Catch a Falling Spy


Title:                      Catch a Falling Spy

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1976). Catch a Falling Spy. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovan

LCCN:    76018248

PZ4.D324 Cat3

Notes

  • Originally published in England under the title Twinkle twinkle little spy

Date Posted:      September 30, 2015

A Russian scientist defects, believing that in the West, he will more easily realize his dream of contacting planets in outer space. But British Intelligence and the CIA have more worldly plans for him. Spies and counter-spies play the game, leaving a trail of blood, that starts off in the awesome emptiness and remorseless heat of the Sahara to Manhattan, Paris, Dublin and back across Africa.

The story is well written and keeps you guessing until the end, on which side the characters ally with. With a few twists and turns along the way. Deighton doesn’t waste his time writing too descriptively. His spies are more”’down to Earth spies” compared with the James Bond ones. The story is reminiscent of what it was like growing up during the Cold War.

Yesterday’s Spy


Title:                      Yesterday’s Spy

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1975). Yesterday’s Spy. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

LCCN:    75012609

PZ4.D324 Ye3

Date Posted:      September 29, 2015

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

Yesterday’s spies, a lot more recognizable than today’s acronym ciphers, neither die nor fade away; often they’re just too hard to kill. Even if they’re as flagrant as Steve Champion, who thirty years ago had been a legendary part of a Resistance reseau[2] and lost three fingers, one by one, to the Germans. Now, having converted guns into cash, Steve is said to be living in a fortified villa in Nice surrounded by quietly footpadding Arabs; he wears a fez. . . he’s selling a nuclear device to the Middle East? Charlie Bonnard, a former confederate whose life he once saved, is recruited by British Intelligence where Dawlish still presides. Charlie is supposed to flush him out and bring him in after a pretty young British operative is killed. But Champion has enemies all over: the old Jew from the reseau who deals in stamps and other kinds of cancellations; Steve’s ex-wife’s sister who hates him or loves him or more probably both. Only Charlie manages to retain a certain loyalty toward Champion compounded with a kind of disbelief, because of the man that he once was. This is a much better justification for the book than the hyped-up action and sophisticated automated equipment. It also lends an aura of acrid romanticism to Deighton’s impregnable loner in a devalued modern world. Yesterday’s spy is more of an agent for all seasons than any Deighton has used in recent years, adding a certain dimension to the form-fitting genre.

[1] KIRKUS  reviews, downloaded September 24, 2015

[2] Réseau is French for a network or grid, thus a spy or intelligence network, especially in the French resistance movement during the German occupation in World War II.

An Expensive Place to Die


Title:                      An Expensive Place to Die

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1967). An Expensive Place to Die. London: Cape

LCCN:    67087897

PZ4.D324 Ex2

Subjects

Date Posted:      September 28, 2015

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

Deighton’s unidentified English operator, even if he looks exactly like Michael Caine, is in Paris and this new cat and rat chase isn’t quite so complicated as Funeral in Berlin[2], or The Billion Dollar Brain[3], or even the Metro. There he attempts to get the data on Datt, a psychedelic psychiatrist who runs a private clinic where there are all kinds of kinky sexual activities, and where, under drugs, he can open you up “like a cheap watch.” Then there’s Inspector Loiseau; Maria who had been Loiseau’s wife and is Datt’s illegitimate daughter; a painter-pimp; and others. Even without the snappy impudence (particularly in the dialogue) of the other ones, this goes right along without any detente and it should be expedited to a wide market which will read it now, see it later.

[1] KIRKUS review, downloaded September 23, 2015

[2] Deighton, Len (1964). Funeral in Berlin. New York, Putnam

[3] Deighton, Len (1966). The Billion Dollar Brain. New York: Putnam

The Billion Dollar Brain


Title:                      The Billion Dollar Brain

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1966). The Billion Dollar Brain. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    66010466

PR6054.E37 B4

Date Posted:      September 25, 2015

KIRKUS REVIEW

The Billion Dollar Brain belongs to a powerful private intelligence unit and the data Deighton has programmed it with is much more fantastically complex than anything he used in The IPCRESS File[1] or Funeral in Berlin[2]. Actually it’s Goldfinger gadgetry. It begins with the attempt to unscramble some eggs which are smeared on the body of a Finnish journalist in Helsinki; it ends with the defection of a free-lancing American agent to Russia; and it includes, on a breathless tracer from London to Leningrad to New York, a rigid Russian Colonel Stok, a kittenish tiger, a mad Rightist playing his game of world monopoly at an installation in Texas, and of course the impervious “I” who tells the story which starts with a real stopper—“It was the morning of my hundredth birthday.” …… We’re not computing—this kind of entertainment is just as much a matter of timing as taste—but Deighton’s electronic tinkertoy is Smersh-ingly good fun, a bang up, bang bang affair.

[1] Deighton, Len (1962). The IPCRESS File. New York, Simon and Schuster

[2] Deighton, Len (1964). Funeral in Berlin. New York, Putnam

Horse Under Water


Title:                      Horse Under Water

Author:                  Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1963). Horse Under Water. London, J. Cape

LCCN:    66048302

PZ4.D324 Ho

Date Posted:      September 23, 2015

Horse Under Water is the second of four Len Deighton spy novels featuring an unnamed British agent protagonist (named Harry Palmer in the film adaptions). It was preceded by The IPCRESS File[1] and followed by Funeral in Berlin.[2]

The novel is set in 1960, mostly in a small fishing village in Portugal, which was then a dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar. It retains the style of The IPCRESS File—multiple plots twists, Gauloises cigarettes, grimy, and soot-stained British winter.

In common with several of Deighton’s other early novels, the chapter headings have a running theme. In Horse Under Water these are crossword puzzle clues, reflecting the protagonist’s habit of endlessly writing and replacing words in crossword puzzles.

The first edition of Horse Under Water published by Jonathan Cape was shorter than the later Penguin edition, which included a detailed description of the anonymous British agent’s diving course, and also introduced characters later seen in the book, such as Chief Petty Officer Edwardes.

The plot centers on retrieving items from a Type XXI U-boat sunk off the Portuguese coast in the last days of World War II. Initially, the items are forged British and American currency, for financing a revolution in Portugal on the cheap. Later, it switches to heroin (the “Horse” of the title), and eventually it is revealed that the true interest is in the “Weiss list”—a list of Britons prepared to help the Third Reich set up a puppet government in Britain, should Germany prevail. Thrown into the mix is secret “ice melting” technology, which could be vital to the missile submarines then beginning to hide under the Arctic sea ice.

[1] Deighton, Len (1962). The IPCRESS File. New York, Simon and Schuster

[2] Deighton, Len (1964). Funeral in Berlin. New York, Putnam

Funeral in Berlin


Title:                      Funeral in Berlin

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1964). Funeral in Berlin. New York, Putnam

LCCN:    65010849

PZ4.D324 Fu

Subjects

Date Posted:      September 22, 2015

This is Len Deighton’s third of four spy novels with a nameless hero from Burnley, Lancashire, who in the film versions is called Harry Palmer. It takes place between 5 October and 10 November 1963. [JFK was killed 12 days later.] The Berlin Wall had been built a little over two years before. There are Berlin-related newspaper headlines on the first and last pages of the book. The Six Day War was some three and a half years off, but some early stirrings appear in this book.

Tense times in Europe and busy days for its guilds of spies. Harry Palmer’s travails take him to France, East and West Berlin and Czechoslovakia. He meets with people with an often active WWII past: old and new spies and double agents, a Treblinka survivor, a former German general, etc., some of whom will return in other Harry Palmer adventures. The tone is set from p. 1 with Harry Palmer, working for the civilian spy agency WOOC(P), visiting the eccentric Home Office official Hallam in his cramped living quarters.

Some reviewers argue whether the Harry Palmer novels are Deighton’s best or not. My view is that the later spy books are more even, slower, with more plausible plots and less fun. His early preoccupation with WWII, science and technology gave way to epic searches for traitors and moles. The charm of his early books is that they are fast-paced, iconoclastic, with plausible and wildly improbable parts and uneven re quality of dialogue.

One cannot deny that some of the characters and atmosphere are brilliantly drawn. It was prophetic in letting a character long for a color TV with remote control, or Harry Palmer’s weird boss Dawlish pondering about how normalizing the legal status of gays would ease his job. [Such reforms followed from 1967 onward, too late for hapless, blackmailed Hallam]. It is, at times, very funny too: brands Len Deighton hates such as Nescafé and Omo [a cleaning brand] are trashed time and again.

See the entry at IPCRESS File[1] for a listing of all of Len Deighton’s spy books.

[1] Deighton, Len (1962). The IPCRESS File. New York, Simon and Schuster

The IPCRESS File


Title:                      The IPCRESS File

Author:                 Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1962). The IPCRESS File. New York, Simon and Schuster

LCCN:    63015370

PZ4.D324 Ip

Subjects

Date Updated:  January 11, 2016

Review by Nicolas Tredell[1]

Like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Len Deighton’s first novel, The Ipcress File, starts in London, moves out of England through a network that follows the contours of global power, and returns finally to the capital. But Deighton’s narrator, an unnamed intelligence agent, begins his tale, not on a cruising yawl in the Thames, but in a Sheraton chair in a government minister’s well-appointed flat overlooking Trafalgar Square. Edward Milward-Oliver’s Len Deighton Companion[2] (1987) suggests “Ipcress Man” as the most appropriate way to refer to this nameless narrator but we will abbreviate it to “I.”in this article, for the sake of concision and also because it sounds the same as the first-person pronoun Deighton’s storyteller uses and, in its similarity to “K.”, the initial used to designate Franz Kafka’s protagonist Josef K. in The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926), suggests that I.’s battle with disorientation and misdirection has a Kafkaesque quality, reinscribed in a London-based spy story”.

In his tale to the minister, which is supposed to be the basis of the book we are reading, I. retraces an itinerary that takes him across London districts (for example, Whitehall, Fitzrovia, Soho, Shoreditch) and out of England to Beirut, Tokwe Atoll in the Pacific, and, apparently, to a prison in Hungary, then part of the Soviet-dominated Eastern bloc. But times have changed since the 1890s and this is not Conrad’s London, hub of a mighty empire, but post World War Two London, the faltering heart of a fading imperium, where the USA has displaced British power and the flight of Burgess and Maclean to Moscow in 1951 has partly revealed the duplicity within an intelligence service supposedly pledged to protect national integrity.

Len Deighton knew London well; he grew up in Marylebone, went to St Martin’s School of Art in Charing Cross Road and the Royal College of Art, and lived for a while in Soho. But he also knew from experience the filaments that linked London to distant places across the globe. He had worked for a year as an airline steward on BOAC’s long-haul routes to Africa, Japan and Australia, at a time when crews had long stopovers at many places–for example in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, a place of which, according to Deighton, few people had then heard and which provided the setting for one of the key out-of-London settings of the novel. For the other out-of-London setting in Ipcress, Tokwe Atoll, Deighton drew on research and imagination.

I.s’ story starts in December but is not dated to a specific year. At the start of chapter 13, however, he describes a colleague as a man “who, had he been a few years younger, would have made a John Osborne hero”. John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square on 8 May 1956, so, by this reference, the earliest starting-date for I.’s narrative is December 1956.

1956 was also the year in which the Clean Air Act was passed, in belated response to London’s Great Smog of 1952, and the London of Ipcress helps to show the need for that Act: it is a grey-on-grey city, yet to experience the polychromatic pyrotechnics of Swinging London and the later refurbishments of monuments and buildings that, like gigantic tooth-descalings, returned them to a simulacrum of their pristine whiteness.

On the day I. is to start his new job, he draws back his curtains after getting up and finds “December in London–the soot-covered tree outside was whipping itself into a frenzy”. A month or so afterwards, he walks towards Soho on “that sort of January morning that had enough sunshine to point up the dirt without raising the temperature”. This is an anti-lyrical London with sooty trees and soiled sunshine.

Later in the novel, he gazes blankly out one cold April morning “across the chimneys, crippled and hump-backed, the shiny sloping roofs, back-yards of burgeoning trees and flowering sheets and shirts”. If the “crippled and hump-backed” chimneys are an idiosyncratic personification in a Dickensian mode, they are too cramped and static to permit of Dickens’ exuberant amplification, while the “flowering sheets and shirts” are ironic in the manner sometimes found in T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land (1922), in which natural processes, in the “Unreal City” of London, shrivel into artificial ones (“She smooths her hair with automatic hand”).

  1. starts his main narrative with his change of job from Military to Civilian Intelligence, specifically to “one of the smallest and most important of the Intelligence units–WOOC(P)”. (We never learn what the letters stand for.) This involves a move from Westminster to Fitzrovia. I. first goes to the War Office–or, as he sometimes more colloquially calls it, the War House–in Whitehall. “It had always made me feel a little self-conscious saying “War Office” to cab drivers; at one time I had asked for the pub in Whitehall, or said “I’ll tell you when to stop,” just to avoid having to say it”.

This self-consciousness is one mark of I.’s uneasiness in assuming the upper middle-class manner of most of his colleagues. In the War Office, he takes leave of his former boss, Ross, and moves across London to the premises of his new boss, Dalby. “Dalby’s place is in one of those sleazy long streets in Soho, if Soho had the strength to cross Oxford Street”. This sense of an enervated Bohemia, unable to extend beyond its own area, reinforces the sense of decline in the novel.

The street turns out to be Charlotte Street, site of the Fitzroy Tavern (where I. once takes a drink), the pub whose name provided the basis for the dubbing of the district as “Fitzrovia” and the launching of a claim to a distinctive identity of its own rather than being simply a failed continuation of Soho. But this term is not used in the novel, as if to rebut any such claim. Charlotte Street has

a new likely-looking office conversion wherein the unwinking blue neon glows even at summer midday, but […] Dalby’s department is next door. His is dirtier than average, with a genteel profusion of well-worn brass work, telling of the existence of “The Ex-Officers” Employment Bureau. Est 1917”; “Acme Films Cutting Rooms”; “B. Isaacs. Tailor–Theatrical a Specialty”; “Dalby Inquiry Bureau–staffed by ex-Scotland Yard detectives”.

In fact WOOC(P) occupies the whole house and these businesses are fronts for its operations.

The boss of WOOC(P) is Dalby (no forename supplied). Dalby’s responsibility is direct to the Cabinet and he is “almost as powerful as anyone gets in this business”. He is “an elegant languid public school Englishman”, blond-haired and over six feet tall, who has been to a German university in the late 1930s and, unusually in the Intelligence Service, won a DSO and bar in 1941. There is some class-based friction with I., who comes from Burnley and, we infer, attended a grammar school, and who ironically alludes more than once to his lack of a classical education and smokes Gauloises.

  1. also differs physically from Dalby, as we learn when I. finds some images in another man’s wallet that he is rifling:

The other three photos were also passport style–full face, profile and three-quarter positions of a dark-haired, round-faced character; deep sunk eyes with bags under horn-rimmed glasses, chin jutting and cleft. On the back of the photos was written “5ft 11in; muscular inclined to overweight. No visible scar tissue; hair dark brown, eyes blue”. I looked at the familiar face again. I knew the eyes were blue, even though the photograph was in black and white. I’d seen the face before; most mornings I shaved it.

This combination, in its supposed hero, of Northern provenance, a grammar-school education, an absence of classical learning, baggy eyes, horn-rimmed glasses, a tendency to carry too much weight and a preference for Gauloises helped to make The Ipcress File seem, on its first appearance, like an anti-Bond novel, an abrasive counter to the class-burnished self-assurance of Ian Fleming’s hero. But in his introduction to the Silver Jubilee edition of Ipcress, Deighton denies any intention to make the book “a working-class crusade against private school education” and expresses sympathy with those who had to cope with his chippy protagonist.

While there are indeed differences between the Bond books and Ipcress, there are also likenesses. Both seem to offer the privileged cognitive access to a concealed world epitomized in the first line of one of the epigraphs to Ipcress, from Shakespeare’s Henry IV 1: “And now I will unclasp a secret book”. Deighton’s narrator also converges with Bond in his appreciation of good food. When Dalby treats his new recruit to lunch at Wilton’, a venerable Jermyn Street restaurant, established in 1742, that exists to this day, I. takes a gourmet’s pleasure in the “iced Israeli melon, sweet, tender and cold like the blonde waitress”, the lobster salad and the “carefully-made mayonnaise”, even if his more usual lunch venue is “the sandwich bar in Charlotte Street, where I played a sort of rugby scrum each lunchtime with only two PhDs, three physicists and a medical research specialist for company, standing up to toasted bacon sandwich and a cup of stuff that resembles coffee in no aspect but price”.

I.’s first assignment for Dalby is to try to track down a British biochemist, codenamed Raven (all subjects of long-term surveillance have bird names). The Home Office has informed Dalby that Raven has gone missing that morning. He is the eighth top-ranking scientist to disappear in six-and-a-half weeks. Dalby believes that if his unit can find Raven, the Home Secretary will disband his own intelligence department and hand over their files to WOOC(P), an acquisition for which Dalby devoutly wishes. A man codenamed Jay, whom I. has seen with his minder, Housemartin, on covertly shot film, may be masterminding the disappearances. Dalby assigns I. the task of buying back Raven from Jay or whoever else has him and authorizes him to offer £18,000, with the option of going up to £23,000.

  1. meets Jay and Housemartin in a Soho café called Lederer’s, “one of those continental-style coffee-houses where coffee comes in a glass”. Its customers, “who mostly think of themselves as clientele, are those smooth-rugged characters with sun-lamp complexions, half a dozen 10in by 8in glossies, an agent and more time than money on their hands”. Jay’s head touches “the red flocked wallpaper between the notice that told customers not to expect dairy cream in their pastries and the one that cautioned them against passing betting slips”. Today these details are redolent of a past era in which coffee in a glass was an exotic novelty, actors marketed themselves by means of glossy photographic prints rather than on the web, pastries were often filled with artificial cream, and there were no betting shops.
  2. tells Jay he has a financial proposition for him, and Jay and Housemartin take him to what Jay says is a place where they can talk: the narrative offers a montage of I.’s visual impressions and jaundiced thoughts as they walk along Wardour Street:

the three of us trailed out along Wardour Street, Jay in the lead. The lunch hour in central London–the traffic was thick and most of the pedestrians the same. We walked past grim-faced soldiers in photo-shop windows. Stainless-steel orange squeezers and moron-manipulated pin-tables metronoming away the sunny afternoon in long thin slices of boredom. Through wonderlands of wireless entrails from the little edible condensers to gutted radar receivers for thirty-nine and six. On, shuffling past plastic chop suey, big-bellied naked girls and “Luncheon Vouchers Accepted” notices, until we paused before a wide illustrated doorway–“Vicki from Montmarte” [sic] and “Striptease in the Snow” said the freshly-painted signs. “Danse de Desir–Non Stop Striptease Revue” and the little yellow bulbs winked lecherously in the dusty sunlight.

Inside, left alone by Jay and Housemartin, I. decides to explore the premises by himself and finds an upstairs room whose floor is studded with six armor-glass panels, looking like mirrors from below, for covert observation of the gaming room beneath. Looking through the central panels, I. sees Raven lying unconscious on a gaming table. He takes a huge typewriter from an office nearby, drops it through the glass and descends through the hole it has made into the gaming room; but Housemartin has taken Raven away and I. has to make a quick exit when the police raid the premises.

Dalby takes I. to Beirut where, in a bold and brutal ambush, they retrieve Raven; but in the process I. inadvertently kills two American agents. Back in London, a Scotland Yard acquaintance tips him off that a man posing as a police inspector is in custody at Shoreditch Police Station. I. hurries there only to find that Jay’s accomplices, posing as I.’s colleagues, have got there first. He finds the arrested man dead in his cell; it is Housemartin. I. learns from the policeman who arrested him that Housemartin may have come from a big secluded house that has recently undergone alteration. I. orders a raid on this house at 42 Acacia Drive, “a wide wet street in one of those districts where the suburbs creep stealthily in towards Central London”, but the house is empty.

As the quest for Jay seems to founder, Dalby invites I., and I.’s new and attractive assistant Jean Tonnesen, to go with him to the Pacific island of Tokwe Atoll to witness the test explosion of a neutron bomb. There, I. starts to realize he is suspected of being a double agent and he is arrested after allegedly being in contact with a Soviet surveillance submarine and killing a young US soldier by connecting a metal watch tower where he is on guard to a high tension power line. He is treated as a traitor and roughly interrogated by the Americans. He then finds himself in a prison which is, he is told, in Hungary. Here his rough physical and mental treatment is intensified.

  1. does, however, succeed in getting back to London (it would be a spoiler for those who have not read the novel or seen the film to reveal how), and he does finally uncover a mass brainwashing network which relies on the “Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex with Stress”–the basis of the word “Ipcress”. The destruction of this network provides a further revelation near the end of the book, which again we will not disclose here.

The film version of Ipcress (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie, starred Michael Caine as its protagonist, who was called “Harry Palmer”. In the context of London fictions, its most notable difference from the novel is it has no excursions to Beirut or Tokwe Atoll. It is set almost wholly in London, apart from one

The following are spy novels by Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1962). The IPCRESS File. New York, Simon and Schuster

Deighton, Len (1963). Horse Under Water. London, J. Cape

Deighton, Len (1964). Funeral in Berlin. New York, Putnam

1966       Deighton, Len (1966). The Billion Dollar Brain. New York: Putnam

1967       Deighton, Len (1967). An Expensive Place to Die. London: Cape

1974       Deighton, Len (1974). Spy Story. London, Cape

1975       Deighton, Len (1975). Yesterday’s Spy. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

1976       Deighton, Len (1976). Catch a Falling Spy. New York : Harcourt Brace Jovan

1978       Deighton, Len (1978, 2012). SS-GB. New York: Sterling Publishing

1981       Deighton, Len (1981, 2012). XPD. New York: Sterling

1982       Deighton, Len (1982, 2012). Goodbye, Mickey Mouse. New York: Sterling

1983       Deighton, Len (1983, 2012). Berlin Game. New York: Sterling

1984       Deighton, Len (1984, 2012). Mexico Set. New York: Sterling

1985       Deighton, Len (1985, 2012). London Match. New York: Sterling

1987       Winter

1988       Spy Hook

1989       Spy Line

1990       Spy Sinker

1991       MAMista

1992       City of Gold

1993       Violent Ward

1993       Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II

1994 – Pests. A limited edition of just 226 copies. This play was written just after Deighton completed The Ipcress File and was broadcast as Long Past Glory by ABC on 17 November 1963.[18]

1994       Faith

1995       Hope

1996       Charity

2006       Sherlock Holmes and the Titanic Swindle (short story included in The Detection Club anthology The Verdict of Us All, edited by Peter Lovesey; later reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best British Mysteries, edited by Maxim Jakubowski)

2012 – James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father. A non-fiction e-book.

[1] Nicolas Tredell in London Fictions. Tredell is a freelance writer. He has served as editor of Palgrave’s Essential Criticism series and formerly taught literature and film at Sussex University. His website is at http://nicolastredell.co.uk/

[2] Milward-Oliver, Edward (1987). The Len Deighton Companion. London: Grafton Books [LCCN: 88109917]