Title:                      XPD

Author:                 Len Deighton

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

LCCN:    2012462578

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[2], 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.

[1] KIRKUS Reviews, downloaded November 3, 2015

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

Dr. No

Title:                      Dr. No

Author:                 Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (1958, 1968). Dr. No. London: Cape

LCCN:    58025176

PZ4.F598 Do


Date Posted:      October 5, 2015

Dr. No is the sixth novel in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape on 31 March 1958. The story centers on Bond’s investigation into the disappearance in Jamaica of a fellow MI6 operative, Commander John Strangways and his secretary, Mary Trueblood. He establishes that Strangways had been investigating Dr. No, a Chinese operator of a guano mine on the Caribbean island of Crab Key; Bond travels to the island to investigate further. It is on Crab Key that Bond first finds Honeychile Rider and then Dr. No himself.

The novel was originally a screenplay written in 1956 for producer Henry Morgenthau III for what would have been a television show entitled Commander Jamaica. When those plans did not come to fruition, Fleming adapted the ideas to form the basis of the novel, which he originally titled The Wound Man. The book’s eponymous villain was influenced by Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories.

Dr. No was the first of Fleming’s novels to receive large-scale negative criticism in Britain, with Paul Johnson of the New Statesman writing his review about the “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism” of the story. When the book was released into the American market it was generally received more favorably.

Dr. No was serialized in the Daily Express newspaper in both written and comic strip format. It was also the first James Bond feature film of the Eon Productions series, released in 1962 and starring Sean Connery; the most recent adaptation was a BBC Radio version, broadcast in 2008.

After recovering from tetrodotoxin poisoning inflicted by the SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb (see From Russia, with Love[1]) MI6 agent James Bond is sent by his superior, M, on a “rest cure” to Jamaica. Whilst there his task is a simple assignment to investigate the disappearance of Commander John Strangways, the head of MI6 Station J in Kingston, Jamaica, and his secretary.

Bond is briefed that Strangways had been investigating the activities of Dr. Julius No, a reclusive Chinese-German who lives on Crab Key and runs a guano mine; the island is said to be the home of a vicious dragon, and has a colony of roseate spoonbills at one end. The spoonbills are protected by the National Audubon Society, two of whose representatives had died when their plane crashed on Dr. No’s airstrip. On his arrival in Jamaica, Bond soon realizes that he is being watched, as his hotel room is searched, a basket of poisoned fruit is delivered to his hotel room (supposedly a gift from the colonial governor) and a deadly centipede is placed in his bed while he is sleeping.

With the help of his old friend Quarrel, Bond visits Crab Key to establish if there is a connection between Dr. No and Strangways’ disappearance. There he and Quarrel meet Honeychile Rider, who visits the island to collect valuable shells. Bond and Honey are captured by No’s men after Quarrel is burned to death by the doctor’s “dragon” –a flamethrowing armored swamp buggy to keep away trespassers.

Bond discovers that Dr. No is also working with the Russians and has built an elaborate underground facility from which he can sabotage American missile tests at nearby Cape Canaveral. No had previously been a member of a Chinese Tong, but after he stole a large amount of money from their treasury, he was captured by the organization, whose leaders had his hands cut off as a sign of punishment for theft, and then ordered him shot. The Tong thought they shot him through the heart. However, because No’s heart was on the right side of his body (dextrocardia), the bullet missed his heart and he survived. Interested in the ability of the human body to withstand and survive pain, No forces Bond to navigate his way through an obstacle course constructed in the facility’s ventilation system. He is kept under regular observation, suffering electric shocks, burns and an encounter with large poisonous spiders along the way. The ordeal ends in a fight against a captive giant squid, which Bond defeats by using improvised and stolen objects made into weapons. After his escape, he encounters Honey from her ordeal where she had been pegged out to be eaten by crabs; the crabs ignored her and she had managed to make good her own escape.

Bond kills Dr. No by taking over the guano-loading machine at the docks and diverting the guano flow from it to bury the villain alive. Bond and Honey then escape from No’s complex in the dragon buggy.

[1] Fleming, Ian (1957, 1981). From Russia with Love. Geneva: Edito-Service


Title:                      Moonraker

Author:                  Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (1955). Moonraker. London: J. Cape

LCCN:    55044656

PZ4.F598 Mo


Date Posted:      October 5, 2015

Moonraker is usually viewed as hack writing. Bond aficionados, however, find it interesting. Here is one positive review.

A review from borg.com[1]

You may find Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel, Moonraker, to be a surprising, refreshing read for several reasons.

First, it is new to those who have only watched the movie adaptations. Moonraker the novel has very little relationship to the 11th Bond film, starring Roger Moore, where Moore’s Bond is trying to prevent a global conspiracy involving the Space Shuttle.

Second, Bond is humanized. The impressive perfection of Bond in Casino Royale[2] is smoothed out and Ian Fleming, after two other Bond novels, is easing into this super spy’s mystique, his aura, and the nature of this suave and sophisticated man of mystery. The uncomfortable 1950s racial elements of Live and Let Die[3] are thankfully completely absent here. Here we see Bond at home, Bond buying a car, Bond’s daily life as Agent 007, including reviewing forms as any government analyst might do. We get to see that Bond’s life, outside the novels, is routine. It’s a Bond you may never thought you would get to see, if all you have seen are the films.

Third, Hugo Drax is a fantastic villain. Even James Bond admires Drax and acknowledges it to other characters throughout Moonraker. Bond’s preoccupation with Drax’s looks, his facial hair and the odd close-cut workers and their own myriad variety of moustaches is simply intriguing.

Fourth, we get to see Bond commiserate away from the Secret Service offices with M himself. M invites Bond to an exclusive club called Blades, one of the most perfectly described locations in the Bond universe. One might think we’ve seen Bond already do the card game bit in Casino Royale, yet Moonraker‘s card war is strangely epic.

Fifth, you’ll find some classic supporting villains that could be found in classic Hollywood mystery stories, including Krebs, a Wormtongue-toady type who at one time could have been played smartly by Peter Lorre. There’s even a classic mad scientist.

Moonraker finds Bond summoned to M’s office where M proceeds to explain the need for a personal favor. A certain member of the oldest gentleman’s club in all of jolly old England has been caught cheating at cards. What kind of a man–a man who could afford to play the highest stakes of games in a club so exclusive only 200 members are ever allowed on the roster–would risk his reputation and membership on such arrogance and stupidity?

M calls on Bond because he is known around the service as the card player to beat, with a background knowledge of every trick in the book, and Fleming goes to some lengths in explaining the games and the ruses, not in any overdone way but just enough to immerse the reader in Bond’s world. The club has the high-brow feel of the club of Duke and Duke in Trading Places, and throughout the novel I wondered if any of Moonraker’s vivid descriptions directly inspired movie script locations like the exclusive Bushwood Country Club in Caddyshack.

It doesn’t take long for Bond to figure out a way to foil the great cheating millionaire. But this millionaire, Sir Hugo Drax, is key to the British government’s most important pet project–he is the mind behind the Moonraker missile project. Moonraker is Great Britain’s first nuclear weapon and the future of the UK’s national defense system. The significance of the first test of said missile causes M to pull Bond in when a member of the security team is killed at the launch site. Bond takes over the role, which forces him to work one on one with Drax.

At first Bond loathes Drax and continuously finds ways to criticize him to M, yet once he follows Drax to examine his new creation he is rightly impressed with his ability to pull together a team of researchers and support staff, including 50 Germans, to complete this monumental project. His work on site causes him to partner with the obligatory Bond girl of this novel, Gala Brand, a Scotland Yard agent posing as Drax’s personal assistant.

Moonraker is full of good action scenes–Bond chasing after Brand when she is kidnapped, Bond and Brand hiding with the missile silo walls, more than one murder attempt against Bond, the grand card game, and uncovering the secret purpose of the Moonraker rocket. Where Casino Royale was exciting from a plot standpoint but not so much in-depth as far as character is concerned, and where Live and Let Die is now somewhat dated, Ian Fleming’s writing in Moonraker is vivid, rich, and compelling.

Moonraker would be ideal as a film remake today. With Dame Judith Dench as M, it would be fascinating to see how Bond could be a friend of sorts assisting M after hours on more of a social mission than a political one. And translating the V-2-inspired rocket and Cold War themes into something compelling today would be a fun challenge for the keepers of the James Bond mantle.

[1] See “Retro review—Moonraker, Fleming’s third James Bond novel,” (August 31, 2012). http://borg.com/2012/08/31/retro-review-moonraker-flemings-third-james-bond-novel/ Downloaded October 5, 2015

[2] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

[3] Fleming, Ian (1954). Live and Let Die. London: J. Cape

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


  • 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.

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


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


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