartzman, features a papier-maché mask from Mexico, used to hint at the two-faced nature of the business Bernard Samson is involved in.
Having captured KGB general Erich Stinnes, who is now held at the London interrogation centre, Bernard Samson leads the questioning of this star defector, hoping to find out more about the defection of wife Fiona.
The interrogation doesn’t go well. Bernard, the narrator, comes under increasing pressure, not least from his boss Bret Renssellaer who decides to get more closely involved and co-managed the debriefing, much to Bernard's disgust. As things develop, Bernard beings to suspect a second mole in London Central, but the denouement shows he’s part of a wider game directed by the Russians which he cannot control, and the ending of which no-one can imagine.
He has become a pawn in the chess game played by his wife against darker forces within the Kremlin. After his friend Werner Volkmann is taken hostage by the Russians, Samson organises an unofficial exchange for Stinnes which ends in a bloody battle on a disused U-Bahn station in West Berlin. Pavel Moskvin, a threat not only to him but also apparently to his wife stationed in East Berlin for whom he still cares deeply, is shot. But who made the decision to send the hit squad?
Some questions are answered. But many more are raised, and plots left open, leaving the stage clear for a second trilogy, starting with Spy Hook.
Why it's enjoyable
The city of Berlin is the star of this novel. Deighton’s writing really carves out the atmosphere of a claustrophobic city which is at the centre of a global struggle for power. It’s evidently a city where careers are made or broken, as Bret Rensselaer finds out to his cost.
The ending, atop the high-level U-Bahn of West Berlin, is a real twist that the reader just doesn't see coming and is all the more enjoyable for that. The theme developing, which colours the whole series and which permeates the dialogue, is the uncertainty of loyalty and friendship at a time of global super-power tensions.
'"Can I have milk or cream or something in mine?" I said. "That strong black brew you make keeps me awake at night."
He always had a jug of cream and a bowl of sugar brought in with his coffee, although he never used either. He once told me that in his regimental officers' mess, the cream was always on the table but it was considered bad form to take any. I wondered if there were a lot of people like Dicky in the Army; it was a dreadful thought. He brought the cream to me.
"You're getting old, Bernard. Did you ever think of jogging? I run three miles every morning - summer, winter, Christmas, every morning without fail."
"Is it doing you any good?" I asked as he poured cream for me from the cow-shaped silver jug.
"Ye gods, Bernard. I'm fitter now than I was at twenty-five. I swear I am."
"What kind of shape were you in at twenty-five?" I said.'
Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station, where the shoot-out at the end of the novel occurs, was closed during the Cold War and became a flea-market.
The American-German Winter family has a comfortable life in Berlin, which changes dramatically in the thirties when the Nazi’s assume power. Friends and family must all adjust and, in some cases, take advantage of the change in culture and opportunities for social advancement. The main character Paul Winter is ambiguous: a bureaucrat in the Nazi machine, yet liberal and hard working and honest and in some ways a victim of circumstances. War creates the ultimate test for the brothers, on different sides, and Deighton demonstrates how it changes lives for ever.
Why it's enjoyable
This is a prequel to the Game Set & Match trilogy, though it only makes sense in its position between London Match and Spy Hook. It creates a back history for Lisl Hennig, Bret Renssellaer, Werner Volkman's mother and Bernard Samson's father in wartime-Berlin, lives which are only hinted at in the trilogy. A Berlin view of the Nazi’s rise presents a truer picture of the reality and the attitude of the German people than many historians - who portray the Germans as 100% enthusiastic Nazis - have done. We also learn the truth of the source of the close relationship between Werner Volkmann and Lisl Hennig.
The parallel but radically different lives of the Winter sons, Paul and Peter, foreshadow the coming conflict. It is a wartime 'family divided' story, but also portrays well how easily the German population adjusted to life under a Nazi dictatorship.
'"The next time the Reds try to take over Berlin, you'll see," said Pauli. He put on his field-grey overcoat and steel helmet and tightened the strap under his chin before reaching for his belt and pistol.
"What's that crooked cross sign you've painted on your helmet?" his father asked.
"It's called a swastika. Many of the Freikorps unit weat it to distinguish us from the regular army."
"Be very careful, Paul. Remember what happened to your brother."
Pauli did remember. Peter had been beaten up just because of the 'imperial insignia' on his officer's uniform. Many army and navy officers had been similarly beaten - and several murdered - by jeering and catcalling thugs who were determined to blame the officer class for the war and its outcome.'
On the inside dustcover flap, Winter is described as the 'fourth book of the trilogy', introducing as it does many of the minor characters who featured in the first trilogy.
After the ending to the Game, Set & Match trilogy the story is at a critical juncture. His wife Fiona still behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin, British agent Bernard Samson’s life has moved on in the last three years.
His children are getting older and he’s downsized from his central London townhouse to a semi-detached house and started out afresh with his much younger girlfriend, London Central intern Gloria Kent, in hum-drum suburban domesticity with his children whom he kept from being snatched by the KGB. But a cloud of suspicion still hangs over Samson. Old friends shun him and he’s reduced to undertaking small courier jobs to the USA, away from the Berlin he loves.
In contrast, Dicky Cruyer his boss is now Controller of German Stations, the job Bernard coveted, and his old friend Frank Harrington has stayed on as Berlin Controller to clean up the mess left by a network blown apart by the Stinnes affair. Nevertheless, despite every question about his wife's treachery being apparently resolved, Bernard still keeps digging and starts to uncover leads and secrets which point to a bigger web of treachery in London Central than he could ever have imagined.
How deep does the treachery go, he asks? Forced to flee from the clutches of London Central, Bernard then asks himself a simple question about Fiona: is she still working for London? His answer sets up the story for the second book of the trilogy, Spy Line.
Why it's enjoyable
After a fantastic opening trilogy, the story is taken to a whole new depth by Deighton as the levels of treachery, chicanery and deception in London Central are revealed by the tenacious Samson, who finds himself at the centre of a growing maelstrom. Developing the character of Bernard further, the reader finds him at a low ebb on the run in Berlin, relying on his network of old friends and calling in favours as he starts to piece together the puzzle of the truth behind Fiona's defection.
It's a labyrinthine plot, but Deighton writes it in such a way that it's never baffling and can be read as a stand-alone spy thriller without the knowledge of what's gone before. But as the latest part of a mammoth plot, reading it is like peeling an onion: with each new chapter there's another revelation or plot twist that the reader never sees coming.
'"If you want my advice..." She slid off the bed and stood up. Having eased her shoes half off her feet she squeezed back into them, putting all her weight on first one foot then the other. "You should stop beating your head against a brick wall."
She smoothed her lapels and reached for her coat. "I think you want to destroy yourself. It's something to do with Fiona leaving you. Perhaps you feel guilty in some way."'
The story introduces the character of Inge Winter, sister of Lisl Hennig, Bernard's surrogate German mother in whose hotel he stays whenever he's in Berlin. Elements of the back story of both Lisl, Werner's childhood and Bernard's father are sketched in in this books, stories which are developed more fully in Winter.
The front cover was designed again by Raymond Hawkey. But in a departure from the first trilogy, the covers of Spy Hook, Spy Line and Spy Sinker were all different designs.
The story has moved back to Berlin in the winter of 1987. Bernard Samson is on the run in the city of his childhood. Nevertheless, he has good cards in his hand: he knows the city inside out, and can call on old friends and useful contacts in order to evade the grasp of London Central as he aims to get to the bottom of his wife's defection.
Erich Stinnes is discovered to be running drugs into Berlin and Bernard is sent on a mission by London Central to Vienna, where he receives a Russian passport with his photo in it, a clue to his potential fate.
He travels to Czechoslovakia where he discovers the sender is Fiona, who reveals the truth about her work for the KGB in Berlin; there are hints that Bernard had already drawn the same conclusions. He remains anxious to get Fiona back to the West, and during a confusing end-game on a rainy motorway clearing there’s a shootout and someone close to Bernard is killed, along with Stinnes and the mystery man hired to kill them all and clean up a messy situation.
At each stage, Bernard questions whether he can trust those closest to him - family, friends, colleagues - and is exposed to the shadowy reality of espionage where a man who asks too many questions find very few simple answers.
Why it's enjoyable
This book completes the second epic story arc of the story so far and brings to a conclusion the saga of Fiona’s defection; but not every question is answered.
Fiona’s secret is well hidden until the end as a number of plates spinning in the air confuse the reader - the Vienna sojourn for example sheds little light in on what will eventually happen to Bernard - until, on the outskirts of Berlin, everything falls into place in a shocking ending that still leaves many questions unanswered.
Though hints at Fiona's real status with the department have occurred throughout the text, her sudden reappearance in Czechoslovakia is a shock to both her husband and the reader. At the end of five books, you really empathise with the emotional trauma both Bernard and Fiona Samson have gone through. The plot seems to be complete and loose ends are tied up, but all the reader's knowledge so far is shattered with the final novel in the trilogy.
'"And everything's all right? The children are well?" she asked again.
"Wonderful," I said....The children miss you, of course," I added.
"They haven't grown to hate me, have they, Bernard?"
"No, of course not, darling." I said it so glibly and quickly that she must have sensed the reservations I had. It would not be easy for her to rebuild her relationship with the children.'
This book recounts and re-tells the story of the plot of the first five books, from Berlin Game to Spy Line. Crucially, Deighton does this through using a third-person narrator, rather than telling the story through the main protagonist, Bernard Samson.
As a result, the story is more convoluted and multifarious, and covers a longer period; for example, it explores what happened to Bernard and Max Binder behind the wire in East Germany in 1978, and what was really behind the panic over the Karlshorst memorandum.
We get to understand Fiona Samson, Werner Volkmann, Silas Gaunt and Bret Rensselaer in a whole new light, as familiar plot points are re-examined and turned upside down.
Why it's enjoyable
It is a whole new story built on the superstructure of the earlier novels, and so remains fresh and surprising to the reader.
Bernard Samson, the reader discovers, was a wholly biased and unreliable narrator, He was also frequently wrong and not always the good judge of character he liked to think he was. That's the genius of this book; the reader likely knows what happened, so the author them chooses to mess with their heads by turning that understanding upside down and showing what really happened in the first five books.
Crucially, we see how Samson was ultimately very much a pawn in a bigger game of which he had little knowledge, and he played his role to a tee.
"'It's a ten-year plan,' said Bret. 'They are in a bad way over there. A well-planned attack on their economy and the whole damned communist house of cards will collapse.'
'Collapse? What does that mean?'
'I think we could force the East German government into allowing opposition parties and free emigration.'
'Do you?' The idea seemed preposterous to the old man, but he was too experienced in the strategies of Whitehall to go on record as a disbeliever. 'The Wall comes down in 1988? Is that what you're saying?' The old man smiled grimly.
Though written in 1993-4, four years after the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, this book carries on seamlessly from the ending of Spy Line, in the summer of 1987. This historical perspective provides the reader with a degree of knowledge about how things might end, but no real clue about how the plot will develop.
In the final three volumes, loose ends begin to be tied up by Deighton and the different story and character arcs - developed in extensive detail over six books - are twisted and stretched by him even further examining the psychological and political machinations behind the fate of Fiona Samson.
This book explores the long-term effects of the whole Samson saga on the key characters. Bernard is deep undercover in Magdeburg in 1987, helping the East German christian church (which, as Deighton would by then have known, was crucial to ending the 39-year-old existence of the DDR).
His life is falling apart, his relationship with Gloria is over; his marriage is in tatters. His kids are with his hated father-in-law. Bernard must now fight back to keep his job and his marriage. He starts by aiming to deliver Russian defector ‘Verdi' to London Central. But he can't stop thinking about the death of Fiona's sister Tessa beside the autobahn outside Berlin, and looks for answers. Things get more complicated than he could ever imagine.
Why it's enjoyable
This is less about developing new plots than unravelling well-know plot lines and character developments and providing the reader with new insights. This volume is all about a web of intrigue and secrecy and seeing how Bernard Samson copies with each new revelation. As the dust jacket description says, 'Bernard Samson, caught between two women, finds there is no one he can confide in and nothing to depend on except his own faith.' That's a pretty good summing up of the tale.
But as interesting as Bernard's character development is the role of George Kozinski, the husband of Fiona's late sister, who up to now has had a peripheral role but here moves centre stage. What is he doing in Poland, behind the Iron Curtain?
'"What in the hell happened to you?" he said in an awed voice that made me think my bruises were worse than they were.
"A drunken idiot tried to rob me." "Where?" "A stube in Kreuzberg."
"You should keep away from greasy spoons like that," said Dicky. And, with commendable concern for the affairs of the nation, added: "Suppose you'd been carrying Category One papers?"
"I was," I said. "But I swallowed them."'
This is the seventh book in a ten-volume series. For the first time, in the endpapers of the book the publishers included useful diagrammatic representations of how all the characters inter-relate to each other across the stories. It's a useful short-hand to check who every character is and why they're important.
These books show another shift in cover design, with for the first time illustrations of some of the main characters, such as with Werner Volkmann (or is it perhaps Bernard?) on the front cover.
Bernard and Fiona are struggling to get back to how things were after the truth of his wife's defection and return is revealed. Deighton asks the reader: can treachery in a marriage, let alone the spying game, ever be reconciled?
Bernard is confronted with an injured man on his doorstep one evening, the prelude to a series of events that starts to uncover the facts behind Tessa Kosinski’s murder in Berlin and which paints the department in an even more unfavourable light through the machinations of old hands Silas Gaunt and Bret Rensselaer, bringing Bernard into conflict with his superiors once again. Bernard must return to Poland with Dicky Cruyer to find out the reason why his brother law George Kozinski travelling regularly to Poland.
Why it's enjoyable
Bernard’s tenacity comes across on every page. Having been through so much and with the world - and his colleagues - seemingly so much against him, he battles through because he has the scent of some huge meta-secret about this whole farrago that he still has to uncover and which could bring down London Central. Fiona, meanwhile, is back working in the department, on the face of it as if nothing happened.
Moving the action to Poland and depicting the Solidarity movement also brings home how closely linked this story is to the wider machinations of a Cold War Europe close to collapse, but still not buckling under. The reader also gets to see another side of the cuckolded husband George Kosinski that they would never have guessed at.
'"I was right," said Dicky triumphantly. "It's the Kozinski place isn't it?"
"Yes, Dicky. You were right."
"People are always telling me I have a sixth sense: Fingerspitzgefühl - intuition, eh?"
"Yes," I said. "Fingertip sensitivity. It's what safe-crackers and pickpockets have too."
"Very bloody funny," said Dicky, his usual sense of humour failing him."'
The jacket illustration is by Joe Partridge. It's not clear exactly who it is supposed to be but the best guess is Dicky Cruyer, who takes a leading role in this story.
Travelling through Eastern Europe escorting a dying US agent - his friend and former colleague Jim Prettyman - the discovery of one of Tessa Kosinski’s old brooches in Jim's possession gives Bernard Samson a thread that he starts to unravel to get at the truth about the last ten years.
The book begins in deepest Poland in 1988, with the Russians increasingly concerned about the loyalty of their Polish neighbours. With Bret Rensselaer now back at the head of the Department, Dicky Cruyer’s future is wrapped up with Bernard’s, as the latter becomes increasingly paranoid that the shadow of suspicion about Tessa’s death will fall on him unless he can discover what really happened on that fateful night in Berlin.
Gloria Kent, Bernard’s former lover, is making a future for herself in the department and is surprisingly linked to the bungled extraction of Fiona. The reader also discovers just how significant Silas Gaunt, the department's eminence grise, has been over these nine books as Bernard discovers a box at Frank's Berlin residence which lays out the truth about his wife's disappearance and her sister's death in Berlin.
His boss, Bret, ends up marrying Bernard's former lover Gloria; Bernard finally gets a decent departmental pension and the chance to rebuild his relationship with Fiona.
Why it's enjoyable
After nine novels which have intrigued and surprised with numerous twists and surprises and hidden depths to the characters, this is the end. The reader really can root for Bernard as he digs deep to uncover the web of intrigue in which he and his wife have been caught for the last ten years, and understand the consequences of the spy game on individuals as Bret reveals how the pressure of guilt led to a suicide attempt by Fiona.
'"We've had you under observation, Bernard," said Bret. "It's no good you playing the innocent. You are up to your old tricks. You might just as well level with us."
"I have nothing to tell you," I said. "What evidence do you have? What the hell am I supposed to have done? I fought off a couple of muggers and I met with one of the people we use. So what?"
Bret remained cool. "That's just the trouble," he said softly. "You've got the fixed idea that we are on trial - the Department. You carry on as if everyone here should be answerable to you."
The D-G said in his deep fruity voice: "Your brother-in-law is a mischief-maker. Everyone here knows that. But that doesn't mean we can ignore the accusations he brings against you."'
Though famed, rightly, for his genre-changing series of spy novels and thrillers, Len Deighton's fiction writing has touched a range of other themes and styles, including crime thrillers, police-procedurals and short stories. Some of these are well-known, such as Bomber; others, including thrillers like City of Gold, sold well but are perhaps less familiar to the general reader.
Len Deighton's fiction writing has covered wartime stories, revolution, the golden age of cinema and many other topics beyond espionage. Deighton also turned his hand to writing short stories and produced one collection of novellas.
While he explored themes beyond the spy fiction genre for which he is renowned, during the peak of his writing career he broadened out his spy fiction writing, looking beyond the 'Harry Palmer' character to create stand-alone spy novels such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy and Yesterday's Spy, each of which carried the characteristic Deighton style and dialogue.
Find out more below about the breadth of Deighton's fiction writing.
This is a comedy thriller about three con artists, Silas, Liz and Bob, and their capers in the 'sixties putting one over big corporations and corrupt government officials alike. The story begins in New York, where the gang pull off a massive con involving investment in a fake aluminium mining company.
Success after success however leads to petty jealousies between them and they almost screw up on a scam involving a corrupt African defence minister, to whom they sell crate after crate of scrap metal which he believes is the latest in UK weapons technology. But their luck runs out and the minister sees through their scam; the gang only escape from the embassy in the nick of time, licking their wounds.
Bob, the youngest of the three, becomes increasingly attracted to Liz, Silas' partner, and is anxious to lead his own scams to show Silas he's got what it takes. The gang set out to undertake one last big con job in the Middle East - led by Bob - involving millions of dollars of forged US government bonds, fake Sheikhs and a Land Rover fitted out for the desert. Will this be their last hurrah from the criminal stage?
Why it's enjoyable
Long before the BBC’s Hustle series, this story draws on the idea of the glamour of the master conman. It portrays a group of con artists in a story that has an authentic sixties tang to it, with the second world war and the last days of the British Empire still readily apparent; the military connections of Silas recall the days when Britain was a global power and yet much of the army was full of con artistes and petty thieves.
The story is quite light and didn't win prizes for originality, but it’s an entertaining story and, as ever with Deighton, it’s the details in the characterisation that stands out on the page. Particularly interesting is that, by using alternate chapters from the first person perspectives of the three main characters, Deighton helps the reader slowly understand the characters' different motivations and perceive the tensions which threaten to undermine their confidence in each other as team members.
'"I can't bear the idea of live lobsters being crammed up inside these crates," I said. "It gives me the creeps. I'd sooner have a frozen lobster than a tortured one."
"You must not be squeamish," said Awawa. "In my country, they do worse things than that to men."'
To secure the film deal for Only When I Larf, Len Deighton had 150 spiral-bound copies of the book printed. These are the rarest Len Deighton items available and are much sought-after by collectors. The pages are in foolscap and appear as typed content - seemingly, straight from Deighton's typewriter.
The US edition of the novel was not picked up when the film came out, and did not appear in the US until the Mysterious Press produced a limited edition boxed set version of the novel, and subsequent standard first edition, in 1986.
A story of a night-time RAF raid over Germany told from the point of view of the aircrew and the German civilians and soldiers on the ground. Sam Lambert is an experienced RAF men sent to an East Anglian bomber station. He is a heroic flyer, loved by his men, but a man who is at breaking point after multiple missions over enemy territory.
Through his eyes and that of his crew and the ground staff, we follow the intricate preparations necessary to deliver night bombing raids over German. The novel is a devastating indictment of war and the role of individuals as small cogs in a vast military machine, as a mistake means that tens of thousands of tonnes of explosive is dropped, not on its industrial target Krefeld, but on the small town of Altgarten, with devastating effects.
Why it's enjoyable
Its excruciating detail of the impact of the bombing on Germany - only 25 years after the end of the war - shocked people in the UK when it was published, and is still as accurate as any formal history in giving you a sense of what World War II in the air was really like...and it wasn't pleasant.
Ultimately, it's a story about the relationship between ordinary men and extraordinary machines in wartime (a frequent theme of Deighton's wartime works) and the power they can give over the lives of others.
One of Deighton’s classic books, for an untrained historian he’s spot on the mark with his analysis of the strategic and local impact of allied bombing. The reader understands clearly why it was named as one of the ninety-nine best novels of the 20th Century by English novelist Kingsley Amis, in his book, 99 novels, from 1984.
The equivocation in the storyline, focusing on the impact of bombing on the German civilians as well as the fights in the air, did cause consternation upon its publication. The book worked extremely well as a BBC Radio 4 play, which was broadcast in real time over one day on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war to recreate the effect of listening to a real bombing raid play out.
'"I wish I could understand German better," said Jimmy Grimm. "That's the trouble with being a radio ham; in peacetime I used to pick up all sorts of stations and only speak a few words of everything."
"While you types are sodding about, some poor bastard is going to get the chop," said Digby. "Why don't you jam him?"
"Perhaps it's us he's after," said Binty from the mid-upper turret.'
Once again the dustcover is designed by Raymond Hawkey, who'd designed all the book covers for Len Deighton since his writing career began. It reproduces a detail from Turner's painting Fisherman at Sea off the Needles.
Writer Anthony Burgess also regarded Bomber as one of the 99 greatest English novels of the 20th Century.
A foray into the corrupt, cut-throat and competitive world of Hollywood filming, it tells the story of english actor Marshall Stone who, advancing in years, sees the parts dry up and is desperate to remain at the top; meanwhile, dark secrets are revealed as his ex-wife’s husband starts researching a no-holds barred biography.
Opening up to a biographer, the story Stone tells of a world where books are properties and stars and directors are bought and sold like slaves at an auction, and the truth is never likely to be revealed. This is Deighton's exposition of the 'star machine' of Hollywood at its most venal and ruinous.
Why it's enjoyable
This is the first time Deighton wrote a conventional thriller. Different again from Deighton’s usual work, it’s good at teasing out the mix of neurosis, alcohol and money that means a film star in the studio system was only ever one bad review from becoming a nobody.
You read about the money men, the back-stabbing, the hassles and inherent falseness of the movie-making world which, according to later interviews by Deighton and eye-witness accounts, led to his giving up on cinema production after his experiences on Oh! What a Lovely War in the 'sixties. You sense that Deighton has definitely drawn from his own knowledge of dealing with actors and their agents!
'"It's better the girl and the kid disappear. No more letters, no visits, no nothing."
"Yes, Mr Koolman." "An official adoption through a recognized society." "Can that be done without..."
"Sure, sure. The studio donates fifty grand a year to one of the adoption societies; I'm on the committee there. I'll just need your signature on some papers, right?"'
"Yes, Mr Koolman." "And this British actor..."
"Nicholson," supplied Bookbinder. "Edgar Nicholson."
"Edgar Nicholson, right. Will be the father. His blood group is compatible. He'll sign the paternity and we'll have it all kosher for you."'
The broken Moet et Chandon champagne bottle motif on the dust jacket was brought for the cover by designer Raymond Hawkey, who arguably produced the best book covers adorning Deighton's books. Hawkey was a fellow student of Deighton's at St Martin's College of Art & Design in Soho and subsequently a life-long friend.
In an interview, Deighton confessed that Close-Up was one of the favourite novels that he'd written.
Patrick Armstrong is a specialist in Soviet nuclear submarine tactics, employed at the Studies Centre in London. Is this the narrator from the first five unnamed spy novels?
There are clues that suggest he might be the same man: he meets Dawlish with whom he worked previously. Dawlish says: "New name, new job, the past gone forever... But you can't wipe the slate clean. You can't forget half your life." The character is described as in his late thirties. This uncertainty may be down as much to the publisher’s marketing as anything planned by Deighton, given the obvious temptation to encourage readers to think they were reading a sequel to The Ipcress File and other books.
However, in the introduction to the Jubilee edition, Deighton confirms that: "Patrick Armstrong is not the man from The Ipcress File, although he's obviously a close relative." A deliberately ambiguous answer, perhaps (see below).
In any case, our hero has left W.O.O.C.(P). and is employed in the centre analysing possible scenarios of Soviet aggression involving their Arctic submarine fleet. He has put his sometimes nefarious past behind him and he has a new woman, Marjorie, living with him and a new friend in Ferdy Foxwell, as well as the adversary Colonel Stok from the earlier novels and a new boss, US Colonel Schlegel. None of them is as straightforward as they appear to be.
After discovering his flat has been turned over by Colonel Stok, Armstrong discovers that a Conservative MP and Foxwell have been conspiring to arrange the defection of Soviet Admiral Remoziva but are secretly planning to discredit him in order to put pressure on his sister who is in charge of talks to unify Germany.
The final scene plays out on the Arctic ice, when the planned mission does not turn out as everyone on the US and UK sides was hoping.
Why it's enjoyable
It’s interesting now to read a novel ostensibly about the power of computers and to read about old languages like FORTRAN and spooled discs etc, with the hindsight that comes from living in the Internet age.
The book involves all the classic Cold War elements: submarines, imminent nuclear threat, military intelligence, double agents. It is not the regarded as one of the best of Deighton's even, even though it was deemed popular enough to be made into a film. It is the first novel with US-UK characters joining forces on intelligence, perhaps reflecting the steady decline of the UK at the time as an independent power.
'"I don't want to become part of a big organisation again. Especially not a government department. I don't want to be just another pawn."
"Being a pawn," said Dawlish, "is just a state of mind."'
The story was adapted into a film in 1976 with the Pat Armstrong character played by Michael Petrovich. Even without the knowledge that Armstrong isn't the same character as the unnamed spy from the first five novels (and three films) it is easy to see why, without Michael Caine's characterisation from the earlier films, the movie didn't work on many levels - though it is quite diverting.
In the silver jubilee edition of Spy Story, Deighton gives final confirmation that Patrick Armstrong is not Harry Palmer: "One thing is clear. Patrick Armstrong is not the man from The Ipcress File, although he's obviously a close relative."
A move away from the Cold War to memories of the last war, this story concerns Steve Champion, the enigmatic and flamboyant hero and leader of the old Villefranche anti-Nazi intelligence group, the Guernica Network, which operated in occupied France during the war.
British and American intelligence are both worried by rumours of his sinister Arab connections, so Colonel Schlegel of US intelligence sends off the anonymous agent to track him down in southern France. Schlegel was introduced the year before in Spy Story as the irascible, CIA-trained former Marine who ran the war-games establishment STUCEN. In this novel, he makes a re-appearance, only this time he's seconded to British intelligence.
In both novels, he eventually earns the respect of the two British agents he works alongside.
Why it's enjoyable
Interesting twist, bringing together characters behind the French resistance. Deighton portrays the seedy maelstrom of Marseilles and southern France very well, and the inclusion of a link with Arab governments replicates the reality of the spread of the cold war to the Arab world in the seventies.
As is the case with Spy Story, it might appear from first reading that the unnamed narrator, operating under the pseudonym Charles Bonnard, is the same narrator from the 'spy with no name' stories, as there is the reappearance of Dawlish from the same department and also the sparkling and sharp dialogue he shares with the working class narrator. Our hero evidently still carries a lot of chips on his shoulder about his superiors.
But there are clear differences in the way this particular spy behaves and Deighton confirmed in the 25th anniversary version of the novel that the two characters are, in fact, different. Nevertheless, they're characters cut from the same cloth and evidence that Deighton wasn't about to completely throw out a winning formula for this novel.
'"Look," I said. "Champion was just seeing his kid, and buying stamps - there's no other angle. He's a rich man now; he's not playing secret agents. Believe me, Colonel. There's nothing there."
Schlegel leaned forward to get a small cigar form a box decorated with an eagle trying to eat a scroll marked Semper Fidelis. He pushed the box to me, but I'm trying to give them up.
"He's in deep," said Schlegel. Puckered scar tissue made it difficult to distinguish his smiles from scowls. He was a short muscular man with an enviable measure of self-confidence; the kind of personality that you hire to M.C. an Elks Club stag night.
I waited. The 'need-to-know' basis, upon which the department worked, meant that I'd been told only a part of it. Schlegel took his time getting his cigar well alight.'
Because of the presence of Colonel Schlegel, readers might assume the unnamed narrator is Patrick Armstrong from Spy Story. However, Deighton disabuses of this in the introduction to the Jubilee edition, saying "I deliberately didn't say the hero was Patrick Armstrong, who in my previous book had been cruising the Arctic in nuclear submarines. He would have been too young for World War Two. Logically I should have replaced all the other characters, but I couldn't abandon Colonel Schlegel."
The cover was designed by Deighton's great friend Raymond Hawkey. The beetle crawling on the gun was hired from London Zoo. The studio lights meant it would not stay still for the photo shoot, so photographer Adrian Flowers was advised to put the beetle in the refrigerator for half an hour, after which it could be posed in exactly the way he wanted.
US Secret Service high-up Colonel Mann is the main foil to the British agent in this story, which is set in the Arab world and the wastes of the north African Sahara desert, where our hero is sent to take custody of a defecting Russian scientist, Professor Bekuv. The narrator is unnamed and we are left to draw our own conclusions whether this is still 'our man' from the earlier novels. It is not ... but the reader is not discouraged from thinking so!
Things don’t go according to plan in this story. Loyalty is tested and never certain, as it becomes unclear as the novel develops who is actually chasing whom, and where the threat is coming from.
For example, the narrator falls under the spell of one Red Bancroft, but didn't calculate that she would then fall for the Professor's wife. The book ends in the emptiness of the central African desert.
Why it's enjoyable
One of the few Deighton novels set in the Arab world, it’s full of twists and turns and the reader can really enjoy the interplay and banter between the cocky British spy and the stiff-collared US colonel.
This time our hero - ever the ladies man - risks losing his 'bird' to a lesbian relationship with a female Russian scientist, an intriguing twist on the 'honeypot' scenario of many spy novels. The denouement in the Saharan desert is confusing and rather rushed, but overall, it's a satisfying read if a little lacking in any real sustained dramatic excitement.
'"Miss Bancroft is your problem - eliminate her and your wife will come back to you."
"Yes, I will kill Miss Bancroft."
"That would make your wife hate you for ever."
"I will order one of these Arabs to kill the girl."
"Your wife will guess you gave the order."
"Yes," he said. He stubbed the cigarette into an ashtray. "It must look like an accident."'
The jacket design is another by Raymond Hawkey. It was he who proposed the snappier title for the US first edition of Catch a Falling Spy, in response to objections from the American publisher that the original title was too Disney-like. Len Deighton has subsequently written that he preferred Hawkey's title for the book.
This novel depicts a Britain after a Nazi victory in WWII, one in which the King is a prisoner and Winston Churchill has been shot. The story follows a police detective, Douglas Archer, who in following up a routine murder case uncovers a web of intrigue involving British atomic weapons research secrets, which the Abwehr is keen to get its hands on.
Archer, of course, now has to report into the SS and when he meets Standartenfuhrer Huth things start to develop as the story brings into play secret atomic research which the Germans are keen to exploit and a plot to murder the King.
Why it's enjoyable
If things had happened differently 70 years ago, this is probably as accurate a depiction of what occupied Britain would have been like as you could find. The book is as usual full of a cast of believable, well-imagined characters who drive the story along. For a Londoner, it’s really strange to read about familiar London landmarks and institutions under the jackboot. Deighton's detailed knowledge of the minutiae of the organisation of the German army and SS gives this account real authenticity.
The photo on the back cover - of an SS march past in Whitehall - is chillingly accurate.
'"At school they have a new teacher who told them Churchill - and all the British soldiers - were criminals. My boy came home and asked me why."
"I'll speak to him," said Douglas, "and tell him that his father is a fine man."
"They are told to report parents who go against the propaganda."
"These Germans have brought evil ideas with them."'
The cover was designed by Raymond Hawkey. It was he who designed the set of UK stamps with Hitler's head on them, which has become collector's items among the philatelic community. The back cover image - of SS troops marching up Whitehall on the Fuehrer's birthday - works because photographer Adrian Flowers took a photo of Whitehall which matched exactly the angle of an archive shot of SS troops marching through Berlin.
The BBC1 five-part adaptation of SS-GB was broadcast in spring 2017 and, while not universally acclaimed, was certainly a strong adaptation of the novel which also, interestingly, left the door open for a further series not based on the original text.
What if Churchill had met with Hitler and started talks about the terms of a British surrender in the war, but rejected the German proposals, and that subsequently anyone who learned of this meeting had been marked for XPD - the expedient demise of enemy agents?
That’s the starting point for this thriller which looks at what happens when a file of this meeting emerges and MI6, the KGB and the CIA are drawn into the hunt for those at the meeting. A group of former SS officers in West Germany seek to use papers about a meeting between Hitler and Churchill during the war as a pretext for seizing power; British agent Boy Stuart is tasked with keeping the documents under wraps. The denouement, on a film set of the Fuehrer's study under a Nazi eagle, is very well realised.
Why it's enjoyable
As with SS-GB, Deighton’s great here at picking out the historical details you would expect if the scenario he plays out had really happened. Expedient demises are, of course, officially denied by the security services, but the way Deighton writes it you feel sure they happen....regularly.
The plot is developed with the sort of ingenuity and plot details you come to expect from Deighton. It's also his contribution to the sub-genre of alternative history. Other novels, such as Fatherland, have taken on this idea of imagining Europe under a victorious Nazi regime.
'"What exactly did you tell Dr Böttger?"
"They didn't need much economic persuasion. Those fat businessmen could see the economic consequences of rewriting the history books to make Hitler into a hero. They didn't want anyone saying that he'd been clever enough to make Winston Churchill come cringing."
"But Churchill changed his mind; Churchill turned down the peace terms."
"So Churchill becomes the warmonger who continued with the war that caused twenty million deaths. Any way you present the facts, Hitler comes out best."'
The novel was dramatised in eight parts by Michael Bakewell for BBC radio in 1985. However, unlike Bomber, it's never been released commercially as a recording.
A vivid evocation of wartime England through the eyes of a group of American fighter pilots escorting daylight raids over Germany in 1944.
The novel is the story of the 220th Fighter Group of the US Eighth Air Force in the lead up to the Allied invasion of Europe. The Group is based at the fictional Steeple Thaxted airfield in Cambridgeshire, England. It follows the contrasting, but converging lives of two pilots, the reserved Captain Farebrother and the cocky Lieutenant Mickey Morse - the Mickey Mouse of the title - whose friendship bonds in the battles in German airspace.
In the same was as Bomber did, this novel works because it goes behind the movie bluster and showcases the mixture of excitement and terror that was the average airman's lot in World War Two.
Why it's enjoyable
Deighton's written about bomber pilots, so you can see the logic of writing about fighter pilots too. The story is not as gripping as Bomber, perhaps because the reader misses the element of the viewpoint of the other side; it’s nevertheless fast-paced and, as its Deighton, full of the accurate historical background detail one expects. Also, with American pilots rather than British pilots, the conversation and social engagement is different.
The novel does evoke wartime Britain well, with the effects of rationing and the simmering antipathy the British servicemen felt towards their well-paid American allies. It also features his trademark technical and operational details of the P-51 Mustang fighter. The aerial scenes are few and brief but capture the terror and excitement of bomber escort missions over Germany, though the battle scenes are not as raw as those in Bomber.
As well as the military stories, there's an interesting sub-plot about the relationship between fathers and sons which adds a degree of humanity to the characters not normally associated with a war novel.
'"Blue Leader from Blue Two - I can't make it to England."
"What in the hell do you mean, Rube?" said MM indignantly.
"I'm out of gas. It's this goddamned blower."
"Jesus, Rube. We're practically there now."
"It's no use, MM. I've been nursing her, but the needles are out of sight. I'll bail out over Holland. The resistance guys will maybe smuggle me out or something."
"Now listen, Rube..." But MM's advice went unheeded as Rube's wingtip tilted steeply and he began a wing-over that dropped him out of the formation belly-up like a dead fish.'
The jacket design of a P-51 Mustang is by Chris Moore. On the rear flap of the dust jacket, Deighton is photographed in front of the US Air Force roundel of a similar plane.
Dealing with post-Cold War issues, this novel tells the story of a group of Marxist revolutionaries in Spanish Guiana and the three people caught up in their fight against the CIA - an Australian doctor Ralph Lucas, an young hoodlum Angel Paz, who seeks to prove himself in the jungle, and an educated revolutionary Inez Cassidy.
It portrays the tedium and terror of war, and the shifting alliances which mean the main characters can never be too sure who’s on their side in the jungle. Brought together under trying circumstances, the three of them must learn to work together to battle jungle fever, tension, jealousy and revenge against an evocative backdrop of drug-fuelled freedom fighters and the fight for freedom against the ever-present CIA. They must trek across mile after mile of jungle, with prisoners, led by a young man who has never before been so frightened, but cannot show it.
Why it's enjoyable
This was previously an unpublished novel written well before it was published. It came out just after the end of the Cold War and marks a real departure in Deighton’s chosen subject matter, perhaps reflecting his desire to break new ground and use the timing offered by the shift in political polarity.
The back blurb on the proof copy indeed says: 'the question every fan has asked it "What will Len Deighton do when the Berlin Wall comes down."
Well, the answer was Mamista. The novel reads more like a conventional thriller adventure than a tale of espionage and is refreshing for that, though the Lucas character lacks much of the wit and careworn bravado of say, Bernard Samson. Given what has happened in South America in the twenty years since this book was written, with the growth of revolutionary movements like FARC in Columbia and the Shining Path in Peru, Deighton's depiction of the impact of revolutionary terrorism on the continent is eerily foretelling.
'Ramon nodded. "When you get down to the truth of it: a revolution runs on money."
Maestro shrugged. "Of course, Just as a government does."
"Just as General Motors does," said Ramon.'
This is the first book published by Deighton's new publishers at the time, Century, having switched first from his initial publishers Jonathan Cape and then Hutchinson, which published the Samson novels. It is one of only two novels of his published by Century, the other being City of Gold.
In the final months of 1941, General Erwin Rommel – commander of the Axis armies in North Africa – begins to receive secret messages about the British Armies that face him. The source of this secret intelligence was not identified to Rommel. In fact, the contents of the messages sent to him were carefully rewritten to prevent anyone guessing the source of these secrets and how they were obtained.
But the messages were startling in their completeness; the dates of arrival of supply ships and their cargoes, the disposition of the allied armies and air forces, the state of their morale and their equipment.
This is the starting scenario for Deighton’s last WWII novel. In the bustling streets of Cairo, British military policeman Albert Cutler face a race against time to find Rommel's agent, before a possible military defeat. But Cutler is not all that he seems.
Why it's enjoyable
It has all the key Deighton elements which you want: military intelligence, hard-bitten soldiers, detailed historical descriptions and a plot with lots of twists and turns. Deighton's knowledge of the Africa campaign in World War Two is renowned; he had elsewhere contributed a number of articles to books covering this part of the war.
What Deighton does bring out well is the obsessions, the betrayals and the worries of his wartime characters, as the pressure of war threatens break down fragile alliances and bonds of friendship and love. Deighton does capture the spirit of wartime Cairo well and its portrayal is evidence of his usual exhaustive research.
'Ross put down his phone and held both hands upon it as if preventing the Brigadier from ringing back. Then he emitted a long deep sigh. "Ponsonby!"
"I'm ready for a large cup of that filthy tea you brew out there."
"I thought you might be, sir. I have one here, nicely drawn and all ready to pour out."
Ponsonby was right. There were times when a large cup of scalding-hot tea, tasting of condensed milk, was the only alternative to jumping off the balcony.'
The endpapers have drawn illustrations of central Cairo and the north Egyptian coast. The cover design of the pyramids is by David O'Connor.
Deighton’s first novel set solely in Los Angeles - perhaps reflecting the fact that he had been living there for a number of years by this time - this is a classic thriller about an LA criminal lawyer Mickey Murphy, someone who appears at first hand to be as seedy as they come, who gets caught up in a murder after helping out an old flame Ingrid Petrovich, who’s connected to some shady business.
There's also her husband Zach, an entrepreneur and self-made millionaire, who's bought into Mickey's law firm. Clearly, there's more to that than meets the eye as Mickey discovers when he gets caught up with an odd English couple and a weird Reverend. He gets embroiled in a scam that goes wrong and the consequences of an LA murder.
Why it's enjoyable
It's a solid thriller, with one of the main characters being LA itself, with its riots, odd lifestyle and fast pace reminiscent of the city on fire after the Rodney King riots. It is very much out of character with much of Deighton's output, having the feel more of an old-school film noir thriller or one of Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled detective novels. Again, what's noticeable - as is the case in many of Deighton's novels, particularly the Game, Set & Match trilogy - is the strong characterisation of the women characters and their centrality to driving the plot forward.
At times, the story and the dialogue has a touch of the pot-boiler to it and can flag in pace, but overall the novel is pretty serviceable and it is interesting to see how Deighton writes outside the conventional thriller and espionage milieu.
'"Hello Zach," I said, getting into the seat alongside him. "What's on your mind?"
"Someone tried to kill me last night." He looked at me with cold gray eyes. I recalled Goldie's warning about being squashed like a bug. No matter how civilised they looked, guys like Petrovich and Westbridge had reached the head of the line by stepping over a lot of inert bodies.
"I know. I was the one who found the bomb."'
The jacket illustration of a classic Cadillac is by Larry Rostant.
This book is, unless things change, the last published full fiction work by Deighton, who was sixty-four when he completed it.
The book, the first of Deighton's to be set in America for over twenty years, was warmly received by critics in the US, with the New York Times commenting positively on the story, written at the time of the LA riots.
Deighton is a novelist first and foremost and that's how he's made his name.
But as a storyteller he has, periodically, sought to tell his stories in shorter forms, either as collections of short stories bound together with a theme of the experiences of the soldier in the front line - Declarations of War - or through one-off stories contributed to as part of a compendium along with other authors.
Indeed, since his last full novel Violent Ward was published in 1994, the two short stories he has contributed to the collections shown below remain his only new fiction output.
Click below to read about the lesser known stories published by Deighton in short form.
This book was Deighton’s only published collection of short stories. Its twelve stories tell the tales of simple soldiery over two millennia, from troops facing Hannibal’s march on Rome to two GI’s in Vietnam stumbling on an abandoned airfield. Also in the collection is a story about two former comrades meeting after twenty years, and the efforts of a civil war general, teased by his men for his short stature, to get his troops to face the Confederate army coming towards them.
The collection developed the idea that war pushes men to act in a de-humanised and mechanised way which can lead them to achieve super-human acts, for good and ill.
Why it's enjoyable
You can feel Deighton’s sympathy in each of these stories for the ‘poor bloody infantry,’ as you read about the impact on individuals of decisions made by generals and leaders often hundreds and thousands of miles away from the front line. What comes across is both the camaraderie and bravery of the frontline soldier, and the sheer bloody awfulness of most war, despite what Hollywood might show.
All the novella are eminently readable and evidently backed up by Deighton's encyclopaedic knowledge of military history. Two of the stories were partly dramatised to illustrate a 1977 documentary interview with Melvyn Bragg.
From the story 'Brent's Deus ex Machina':
'They heard a Lancaster open up to full revs, accelerate along the runway and then totter into the air. The noise made the windows rattle. "Physically," said Gerrard, "you're A1B, as far as I can find: fit for operational pilot duties."
"Actually," admitted Brent, "I don't want to fly again."
"I've done three trips. I saw Gillespie go down over Krefeld, Doc. In flames: it wasn't pretty."
"Everyone knows the feeling of fear, lad."
"But each man does not fly," said Brent.
"You chose to fly," the doctor reasoned.'
The jacket painting on the cover is by Christopher Foss and it depicts characters from all twelve of the stories.
The American edition of the book contains one fewer stories and is entitled Eleven Declarations of War.
Len Deighton makes a single contribution to this collection of spy and thriller stories, produced to mark the eightieth birthday of writer and critic Julian Symons. The book is published by the Detection Club and is edited by writer H.R.F. Keating.
Deighton's short story is called The Man Who Was A Coyote. In it, a border guard on the US-Mexican border, Pete Lopez, has arrested a ‘coyote’ - someone who leads illegal immigrants across the border. But the guard has to change his arrest and charge plans when a rich lawyer enters his office; it's a lawyer with whom he has a history. Other writers contributing stories include Antonia Fraser, Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell.
Why it's enjoyable
There’s little to the story, in truth. Compared with Deighton's full novels, readers may find it a bit lacklustre as - due to its length - there's little opportunity for character development. But you get a picture of how Deighton sees the daily struggle on the US-Mexico border; he of course lives for much of his time in southern California and he certainly feels at home writing about that country's many layers and social problems.
The fly screen banged as the tall man went inside and the taxi driver drew in closer to the tall fence. The driver switched on the radio again and the same music came more softly. Having watched the lawyer going into the hut the three Patrolmen found tasks to keep them busy. Men in business suits usually meant trouble of one sort of another. It was better to leave it with Pete Lopez, the man down there at the desk in the trailer. He knew how to deal with outsiders.
"Hello, Mr Dawson." Lopez was thirty years old, and handsome, with a tanned face and large slightly greying moustache that made him look like the star of some old Hollywood Western.'
Len Deighton contributes a short story called Sherlock Holmes and the Titanic Swindle. An independent publisher, Carl, receives the first two pages of a novel which purports to be a lost Sherlock Holmes novel, set around the sinking of the Titanic.
But how can he be sure? The story develops about how they go about checking its probity and ask themselves: who is the mystery owner of the manuscript? What follows is a mysterious tale of conspiracy, spiritualism and the ultimate answer of what happened to the Titanic
Why it's enjoyable
This is Deighton’s homage to Arthur Conan Doyle; he is a long-time Sherlock Holmes fan. In his introduction he writes how Conan Doyle is equipped to take the reader into the foggy world of Hansom cabs and top hats in Victorian England, a world never satisfactorily re-created by TV or cinema.
There’s a clear link to the Deighton introduction to the earlier facsimile of The Adventures of the Priory School, as Deighton has essentially used the discovery of this facsimile as a platform for a work of fiction. It's also semi-autobiographical too, making reference at times to how writers get exploited by lawyers and publishing firms and his previous research into Sherlock Holmes.
'"Everyone loves Sherlock Holmes," I said. "If it's the real thing this will make the news. Not trade news; bing international headline news and TV."
"The paper looks old," he picked it up and looked and it and smelled it. "But is it Conan Doyle's writing?"
"Well, I don't imagine he would bring us an autograph edition; he may have copied it out."
"You'd think he'd put it on a computer or something."
"Not very secure, computers, Percy. Put something like that on a hard drive and it's only a couple of keystrokes away from going on to the Internet. And into the Public Domain, as you lawyers say. Your - and what did you say his name was? - seems to be a careful chap."
"He says he wants a definite answer, and cash on the table, by the fifteenth of the month."'
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