Len Deighton's Continental Dossier, UK First Edition, 1968

Len Deighton's Continental Dossier: a collection of cultural, culinary, historical, spooky, grim & preposterous fact - 1968


Technically speaking, this is not a Deighton book even though it has his name plastered over the front cover. It is subtitled 'A collection of culinary, historical, spooky, grim & preposterous fact compiled by Victor & Margaret Pettitt'. Victor and Margaret Pettitt were former colleagues of Deighton's at the St Martin's College of Art in London, and the book is derived from notes they made in the 'fifties travelling across Europe.

This is a collection of trans-continental driving routes recommended by Deighton reaching across different parts of Europe. Each points out the local sights, culture and - not surprisingly, as we have come to expect - the local food and drink.

A typical entry is a detailed driving route from Venice to Florence, on which each local beauty spot, top restaurant or historical setting is pointed out. These are the sort of long car journeys one would have taken in an e-Type Jaguar during the 'sixties, sweeping around majestic mountain passes. It is an extensive guide offering over 50 different routes right across Western Europe (this was pre-fall of the Berlin Wall, of course).

Why it's interesting

Len Deighton put his name to the book, contributed the foreword and had some editorial input but this doesn’t read like a ‘Len Deighton’ book; it is more of a joint design project done as a way to support the incredible work the Pettitt's did in identifying the hidden gems of continental Europe.

Deighton recounts in the introduction the enormous type-setting and design challenges of making all the maps works effectively across the page. As a commentary on a Europe now lost - of fewer busy roads, a more open attitude, less bureaucracy, the Cold War, peasant cooking - it’s charming, and the recommended routes for the drives still rate as some of the best in Europe. One can regard it as a follow-up to the London Dossier, but its a completely different beast altogether and not as entertaining a read.

Also, the first edition has an obvious grammatical error in the sub-title - can you spot it?

Sample text

'Parma: destroyed by Mark Anthony because Cassius (one of Julius Caesar's murderders) was born here. Known as Julia in Caesar's time it was renamed Augusta during Augustus' reign. Later capital of a famous duchy - Napoleon's Marie-Louise became Duchess of Parma after 1815. Stendahl lived here for a while-(wrote 'La Chartreuse de Parme'). Specialities: 'prosciutto di Parma' = ham. 'Parmagiano' = Parmesan cheese - used throughout Italy to sprinkle over soups, pasta, etc. Parma violets.'

All content (c) Rob Mallows 2010-2016 (unless otherwise stated)