Sunday 22 December 2019

Season's Greeting to Dossier readers

Another year passes, another Christmas season approaches.

I'd like to thank all the readers and visitors to this blog - and the accompanying main website/archive, the Deighton Dossier - who've read the articles, added comments, got in touch with me or otherwise contributed to the small but lively online community of Deighton readers and spy fiction fans.

In the decade or more since setting up this blog, I've enjoyed reading the comments and the emails received from fans all across the globes - on at least five continents, according to the statistics - who enjoy Len Deighton's books as much as me, and in return it's a pleasure to share my thoughts, and sometimes those of other readers and fans, on this blog.

The last few months posting has been limited. But in the context of over a decade of posting (over four hundred separate posts) and sharing interesting finds, titbits, nuggets, images and stories, a slight pause from time to time is permissible, I hope you'll agree.

On that note, as I do every year, I encourage other readers and spy fiction scholars and experts who have their own views and ideas on reading and collecting Deighton's works, to get in touch. I'm keen to increase the volume of alternative voices on here, to bolster the number of posts I put up.

Most importantly, thanks for visiting the blog, and have an enjoyable peaceful Christmas and New Year, whatever your beliefs or not.

Remember, spies often don't get to spend Christmas with their families:
England. Christmas 1983.
Gloria Kent felt miserable. She had bought Bernard Samson's two young children to spend Christmas with her parents. She was tall and blonde and very beautiful and she was wearing the low-cut green dress she had bought specially to impress Bernard.
'Why isn't he with his children?' Gloria's mother asked for the umpteenth time. She was putting the Christmas lunch dishes into the dishwasher as Gloria brought them from the table.
'He was given Christmas duty at the last minute,' said Gloria. 'And the nanny had already gone home.'
'You are a fool, Gloria,' said her mother. 

Sunday 27 October 2019

Posting lull...

As you can infer from the image, there's been something of a posting lull on the Deighton Dossier blog website the past three months.

The site's been going for just over a decade and there's plenty of stuff on there ... I'm just taking a little bit of a break from posting on it.

But I will ensure that when there's interesting Deighton-related news or stories to post, I'll post them up here along with the main Dossier website.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Harry Palmer, mapped

Been contacted recently about this neat initiative: the Literary Tube Map of London, by In The Book, which is a specialist publishing company that creates personalised books.

They've created their own literary tube map of London, replacing the station names on the popular map with notable literary works that were set in those areas. 

Near the centre of the map, on what Londoners will know is the Hammersmith & Fulham and Circle and Metropolitan Lines on the London Underground, you'll find Len Deighton’s classic first novel The Ipcress File

Its on these lines where his unnamed intelligence agent - Harry Palmer - begins his mysterious journey in the book. And Len Deighton, of course, was born and brought up in London, near Paddington.

The map shows the geographical mapping of London’s finest works of literature, and it's neat to see which books lie - geographically - near each other. In particular, there are gothic Victorian works lingering on the Piccadilly Line such as Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, whereas Sherlock Holmes is iconically located on Baker Street, only a stop away from The Ipcress File.

The Ipcress File is a largely London-based book, even though certain parts of the book take place (or appear to take place) outside of the city. The London Underground map's a classic, and this isn't the first time that someone's re-purposed it to tell a different story. But, it's cool that The Ipcress File has earned a prominent place.

Personally, I'd have put London Match on there, probably somewhere near Westminster Station or Marble Arch. But even though it's not on this map, you can always find the different locations in all nine Bernard Samson novels on this Google Map.

Saturday 6 July 2019

A Deighton online miscellany round-up

The Internet offers an endless cornucopia of good stuff, if you can find it.

Once in a while, I do a Google search using "Len Deighton" to see what new articles are out there about the author; what rare items and collectables are up for auction in the global market place for rare books; and sometimes, to see frankly if there are interesting snippets of information and opinion I might have missed related to the author and his works.

This post is the result of one such search. It's a trawl with my virtual dragnet of various things Deighton-related which readers of this blog might find interesting. So, here goes.

  • An interesting article from last month in CrimeReads, in which author Timothy Jay Smith compares contemporary Cold War fiction with classics from the genre; he draws no firm conclusions, but rather highlights some top picks readers may not be familiar with
  • An article from 2015 by Len, which I'd not seen before, for the 4th Estate magazine, in which he discusses the creation of his famous cookstrips. He plots a familiar path, but there are some added details here which I'd not read before and which add new wrinkles to understanding this design classic
  • 2014's Eye magazine also ran a feature on the cookstrips - Fry like a Spy - that is pretty comprehensive ... and gives a shout out to the Deighton Dossier which I hadn't seen before!
  • This digitised article from the New York Times archives is from 1981 - it's a short profile of the author, then 52 years old, published on the occasion of the US release of his novel XPD. Perhaps the most interesting element is his recollection of stalled plans for a novel about Vietnam, which ended up as a short story instead in Declarations of War
  • A blog post by British writer Steve Newman, on the Medium website, about The Ipcress File - the 'novel that got away', in which he recounts how his (now valuable) first edition of the novel was taken by a childhood friend .... and never returned! Moral? Never lend your books out without good reason
  • This portrait of the author if from the National Gallery's archives, and is from 1990, right in the middle of his most active period of writing, with the Samson ennealogy
  • A less-than-warm review of Spy Sinker and Spy Line by blogger Sarah Rhiannon Ward
  • From 1987's Washington Post, a thorough but rather luke warm review of Winter, the Samson prequel novel, by reviewer Elizabeth Ward, who mourns that the novel lacks some of the cheeky narrative of Deighton's early novels
  • A review from the Bitter Tea and Mystery blog site from 2012 of the same two novels. Nothing earth shattering, but readers opinions of books are always worth a look, if for nothing else to compare and contrast with one's own
  • A 1985 review of London Match US first edition in the New York Times, in which the reviewer raises concerns that the trilogy plot, concluded in this book, lacked a certain catharsis for the reader
  • A lengthy review of 1996's Charity, the last Samson novel, on the Books & Books blog site
  • A paean to the cookstrips from The Independent in 2009 - on the occasion of the new edition to mark the author's eightieth birthday; this 1997 interview with Len from the same newspaper by Michael Bateman explores in more depth his passion for food and cooking
  • A short piece on Len Deighton's book cover art - which pleasingly links to the relevant page on the Deighton Dossier - from the That's How the Light Gets In blog 

Anyway, have a gander and see if you find something of interest. If you spot any interesting Deighton-book related articles out there on the Internet that blog readers might find interesting, put a link in the comments!

Thursday 16 May 2019

Review: Desmond Bagley's 'missing' novel, Domino Island

Twenty-first century cover, seventies story
[Note - this review will be spoiler free, as the book has only just been released (16 May)]

An almost complete, undiscovered thriller novel by an acknowledge "master of the genre", hidden away for decades and discovered by chance.

How often does that happen in the literary world. Rarely, I imagine. But it's the case with Domino Island - newly published by Harper Collins - and for fans of Desmond Bagley, it's largely speaking been worth the wait.

First, a bit about the provenance of the book. It's discovery is down to Bagley know-it-all (literally) Phil Eastwood - operator of the Bagley Brief, now the pre-eminent source for all things Bagley online. Researching his new biography of Bagley, he discovered the manuscript among a pile of Bagley's papers in Massachussets.

Writer Michael Davies acts as 'curator' for this novel, which I'm guessing means that he filled in any minor gaps, edited it, and polished the text - this was, after all, not a final text of a novel, but one which contained hand-written annotations by the author and his editor.

Monday 22 April 2019

Selling stories - the art of the advertisement

Ray Hawkey's unforgettable advertising for Deighton's fifth novel

In the current marketing man (or woman)'s tool box, digital is everything - targeted pop up ads, viral videos, gifs, animations, banner advertising are all now essential to raising reader awareness of a new title and turning that awareness into revenue.

I often think that, as a result, we have lost something in the world of books - physical ephemera and well designed advertising that, when seen, I suspect had much greater impact. Certainly, as a collector,  I'm glad that the authors I collect - and of course, especially Len Deighton - wrote in a pre-digital age that, like paper fossils, left behind so much ephemera and other traces of their books to be found by the dedicated fossil hunter.

That's why I was struck by some examples from archive editions of The Bookseller - the trade publication for book shops in the UK - from the 'sixties and 'seventies of just how straightforward and one-dimensional the marketing of Len Deighton's books was - in the sense of being physical, and limited to advertising and 'point of sale' - and, as a result, how creative the book companies had to be to come up with new ways of ensuring the booksellers themselves did their part, and displayed and sold the books in a way that would maximise revenue for all parties.

When you have the likes of designer Raymond Hawkey in your corner, or the marketing minds of the Penguin Group to draw upon, then an author like Len Deighton was already in a position of some advantage.

The fifties, and in particular the sixties, was a time of great change in book selling, as new printing techniques and marketing methods - came into prominence as the UK economy shifted from post-war austerity to a period of economic growth and expansions. Book selling evidently became more expansive, prone to trends, energised by competition from new publishing houses, and the growing influence of mass media - particularly magazines, radio and TV - as a new source to influence consumer behaviours.

Monday 18 February 2019

Happy 90th Birthday, Len Deighton, from your readers

[Card courtesy of reader Peter Ashley]
Anyone born in 1929 - as Len Deighton was, 90 years ago today (18 February) - has experienced a world of unprecedented cultural, social and technological change: the war to end all wars; the end of colonlialism and the subsequent turbulence of numerous civil wars; the Cold War that followed the dropping of the most powerful weapon ever created; the rise of China and the ending of the Communist experiment; pax Americana; unprecedented global economic growth; consumerism; the dawn of the information age and the global connectivity of the Internet.

Through over five decades of writing, give or take, Len Deighton has documented many of these changes.

It seemed appropriate, as Deighton’s success ultimately has been determined by his readability and capacity to generate fantastic characters and stories, to ask other readers to share their thoughts on the question: What do Len Deighton’s books mean to you as a reader?

Read their thoughts, below:

Karl Gunnar Oen, Norway

"It would have been nice to say that this book sent me on a lifelong readership adventure. But no; in 1968 I was only nine years old and The Hardy Boys and Detective Nancy Drew were my favorites. At fourteen I came across a Norwegian edition of Bomber and I was hooked, and it proved to be for life.

Even in rural Norway, Deighton paperbacks were possible to acquire, and through struggling with his books I learned to appreciate the English language much more than the school system had taught me. I fondly remember reading Fighter while doing my military service, and devouring SS-GB as a student. Curiously, I held back on the Game, Set & Match trilogy, not taking it on until I was firmly established with a steady job and a wife. Then, I read the books in next trilogies as soon as they were published. I’m now on my third round of the Samson-novels, the first time I read it for the plot; the second time for the complexity of the relationships; this time around, the humour stands out. The books are so rich that I will certainly read them yet another time, as I have with most of the others.

The Nameless Spy, Colonel Stok, Pat Armstrong, Douglas Archer, Dicky Cruyer, Bernard and Fiona - and Werner: my reading life has been enriched through meeting them. The hours spent in their company, I would not have missed for the world.

Funeral in Berlin is my absolute favourite. Thank you, Mr Deighton!"

Jim Adams, Utah

"My late mother was an avid reader of fiction and, fortunately for me, owned all 10 books in the American first editions and passed them to me as she finished them. For that I’ll be forever grateful to her.

In one way I can especially identify with Bernard Samson. It’s an aspect of the series no one has mentioned yet, and I’ll try to explain with some background, if you’ll please indulge me. I served as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northern Germany from 1968 to 1970, and after my mission I married a Berlinerin. My first mission assignment was in Spandau. 

When I was transferred to Hamburg six months later, I was shocked to hear how different the language sounded. I soon learned that what I’d picked up in Berlin was the distinctive dialect spoken in informal conversation all day, every day.

Like Bernard, I’ve been proud of my mastery of Berlinerisch lo these past 50 years, and I’ve been told by Berliners, including my wife, that my pronunciation is almost native. It somehow hurt my feelings too when Werner told his friend in Charity that his dialect wasn’t as good as he’d thought all along!

Bernard’s intimacy with Berlin, its language, its Stadtplan, its weather, the feeling of unease but also of adventure living in the divided city - an island of freedom in a sea of oppression - still resonates in my soul half a century later.
So for me, the magic of the books - beyond the wonderful characters, the intrigue, the almost prescient way the author weaves in a supposed MI-6 involvement in the eventual fall of the Wall - the thing that keeps me coming back to the series again and again is Bernard’s affection for Berlin and its brash, stubborn but deeply lovable people. I share with him a rich nostalgia for pre-Wende, post-war West Berlin.

It makes me rank the final page of Charity right up there with the last sentence of The Great Gatsby as one of noveldom’s supreme closings: that “perfect day long ago” when “the sky was blue and Berlin was heaven.”

Perhaps Fiona and Bernard are right - that happiness does come more often from memories than from the experiences that create them.
Thank you, Mr. Deighton, for memorializing the Berlin of my late adolescence in a way that I can return to any time simply by taking a book down from a shelf. You have my gratitude forever. And Happy 90th!"

Georgie Montmorency-Marchbanks, UK

"I first read the 1960s spy novels when I was thirteen (my school had first editions of The IPCRESS File and Funeral in Berlin in the library. Then I scoured secondhand bookshops for his other works. I assumed he'd not written anything novels since the 1970s; but then I discovered the Bernard Samson books, quite late in the day. Thereafter, I haunted the bookstores for each new instalment. I can vividly remember reading the ‘sixties novels as an adolescent: they had an electrifying effect on me.

You could say they changed my personality somewhat!"

Isyew, UK

"Dear Mr Deighton - that iconic photo of Michael Caine, trying to crack eggs to your satisfaction; you, poised with a raised wood spoon in your right hand, your left - hidden - poking the star as you tease him for his efforts. Wonderful!

I've come to appreciate how much your Samson series of books, in particular, influences my own debut novel. This strange desire to write mystery novels for people who prefer to read with their brains engaged is strong.

Had you as an author aspired to influence society, I'm sure you would have instructed lads like me to rise up in the world, and not simply be content to serve the likes of Dalby, Dawlish and Dicky Cruyer all our lives.

You presented us with muscular, frequently hilarious entertainment in your books and I, for one, am glad you did.

I love your impeccable research which underpins the credible words you create for your fictional characters - sharply drawn and tragi-comic in equal measure (as exemplified in the relationship between Bernard and Werner). I also enjoy what at first sight appear to be straight-line plots, but which offer up so much 'off screen' ambiguity.

You will always be to me a literary giant. Thank you."

Sunday 17 February 2019

Now, that's a biography!

I thought, ahead of Len's 90th birthday tomorrow, that I'd reproduce his biography which was included in the Penguin editions of Horse Under Water and Billion Dollar Brain. It's certainly one of the more obtuse author biographies you'll find, and - as most of it's true - a testament to a remarkably varied early life before he became a full-time author.

"Description - dark complexion, fourteen stone, six feet tall. Cruel, sardonic sense of humour. Large hands, stubby fingers used to punctuate rapid, neurotic speech. Bayonet scar palm right hand. Drinks warily, seldom smokes. 
Skills - extensive knowledge of military history, modern control systems, aircraft (especially helicopters), vehicles, weapons, tactics. Marksman; never hunts animals. Good cook. 
Experience - railway lengthman [DD - he used to work at Nine Elms], Piccadilly waiter, Madison Avenue adman, Vogue fashion artist, photographer RAF Mosquitos, manager Aldgate gown factory. Seen Vista-Vision blue films in pre-Castro Cuba, typhoon in Tokyo, hurricane passing New York. Given talk over Soviet radio. Once fell into Hong Kong harbour, fatty tissue saved him."

Now, that's a biography and a half, huh?

Len Deighton book montage

Len Deighton's output from 1962 - 1996

Thanks to Len's friend Edward Milward-Oliver - author of the Len Deighton Companion - who created this composite image of all the UK first editions written by Len Deighton since his career started with The Ipcress File in 1962.

A great visual testimony to the author's output, ahead of his ninetieth birthday tomorrow.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Follow this Twitter moment marking Len's upcoming 90th birthday.

The author running back to read the latest on the Deighton Dossier twitter feed
To mark Len Deighton's birthday on 18 February, I will post here and on the website an article gathering together both my thoughts and views and comments from other Deighton Dossier readers on the topic: 'what do Len Deighton's books mean to you as a reader?'

In the interim, if you are on Twitter do follow this Twitter Moment, which captures the regular tweets that have been going up containing snippets from some of his best-known books and reader responses to them, in the lead-up to 18 February

Sunday 27 January 2019

Understanding SS-GB - a reader's appreciation [guest blog post]

Thanks to reader and Dossier follower Terry Kidd for sharing this perspective on the books, in which he compares historical fiction it portrays with what actually happened.

Fact versus fiction

SS-GB came out of what I think of as Len Deighton's Second World War aviation period after Bomber and Fighter. It was published in 1978. SS-GB is more than just a look at London under Nazi occupation. The story touches issues that go to the heart of the Nazi ideology and the reasons Germany lost the war.

I’ve long been a sciencew fiction fan and when SS-GB first appeared I was delighted to find the unique voice of Len Deighton in an alternate worlds setting.

In 2017 we got the TV version. Scripted by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the writers of the recent James Bond films, with top productions values and a great cast. It is a worthy version. Moreover, being a mini-series rather than feature length, it was possible to stick much closer to the novel and pleasingly, many lines of dialogue are lifted straight from the page. But there are differences in plotting some of which I’ll discuss here.

Saturday 26 January 2019

Harry Palmer returned .... sort of.

Author Penelope Wallace - former Chair, Crime Writers' Association International
It's rare these days that I come across something undiscovered relating to the works of Len Deighton - but thanks to some recent correspondence with Dossier reader Tony Medawar, I have.

He shared with me a copy of an article he wrote a while back for the British magazine CADS (Crime and Detective Stories), which gives further details of Len Deighton's contribution to a (sadly) unpublished serial mystery story entitled The Greatest Mystery Round the World.

The article details how crime writers Jean Bowden and Penelope Wallace developed an idea to create a sort of patchwork thriller story in audiobook form, with different contributions from leading crime and thriller writers at the time (and their character creations) based on a framework plot, including one Len Deighton. It was to be released in a series of 22-minute audio episodes on tape.

His chapter contribution wasn't titled, but was to be narrated by 'Harry P' - i.e. Harry Palmer. Eight chapters were to be released on audio, with the ninth - the denouement - either being published separately or left out, replaced by a competion to find the best conclusion to the story.

Tony has since advised that, when he spoke to another contributor, Martin Edwards, he told him that Len said he had no memory of ever having written the piece! So, a 'lost' masterpiece .... sort of. Thanks to Tony for sharing a very interesting article with the Dossier.

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Share your thoughts ahead of Len Deighton's 90th birthday

The Deighton Dossier wants to hear from you!

Next month - 18 February, to be precise - Len Deighton, the English author whose various works this website discusses and celebates, will turn 90.

I want to mark this with special posts on this blog, the main Deighton Dossier website, linked to on the Facebook page and on Twitter.

But rather than just write my thoughts, I'd like to draw on the small but dedicated community of Deighton readers/watchers who follow this blog and the related social media sites, to create a true fan's perspective on Len Deighton, to mark this milestone birthday.

You can do that in two ways:

  • Complete a simple, 3-question survey on Survey Monkey to find out - hopefully, in a definitive way - readers' favourite books
  • Share your thoughts on what Deighton's books mean to you as a reader, by dropping an email to me at deightondossier AT icloud DOT com

The 'exam question' is simple - tell us:

What do Len Deighton's books mean to you as a reader?

That gives you plenty of scope to be creative and share thoughts with other readers in the Deighton-reading community, and the wider spy fiction community. 

I'd like to get as many inputs as possible. To keep things manageable, follow these guidelines:
  • 250 words maximum
  • Be concise and to the point
  • Tell us your name (or if you'd prefer, initials) and your country e.g John Smith, Bulgaria, to be associated with your contribution

If, however, you have more to say, I am happy to also consider longer contributions from Deighton Dossier readers on this broad theme, which I can then add as separate posts on the blog and on social media.

Also, remember to use this hashtag on social media: #LenDeighton90