Author: Len Deighton
Deighton, Len (1981, 2012). XPD. New York: Sterling
PR6054.E37 X18 2012
- “First published in Great Britain by Hutchinson & Co. Ltd. in 1981”–T.p. verso.
Date Updated: November 3, 2015
After the spooky full-scale fantasy of SS-GB, Deighton’s new fiction-history premise—that Churchill met secretly with Hitler in 1940 and almost arranged a highly dishonorable peace—seems very small potatoes; and the plotting this time is pretty thinly conventional all around. But the playful Deighton approach to criss-crossing espionage, never less than diverting, is at its most edgily frivolous here. . . as the announcement of a new Hollywood movie project—about the US Army’s 1945 discovery of Hitler’s treasures and papers, which then all disappeared—sends assorted forces into action. British Intelligence fears that the filmmakers possess those vanished Hitler papers (evidence of Churchill’s secret treason), so sleek, cynical Boyd Stuart is dispatched to L.A. A German pro-democracy group called “the Trust” also wants the papers kept mum (they’d foment neo-Nazism), so they kill the movie-maker and replace him with one of their own—Max Breslow. The KGB wants the papers exposed (unrest in W. Germany is desirable), so KGB agent Willie Kleiber is working with unsuspecting Max. And most flustered of all is wealthy Californian Charlie Stein—the ex-G.I. who masterminded that theft of the Hitler stash (loot and documents): Charlie and his old buddies, who started a private Swiss bank with the loot and still have those Hitler papers hidden away, fear that their 1945 crime will be revealed; furthermore, their bank has been sabotaged (by “the Trust”), so they have to consider selling the Hitler papers to get millions in bail-out cash. A complicated set-up? You bet. And eventually the CIA will also get into the act. But most of the focus falls on Britisher Stuart—who, dodging dead bodies (the Trust kills anyone who knows about the Hitler papers), tries to figure out who’s who among the agents and tries to get the papers from Charlie: the Brits even kidnap Charlie’s spoiled-rich-kid son. And the busy finale has the CIA kidnapping the KGB agent. . . while Charlie tries to escape with the papers, is held prisoner by the KGB, and ends up in fatal revenge-attack on Max Breslow at the movie studio where actors are auditioning for the role of Hitler (cf. Mel Brooks’ The Producers). Fairly silly stuff, a tad too multi-angled for its own good—and the pace slows down a bit whenever flashbacks or explanations of the international motives take over. Still, notwithstanding Deighton’s tin ear for US speech, the characters and dialogue and atmosphere are all dandily offbeat; and the interplay of fanciful history with deadly-real detail (“XPD” means “expedient demise”) will keep Deighton fans just how he likes them—amused, intrigued, but just a little uncomfortable.