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


Title:                      Goldfinger

Author:                  Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (1981). Goldfinger. Geneva: Edito-Service

LCCN:    82191122

PR6056.L4 G64 1981


Date Posted:      August 10, 2015

As the seventh novel in Ian Fleming’s Bond series opens, Commander James Bond, Agent 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, sits in a Miami airport waiting to fly home from his most recent assignment.

When his plane is delayed for 48 hours, Bond accepts an offer from a wealthy acquaintance to investigate whether or not the man is being cheated at cards. The pay for this small service is to be 10,000 pounds.

The man is playing cards with Auric Goldfinger, the wealthy owner of a pawnshop/metallurgical empire. Keeping careful watch on Goldfinger’s hotel room, Bond soon discovers the cheater’s method and forces him to give all of the money back. Just to rub his nose in it, Bond also whisks Goldfinger’s secretary off for a few nights of mating.

Returning to London, Bond is soon assigned to investigate Goldfinger, who, in addition to being a cheat, is also the biggest gold-smuggler in England. Goldfinger is so wealthy, in fact, that the British government fears his machinations’ effect on the nation’s gold-standard.

Tracking Goldfinger from London to Sandwich and across the Channel to the continent, Bond repeatedly crosses swords with the criminal, first over a tense game of golf, then in all-out combat at Goldfinger’s factory in Switzerland.

Captured by Goldfinger and his bodyguard Oddjob, a Korean with a black-belt in karate and the world’s deadliest piece of headgear, Bond is nonetheless able to infiltrate his nemesis’ organization and discover the truth about Goldfinger’s most audacious plot yet: with the help of the nation’s top hoodlums, a gang of beautiful lesbian thieves, and a tactical nuclear bomb, Goldfinger intends to rob $15 billion worth of gold from Fort Knox!

The review of this Book prepared by James Craver

Live and Let Die

Title:                      Live and Let Die

Author:                 Ian Fleming

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

LCCN:    54036543

PZ4.F598 Li



  • The second James Bond adventure; follows Casino Royale and precedes Moonraker.

Date Posted:      August 10, 2015

James Bond, on a trail of revenge from the Casino Royale, is sent to New York to get a line on Mr. Big, a Negro criminal and Soviet agent who is disbursing coins from the pirate Morgan’s treasure. Picked up and almost off in Harlem, Bond is introduced to Mr. Big’s brutal refinements, saved by his girl, Solitaire, and escapes to Florida where his associate meets a dreadful death. On to Jamaica, Bond completes his mission underwater and in spite of sharks and barracuda and Mr. Big—comes up alive. Bloodshot.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Title:                      Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Author:                David Michaels

Michaels, David (2004). Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell New York: Berkley Books

OCLC:    57196540



  • Based on Ubi Soft’s bestselling game, “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell”

Date Posted:      June 7, 2015

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell is a 2004 novel told in the first person by author Raymond Benson, writing under the pseudonym David Michaels. The novel is based on the video game series “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell”, the creation of which was endorsed by author Tom Clancy. The series chronicles the adventures and the stealth actions of the fictional character Sam Fisher.

After the book was published in 2004, Raymond Benson announced that he had written it, using the pseudonym David Michaels. Benson is best known for being the official author of the James Bond series of novels from 1997 to 2002. In 2005, a second book by Benson was released entitled Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda. After the completion of that book, a new author was hired to continue the series under the same pseudonym.

Plot introduction

Sam Fisher, a special agent, or Splinter Cell, is called upon to investigate the deaths of other Splinter Cell agents. He finds ties to an arms smuggling ring, and their ties to a mysterious terrorist group known as “The Shadows”.

Plot summary

The plot of the novel takes place in 2004 and concerns an Iranian terrorist group called “The Shadows”. Led by Nasir Tarighian, it is the goal of Tarighian to use a weapon of mass destruction codenamed “The Babylon Phoenix” against the city of Baghdad as revenge for the actions taken by Iraq against Iran during the 1980s that resulted in the murder of his wife and children. While there really isn’t much benefit to the group today, Tarighian attempts to sell the scheme to his organization by claiming that it would also create further disorder in Iraq and in the Middle East, which would inevitably cause the people to turn against the West, namely the United States since Iraq is currently under their watch. Tarighian, a former “great warrior” during the Iran–Iraq War and often proclaimed hero in Iran, hoped that by doing this the Iranian people would rejoice and urge the Iranian government to invade and conquer Iraq after the U.S is forced out of the region. Most of the members of the Shadows disagree with the course of action, feeling that the result is extremely unlikely and that the scheme is nothing more than a 20 year-old vendetta by Tarighian to get back at Iraq for the death of his wife and children during the war. These members feel the same effect of destabilization in the region can be achieved by attacking either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in Israel.

The novel also involves a terrorist arms dealing organization named “The Shop.” Headed by Andrei Zdrok, its aim is purely business: to make money by supplying arms to anyone with money regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. The Shop is one of the few organizations in the world that is aware of the black-ops division of the NSA, named “Third Echelon”, which sends covert agents into the world called Splinter Cells to exercise the use of a “fifth freedom”: the freedom to do whatever is necessary to preserve national security and peace for the United States. The Shop, using their knowledge (the source of which is revealed in the sequel, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda to be a traitor within Third Echelon itself) and resources, has taken the liberty of assassinating Splinter Cells whenever possible thus to increase their profit margin by keeping the shipment of arms from falling into unwanted hands.

Sam Fisher is deployed by Third Echelon to the Middle East to uncover the truth about the murder of a Splinter Cell agent. There, he tracks down the source of a shipment of arms seized by the Iraqi police and infiltrates numerous locations relating to both the Shop and the Shadows, all the while unaware that the Shop has targeted him and his only daughter, Sarah.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Series

  1. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #1
  2. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #2: Operation Barracuda
  3. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #3: Checkmate
  4. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #4: Fallout
  5. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #5: Conviction
  6. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #6: Endgame
  7. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell #7: Blacklist Aftermath

Rainbow Six

Title:                      Rainbow Six

Author:                Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1998). Rainbow Six. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    98022301

PS3553.L245 R35 1998


Date Posted:      June 7, 2015

Review from Publishers Weekly

Executive Orders, which thrust Jack Ryan into the Oval Office, raised the bar for its immensely popular author. This first Clancy hardcover since then, though a ripping read, matches its predecessor neither in complexity nor intensity nor even, at 752 pages, length, despite a strong premise and some world-class action sequences. Instead of everyman Ryan, its lead is the more shadowed John Clark, the ex-Navy SEAL vigilante of Without Remorse who has appeared in several Ryan adventures. Clark now heads Rainbow Six, an international special-ops anti-terrorist strike force—and, despite the novelty of the conceit, that’s a problem, as the profusion of protagonists, though sharply drawn (including, most notably, “Ding” Chavez, Clark’s longtime protégé), deprives the book of the sort of strong central character that has given Clancy’s previous novels such heart.

The story opens vigorously if arbitrarily, with an attempted airline hijacking foiled by Clark and Chavez, who happen to be on the plane. After that action sequence, the duo and others train at Rainbow Headquarters outside London, then leap into the fray against terrorists who have seized a bank in Bern, Switzerland. And so the pattern of the narrative is set: action sequence, interlude, action sequence, interlude, etc., giving it the structure and pace of a computer game. A major subplot involving bioterrorism that evolves into an overarching plotline syncopates that pattern, though Clancy’s choice of environmentalists as his prime villains will strike some readers as odd. All of Clancy’s fans, however, will revel in the writer’s continued mastery at action writing; Rainbow’s engagements, which occupy the bulk of the novel, are immensely suspenseful, breathtaking combos of expertly detailed combat and primal emotion. While not Clancy’s best, then, his 10th hardcover will catapult to the top of bestseller lists.


A Perfect Spy

Title:                      A Perfect Spy

Author:                 John Le Carrè

Le Carrè, John (1986). A Perfect Spy. New York: Knopf

LCCN:    85045587

PR6062.E33 P47 1986

Date Updated:  April 15, 2015

A Perfect Spy is the tale of Magnus Pym, a long-time spy for the United Kingdom. After attending his father’s funeral, Pym mysteriously disappears. His fellow secret agents (not unreasonably) suspect he might have betrayed them — throughout most of his career, Magnus worked for the Czechoslovak secret service. Although intrigue, wit, and suspense compose the novel, the story of Magnus Pym is partly an unadorned recollection of Magnus’ childhood and memories of his father Rick Pym.

For a British view of the book, the following is based on a review by Clare Morrall in The Independent.[1]

Morral says:

When writing a recent novel, I spent time thinking about the concept of identity; the idea that people can fool not just their close associates, but even themselves, and literally become the person they believe they are. It became increasingly clear to me that nobody ever really knows another person. And my mind kept returning to John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy, where the world of spies and double-spies becomes a metaphor for the treachery of the human heart, where identity can become lost and confused in a web of hidden corridors.

I first read A Perfect Spy about 20 years ago and to read it again was a real treat. Le Carré’s world leaps out of the pages: the games played in the shadows, where people really are tortured and die; the deals, the double-crosses; the terminology that doesn’t need explaining because he credits the reader with intelligence. It’s an alternative world, a thread of darkness that runs parallel to normal existence. Within this world there are complex emotions, emerging so painfully that they take your breath away.

Magnus Pym is holed up in a boarding house in Devon, knowing his time is limited, writing the story of his life for his son. Rick, his father, a man with enormous presence and energy but no moral integrity, features prominently. Magnus’ childhood alternates between Paradise —a life of luxury accompanied by the Lovelies and Syd Lemon, Rick’s Cockney first lieutenant—and darkness, when the lights go out in the vast nursery, the cook disappears and two police cars park in the drive. After a period of austerity, his dad returns and it starts all over again.

Rick bounces in and out of Magnus’s life, turning up with his court, demanding love, always embarrassing. There’s a glorious chapter when Rick almost gets himself elected as a member of Parliament. Magnus helps with the campaigning, charming old ladies on icy doorsteps, promising to see them all right. Why does Magnus do it? His love for his father is complicated, entangled with hate, and Rick’s death becomes the trigger that leads to Magnus’s final breakdown.

Every character is painted with compassionate detail. You believe in them all: Jack Brotherhood, who loves Magnus because he recruited him, who believes in him until it becomes impossible, a man who could shoot his sick dog with no visible sign of emotion; Axel, alias Poppy, betrayed by Magnus, who comes back, expecting and receiving unbreakable loyalty; Miss Dubber, Magnus’ Devonshire landlady, accepting his care like a substitute mother. I know these people as if they lived next door to me.

The Berlin Wall has gone, but Le Carré’s novels are no less relevant today. He dissects the world of the heart, those innermost paths where none of us like to go for fear of what we’ll find. I’ve heard that Le Carré refuses to allow his books to be entered for literary prizes. It’s probably just as well. He’d win every time.

I have read this book at least 4 times and still I get lost in the story. It may be one of the best spy novels ever, but it is as dense as concrete.

[1] Published in The Independent (Feb 2, 2012). Clare Morrall’s novel, The Roundabout Man, is published by Sceptre.

Sole Agent

Title:                  Sole Agent

Author:                Kenneth Benton

Benton, Kenneth (1970 ). Sole Agent. London: Collins

LCCN:    73864210

PZ4.B479 So


Date Updated:  March 19, 2015

According to Nigel West, this is one of the best spy novels. A second international hotfoot for Peter Craig who also proceeds by fast car to try and keep up with Amanda, the daughter of the Defense Attaché who has “lunatic” ambitions to become a Russian spy (and her entree actually is pretty sound) who is also involved with a local agitator.

However, to me, the author is more interesting than the novel. Kenneth Benton, CMG (1909–1999) was an English MI6 officer and diplomat from 1937-68. Following retirement, Benton began a second career as writer of spy and crime thrillers.

In 1937, in Vienna, Benton was offered a job by Captain Thomas Kendrick, the British Passport Control Officer for Vienna, who he had met initially through his future wife, Peggie Lambert. He was subsequently interviewed by Maurice Jeffes and Admiral Hugh Sinclair, then chief of MI6. Benton quickly realized that his role in the Passport Control Office was in fact a cover for intelligence work for MI6.

“I had expected to begin dealing with visas, but instead was brought in to one of the back rooms where Bill Holmes passed me a letter addressed to somebody with a Czech name in some street in Vienna and asked me to translate it. I opened the letter, called Bill, and said, ‘Look, I can’t do this; it is in Czech.’ She said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry; how stupid; hang on for a moment.’ At the back of my desk there was a little open bottle of colourless liquid, with a brush, and she dipped the brush in the liquid, passed it over the whole of the front of the letter and to my amazed eyes red writing appeared at right angles to the Czech text and it was in German. Then she turned the letter over and did the same on the rear side, so that I had two sides of what was in fact a German report.”

After the annexation of Austria in 1938, Kenneth and Peggie (married in March of that year) were posted to Riga, he as acting vice consul; after the Soviet occupation of Latvia two years later, he returned to England and after briefing at Bletchley Park was subsequently posted to Madrid as head of MI6’s Section V, dealing with intercepted intelligence traffic and identifying German spies travelling through Spain.

Assigned to Madrid, Benton reported technically to Hamilton Stokes, Head of the Madrid SIS Station, but because of the confidential nature of his decoding work, he was not allowed to discuss ISOS traffic. This situation created friction between the two men, and Benton was eventually appointed head of a separate station, named ‘Iberia’. The cover that the Visa office provided allowed Benton and his wife to create a database of information on individuals leaving and entering Spain, which could be compiled with other intelligence reports to identify patterns.

“The card index, in the course of nearly three years when I was in charge, grew to fourteen feet in length and really appeared to have a life of its own, because it often produced information that we did not know it had. Into that card index went the names of visa applicants, lists of ship passengers, names of known agents, Abwehr officers, guests at hotels, passengers on air flights, passengers on trains, as well as individuals about whom we had received information from Head Office or locally.”

Benton’s team identified 19 spies during his time in Madrid, including the Double Cross agents TREASURE, ARTIST, TRICYCLE and GARBO.

“What we wanted to do was to get them to England and turn them into double agents, not just to satisfy the Germans that they were getting a lot of spies into England, but of course for the great deception which was so effective in deceiving the Germans on D-Day […] the great advantage of the ISOS double agents was that, as soon as the false messages had been sent to the German case officers, we knew by their reactions how they had been accepted, which was an enormous advantage.”

In 1941, Kim Philby was appointed head of the Iberian section, which dealt with both Spain and Portugal, and became Benton’s boss. He later articulated the emotional effect of Philby’s outing as a Soviet agent in 1963: “Philby betrayed us all […] He had no loyalties, either to HMG or friends, or to the women he married. We had liked and admired him and were left feeling unclean.” His sentiments were shared by his wife:

“Years later, when Philby made his escape to Moscow, Peggie and I were having a drink with Footman, who was looking shattered. ‘I know’, said Peggie. ‘we could work out a plan to leak information to the NKVD showing that Philby was a triple-cross, that Nicholas Eliot’s last meeting with him in Beirut had really been to brief him on how to make touch with our Embassy in Moscow. I’ll bet they’d swallow the story, if we did it craftily.”

“But the NKVD would shoot him,” protested David, shocked to the core. “Yes”, said Peggie happily, “and serve him bloody right.”

Shortly after the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943, Kenneth and Peggie were posted to Rome; Kenneth had been appointed head of the MI6 station attached to the new British Embassy, which as a result of rationing and ongoing disruption in Italy, was only opened in July 1944. Benton’s later career included a further posting to Madrid in 1953, then to London from 1956-62 as head of recruitment for SIS. He was subsequently posted to Lima, Peru and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as Deputy Director for Latin America (DDLA), and retired from the Service in 1968.