A fave writer – LEN DEIGHTON An Appreciation


Len Deighton is an airport novelist. That is to say he started as one.

His first novel – the psychological thriller known as “The Ipcress File” – really became a best seller as a slim paperback at 192 pages with that seven point print guaranteed to drive your retinas through your nose.
Ipcress is one of those books that a reader can complete in between boarding a plane or train and getting to a hotel room somewhere. Or just read on a bored Saturday; provided you don’t go blind from the tiny print (how come more 60 something men are not squinty eyed stumblers from Deighton and Clint Eastwood?)

I came to Deighton’s work like I do most popular novelists: via the televised cinema.


I had seen Michael Caine as “everyman spy” Harry Palmer in the 1965 film version of “The Ipcress File” on television in the early 80s. Caine’s spy had a working man charm and was caught in a world that scared and bored him. Sort of like a high school senior or a drafted soldier, Palmer just wanted to get through this espionage business and go on to something better, greener in life.

No James Bond there.

Eventually, I came across the paperback of “The Ipcress File,” and was put off by the novel.

Where the hell had Harry Palmer gotten to?

The guy in the book had no name. He was a smartass that smoked some French cigarette that I still don’t know if it is pronounced Galloshes or not, and who seemed to act like on of those guys in a public television costume drama swilling properly chilled champagne and bedding empty headed husband hunting women (the kind described as dilettantes by those who secretly love dilettantes but are truly much more empty than fake art smarts).

I liked his boss Dawlish better than unknown spy man.So began my grudging love of non-Harry Palmer.
The novel of “The Ipcress File” draws the reader slowly into a confused world. The plot concerns missile testing and the secrets behind it, and it still holds up today. Maybe even better than the film, which has been so imitated because of director Sydney Furie’s style of odd angles and John Barry’s anti-Bond music that the original comes off ploddingly slow at first.

Deighton has written almost 30 novels, several World War II history books and a few cookbooks; as is Palmer of the movies,  Deighton is a master cook.

The best bit about Deighton’s work is the detail and its accuracy. Currency exchanges, banking, food, spy stuff a good bit of history as it relates to then modern day politics (but history always relates to then modern day politics) and technology.

Don’t tell any of the teenage boys who come across the unknown spy or Mickey Mouse (from “Goodbye, Mickey Mouse”) or Bernard Samson they will learn from these books. Discover is always more fun.

Do make sure they get the newer paperbacks, unless you want to fork over for Harry Palmer’s glasses on your 17 year old.

A collection of Deighton’s novels reviewed by people who I don’t totally agree with except when I do:

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