Thursday 20 December 2012

Deighton e-book published: a new take on James Bond

'Harry Palmer's creator & the father of James Bond
It's been seventeen years since Len Deighton last published a complete book: Charity, the last of the Samson triple trilogy. Readers interested in Len's writing style and knack for storytelling have had to make do with numerous forewords, a short story and a number of magazine articles.

Now, at the tail-end of 2012, he's back, back, back. To a degree.

Len returns to the world of the published author with a new electronic book, produced as a 'Kindle Single'. Sadly, it's not a new Samson novel or historical narrative (fingers remain crossed in that regard.) But it is a fascinating tale of how one of cinema's iconic figures came to be.

In a year that has seen the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's James Bond and the release of Skyfall to universal acclaim, Len has chosen to give his perspective - at some length, for the first time - on the origins of this most famous of screen characters and make a further contribution to the Bond mythos.

James Bond: my long and eventful search for his father, reads like a long article that one might read in The Sunday Times Magazine or an essay in The Literary Review. Published solely online - a first for Len - this 10,000-word book is available on Amazon priced £1.53.

You can find the book here.

As someone who was acquainted with Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory, the film producer who is one of the important figures in the development of the Bond mythos through his work on early drafts of From Russia With Love and subsequently on Never Say Never Again (the Thunderball remake), Len provides an unrivalled insider's view of the development of Bond as the character moved from page to screen.

Len was an insider and witness to much of what went on as the character made this transition to cinema. It is his attention to detail, and his capacity to recall in detail many of the meetings and anecdotes which, story by story, gives this book a ring of authenticity. It is also interesting to read again about the connections between the development of James Bond and the simultaneous development of Len's 'unnamed spy' character, subsequently of course Harry Palmer.

We read in the book about Len's first encounter with Ian Fleiming in said White Tower restaurant in Soho, a restaurant that "catered to soft-spoken, dark-suited tycoons, film people, politicians and advertising executives with fat expense accounts. It said a lot about Ian that he preferred such formality." It was over this lunch conversation that Fleming revealed his admiration for the agents he controlled from behind his desk in Naval Intelligence during the war; men like Merlin Minshall who were at the sharp end of the intelligence fight against the Nazis and had the colourful tales to relate.

Bond was, Deighton writes, "[Fleming's] screwball alter ego. Writing provided a chance to depict the forbidden dreams of this outwardly cool, but morose and moody Royal Naval officer."

The book goes on to recount the efforts to get Bond onto the big screen, and it is here that the story becomes interesting as it looks at the myriad elements behind Bond's creation - on screen and on the page - which have kept writers, fans and fiction historians entertained and intrigued.

The book provides an extensive re-telling of the whole story which has been document elsewhere by other authors and Bond fans in great detail, and also been the subject of extensive legal arguments over the decades. While some of the stories are familiar from previous articles, much of it seems new and refreshingly honest.

In a year in which Bond has shown himself to be the 'King Of All Cinema', Deighton maps out in compelling detail - such as his hint at the origin of the 007 moniker, and fascinating perspectives from Bond ground-zero, the bumpy road by which Bond moved from page to screen.

The last paragraph, in particular, is a real peach!

Let's hope too that, if this e-book proves a success, Len may be prompted to write more and take advantage of the world of e-publishing to reach out to his global fanbase.


  1. I finally got around to reading this. I have to say I was a little disappointed, this being the first new writing from Len in ages. While there are some interesting and amusing incidents it does come across as a bit of a ramble. As this is coming from a writer who is an absolute master of structure and efficiency this is a an unexpected criticism. (I'm just reading Bomber for about the 100th time and here, of course, Len is supreme at telling a complex story and making every word count).

    My guess is that it could have been much improved by a bit of careful reviewing and editing but perhaps the publishers decided that the combination of Deighton and Bond was enough and no further investment was necessary. To give a couple of examples - following the anecdote about Len's insight into film making on Russia with Love he says that unrequited love is the most powerful dramatic device a writer can use. It comes across as a Non sequitur as written. But I'll bet something else was trimmed that made it lose its context.

    Len's time in films is surely very interesting but this teases but doesn't satisfy. Beyond that I was astonished to see Len write of the Vickers Vulcan. Oops! It is of course the Avro Vulcan. It's worth a look at but I do hope that any future ebooks will be subjected to the traditional amount of editing and polishing.

  2. Fair point - I think it reflects the fact that it was originally a foreword that Len developed, and doesn't seem to have been managed through his editor at Harper Collins, hence your points.