Monday 28 February 2011

The FT on The Ipcress File cover ...

Funeral in Berlin (with the rare
wrap-around showing Deighton with
Michael Caine and Ian Fleming
Very interesting article in today's FT  - a review by Edwin Heathcote of the famous front cover of Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton. This is one of a regular series of reviews of outstanding front covers in the newspaper's book section.

The cover, of course, was by Ray Hawkey, Deighton's friend and design school contemporary, who went on to produce the famous Pan paperback covers for the Bond novels.

Heathcote's review is well-written, capturing just why Hawkey's design, in the 'sixties, was revolutionary but, more importantly, illustrative of the new type of espionage character Deighton had introduced ('Harry Palmer' as he would be dubbed) - cocky, a bit chaotic, plagued by his superiors, living off his wits:
"The background is loosely scattered with bullets and paperclips, representing Deighton's particular mix of casual violence and dreary bureaucracy. The cover's ingenuity lies in the way messy details of the everyday appear both mundane and sinister."
The full article is well worth reading.

I'd also encourage blog readers, if they haven't done so, to check out the latest edition of 007 Magazine, which has a special feature on Hawkey's design contribution to the Bond legend, as well as his substantial work embellishing Len Deighton's books with some of the most eye-grabbing covers.

Saturday 26 February 2011

The reissues (12) - Spy Line

After a hiatus, I'm returning to covering the 2010/2011 reissues by Harper Collins of all of Len Deighton's major novels - running my eye in particular over the new designs and determining if there's much new for readers to enjoy.

Having so far covered all the four 'un-named spy' novels and the first four novels of the Bernard Samson triple trilogy, we're up to Spy Line, the book which provides the anchor for the whole story arc right starting with the first novel, Berlin Game. It sets up the denouement of the central narrative - Bernard's wife Fiona's defection to the Communist and her subsequent operations to de-stable London Central, often with much success. With that, the reader thinks, all the threads in the story are neatly brought together. That is, of course, until the story takes a whole new twist in the subsequent books and the trilogy that does bring the story to an end. So Spy Line is not an ending, more of a gear change.

In Spy Line, for Bernard Samson life has turned upside down. His wife has defected, but his new relationship with the much younger Gloria seems to be going well ... for now. He has survived the initial internal investigations concerning his role in his wife's defection, but is still under suspicion and begins the novel on the run in Berlin, where - after debriefing an undercover agent - he discovers that  his KGB nemesis - Eric Stinnes - has been smuggling drugs into East Germany.

The story moves from Berlin to London and then on to Vienna, where posing as a philatelist Bernard is asked to pick up a package from a stamp auction. As various threads of his investigations into Fiona's disappearance come together, Bernard draws his own conclusions and meets Fiona who reveals she has been a double agent all this time and has, effectively, betrayed Bernard's trust. What follows is a dramatic attempt to bring Fiona back to the west during which a number of major characters are killed and the story is fantastically set up for the final three novels as Bernard starts to ask: what really happened?

The new design
The holistic approach adopted by Arnold Schwartzman continues, with the cover image of Bernard Samson's photo on his fake Russian passport - which has been run through the shredder - illuminates the precarious balance Samson finds himself in, in which one false move could find him snatched by the Russians before he can get Fiona back.

What Schwartzman wants to symbolise here is how Samson's character, his life, is in tatters, it is ripped apart by forces beyond his control and yet he survives. However, this is perhaps the least challenging of the front covers in terms of its visual appeal.

The new introduction
Deighton writes about his approach to structuring all nine books of the three trilogies together. Although - as he points out in the introduction to each original edition - each book can be read as a stand-alone novel, clearly as an author Deighton needed to find ways to thread multiple narratives and character across nine novels (ten if you include Winter), and Spy Hook had a pivotal role.
"In planning this Samson series I knew that Hook would record a change of mood....There was a need to reach a climax, or at least a milestone, in the overall story; a place that would prepare me, and you, for the change in style and method that Spy Sinker, the final book of the second trilogy, would use. [Deighton used a third person narrative to provide a whole new perspective on events]
My wife, and both my sons, have always maintained that my musical taste tends to favour the minor keys. Eventually I yielded to their judgement. I like the minor keys and a whole opera in a minor key is not too much for me. Spy Line is a book written entirely in a minor key. Line depicts Samson at the nadir of his life and career."
That's a great description of this story's mood.

The book also provides Deighton with an opportunity to take a deeper look at Cold War Berlin and the under-belly of the city that allowed it to function as a capitalist enclave within a Communist country. Samson's long discussions with one of his father's former agents, 'Lange' Koby, for example, illustrate the harsh reality of life in Berlin for those on the front line of the Cold War.
"I must admit that I enjoyed investigating Berlin's underworld. Sited in what was virtually the No Man's Land of the Cold War, this milieu was unique in having a national and a political dimension. Perhaps this sad domain was no more violent than Paris, New York or London, but here in Berlin one saw that authority could be more ruthless than the criminals and more indifferent to suffering. Perhaps that was not unique to Berlin; perhaps it was more a measure of my innocence."
Spy Line remains a great book which adds new layers to the characters which the reader is familiar with but also quickens the pace to lead up to the dramatic finish where one thinks the outcome is clear cut. But as the subsequent three novels prove, this is far from the case.

Who can you believe in the world of spy fiction?

Christine Granville
I - and a number of other commentators - have read with interest a story being reported by Guy Walters in this week's Daily Telegraph about a new book on the origins of the James Bond story by Claire Mulley.

This book, cunningly titled The Spy Who Loved (do you see what the publishers did there?) is pitched as a history of espionage during wartime focusing on the life of agent Christine Granville - supposedly, the inspiration for the Vesper Lynd character.  As Walters writes, it has "that link with James Bond, with the implied licence to print money."

But, he writes, it’s all too good to be true. Much of what Mulley has written is as transparently wrong as a badly forged passport - and we owe the discovery of these facts in part to friend of this blog and "heir to Deighton" (c) Jeremy Duns, who has written a very long essay on the murky history of previous attempts to fabricate new wrinkles in the long literary history of Ian Fleming and the character of James Bond, and develop new theories about the origins of key characters, in particular the persistent link of Christine Granville with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

Like an agent after two days of solid interrogation, Mulley's cover story it would appear is starting to unravel, and questions are now being raised about the publication of the book.

A tale about espionage, with duplicity, fabrication and cover-ups? There's a book in there somewhere.

Rest assured, on the Deighton Dossier, you'll only ever find fact about fiction, not fictional facts.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Some light reading for wartime....

An eagle-eyed reader of this blog, Jeff Quest, spotted this interesting photographic essay by photographer David Moore in Wired magazine.

Titled 'Inside London's Secret Crisis-Command Centre', it is part of a series of photographs called The Last Things, documenting the secret MoD command centre in London from which - in times of crisis - the Government and army would run the country and any conflict.

The official line is, this place doesn't exist. Moore's photos show not only that it does, but also what a fascinating place it is, the sort of facility which one associates immediately with the Cold War but which clearly has a modern role to play as governments face up to new and different threats. The suggestion in the article accompanying the photos is that this is in fact the Pindar complex beneath Whitehall, one of many hidden citadels across the city. What do readers think?

The interesting little twist? Look at this picture. Judging by that bookshelf, it looks like Her Majesty's spies and generals sometimes seek inspiration from their fictional counterparts!

Saturday 19 February 2011

Deighton turns 82...

The 18 February was Len Deighton's 82nd birthday - I'm sure readers of his books all over the world will wish to raise a glass.....

Elswhere, readers of the blog are recommended to get hold of the latest edition Double-O-Seven magazine, which contains a special feature on James Bond - Graphic Design by Raymond Hawkey, written by Deighton's biographer Edward Milward-Oliver. As well as being well written, it is beautifully illustrated with examples of Hawkey's work, not least the Pan Bond covers.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Photoplay - a profile of Deighton from 1968

I've just managed to source a rare profile of Len Deighton from a 1968 Australian film magazine called Photoplay Film Monthly.

The article actually profiles two up and coming film directors; Carl Foreman, of Guns of Navarone production fame is one. Deighton is the other. He is interviewed because at the time he was bringing his second - and final - film production to the screen: Oh! What a Lovely War.

As was frequently the case at this time in his career when - with the moulah rolling in from three successful novels  - Deighton was at the height of his early success and a fixture on the London scene, reference is made to Deighton's use of one of the first radio phones in a car, and messaging service. In light of today's ubiquitous mobile phone, it does come across as rather dated, but fun.

Another noteworthy thing about the interview. Deighton indicates that he doesn't enjoy writing; indeed, his lack of enjoyment increases with every book. This is something he frequently refers to in interviews (when the publicity shy Deighton does them, of course). Interesting that his writing comes across as a result very much as a job of work. Perhaps that's no bad thing in a writer; keeps them focused.

Anyone clicking on this link can view the article on Google Docs; also included is a review from the same magazine of Only When I Larf, which had just come out.