Thursday 30 September 2021

More Penguin classics roll off the production line...

Today I've received in the post a further five books from the Penguin Modern Classics editions, which have been dropping onto booksellers shelves throughout 2021.

The latest editions are:

  • Close-Up
  • Yesterday's Spy
  • Spy Story
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy 
  • An Expensive Place to Die.

The bold cover designs by Richard Green continue to be visually interesting - each book features the Ray Hawkey-inspired chevron motif linking back to his original Penguin covers from the 1960s, with some bold colour choices, each too with the 'dot matrix' B&W photo pointing to the themes explored in the novels.

The cover of Yesterday's Spy bold, with its bold white cover, hints at a nod to the original Hawkey first edition covers for the unnamed spy stories in the 'sixties, which for the time were groundbreaking in their use of white on the dustcovers, which was traditionally avoided by book designers due to its propensity to show the dirt, where customers for example picked them up to browse. 

There are a few more still to come out later in the autumn, including Goodbye Mickey Mouse and City of Gold.

I've been very impressed with Penguin's approach and its readiness to go all-in on the design motif that connects each and every book being republished and honours the company's long standing connection to the author. They've evidently taken a lot of time and care over each edition, which no doubt will help with attracting new readers to the novels.


  1. I particularly like the design of "Yesterday's Spy", with the strong diagonal of the gun barrel opposed by the diagonal green lines, with the drink interrupting the lines to prevent them from completely overpowering the gun. Very nice work.

  2. I welcome the publication these Penguin classics. They follow the tradition of Penguin publication.
    But I am afraid that they hey may be attractive only to the dwindling readership pool of Deighton novels. To attract new readers, who are decades younger, the essential aspect is name recognition. The world has moved on from the days of Deighton novels. The failure of not encouraging the big screen versions of his novels-films or TV series, meant that unfortunately Deighton, has made himself unrecognisable to new and younger readers. I have not seen any new readers attempting to buy a paper back novel from thriller writers who produced their outputs 3 decades ago for example. The roaring success of novels by Frederic Forsyth for example, which were in great demand at bookshops 3 decades ago, are not attracting new readers.

    Generally, readership pool of physical books has steeply declined , even in public libraries of the England boroughs for example, and hence, the question of ownership of such books seems to be not appropriate. Having said this, I see a few exceptions thriller writers like Lee Child (James Grant), David Baldacci, and Harlan Coben sell very well, and their books are in great demand too in public libraries. Surprisingly, except a couple of films, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher’s novels do not have film versions. Still the name recognition of Lee Child sits at the top, followed by David Baldacci and Harlan Coben. The secret here are the topics and characters involved, and the fast paced movement of the narratives. Lee Child and David Baldacci have exploited the technology, the multimodal-eook, and eaudio book versions come out soon after the printed versions. The Covid pandemic accelerated the readership of these non-print versions, and have gained new readerships as tablet ownership has increased many fold these days. It is a win-win situation for these authors. Public libraries license more of their ebook/eaudio book versions in the last 18 months and so do outlets like Amazon. These cost a fraction of printed versions which attract the cash -starved England public libraries. Individual readers buy these in expensive on-line versions downloadable to their tablets.
    Newer British espionage writers like Charles Cumming has many followers these days. There is also the ex-MI5 head turned thriller writer Stella Rimington, who has also published multimodal versions of her espionage-focused novels, like Cumming. The competition is very fierce to get new readers and to retain the current readership pool.

    The huge public library sites like Open Library, with free access to readers, increasingly provide free access to digitised versions of novels by popular novelists. There too the above thriller writers win, and the name recognition gets firmly anchored through reviews.

    From the aforementioned, it clear , the multimodal publication has the chance to gain new readers, particularly the ebook versions. Penguin should be producing the ebook and eaudio book versions of these Deighton classics too. But I fear it is too late to attract any new readers.

  3. The dates covered in the above books in the order of original publication is 1967-1976.
    It is not clear why these books were chosen for the Penguin classics redesign and publication.
    I would have thought that the first 2 books for classics design should have been : the ipcress File (1962) and Funeral in Berlin (1964).

    Deighton’s ‘The Ipcress File’ made an impact on spy thriller readers in early 1960s, mostly young and mostly in universities at that time, like me, who were avid Fleming followers. 1962 was the year when Dr No appeared on the big screen with Sean Connery as James Bond, and even before the release of the film, the printed medium, then the most influential one, was interested in Fleming’s works.

    One had to be living at that time to realise the extent Deighton’s achievement when ‘The Ipcress File’ was published, particularly, the hero there with no name, working class anti-Bond, and the narrative so different in style from what readers like me-there were very many, were conditioned to expect in a spy thriller. When we read that book, we knew that we had a classic, and a formidable spy thriller writer materialising on the scene . I read then Fleming too was very impressed. The next book, ‘Funeral in Berlin’ was brilliantly timed, particularly when JFK’s ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ speech in West Berlin in 1963 was still reverberating in the ears of us, after the assassination of JFK later that year. More than Le Carre’s ‘ The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’novel published in the previous year in 1963, Deighton’s: ‘Funeral in Berlin’ vividly placed the Berlin Wall at the centre of the cold war.

    I still remember the huge interest then of Deighton, and his spy thriller craft.

    Hence,I do not understand why the above 2 not appearing as the initial publication of Penguin classics.

    If I may say this’ We were expecting more the cold war-related Berlins’ focused , output from Deighton in 1970s. But they did not materialise. In my humble opinion, shared with many of many friends at that time, the appearance of Bernard Samson’s series a decade later, though attracted the old and new readers alike, the impact would have been that much greater, and the timing much more appropriate, had this series was well underway in 1970s. The cold war politics became vicious in late 1970s, after the focus on Vietnam War which ended in 1975, and the Water Gate saga too after Nixon’s exit, was shifted to the 2 Berlins. The Brezhnev era in 1970s and early 1980s, marked the escalation of the cold war political machinations. When Bernard Samson series were underway in mid1980s, the cold war was winding down with Regan-Gorbachev meeting. Hence my puzzlement of the timing of Bernard Samson’s series, given Deighton’s impeccable timing sense.

    1. Simon, all of his books are being reissued by Penguin, and the first four unnamed spy books have already been published earlier this year.

    2. I know what you are saying.
      But, my point is this: Penguin should have kicked off by first publishing the two books: The IPcress File and Funeral in Berlin as classic editions.
      The rest should follow AFTER the above.
      My reasoning, as some one who read the above 2 books when they were first published in the dates referred to in my post, established beyond any doubt the credentials of Deighton as the first rate spy thriller writer, and arguably the best cold war expert focusing on the 2 Berlins.

    3. I don't really think it makes much of a difference, really, the order. People won't necessarily always choose to buy the books in order.

  4. I disagree.
    Authors are identified with their iconic books :'The Ipcress File' in the case of Deighton and 'The Day of the Jackal' in the case of Frederick Forsyth for example, then. Readers who tended to buy thrillers, were selective in terms of purchase focusing on the above criterion. During 1980s, it was Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series of 3 books. It is not the question of order of publication by authors, but picking the thriller best associated with a thriller writer, given the small budget the reader always had in terms of leisure book purchase.
    These days, this budget has shrunk so much, given there are many excellent thriller writers, the selection for purchase is even more restrictive indeed.
    With the advent of ebook versions, the tendency is to subscribe to services to download (borrow) to read, thus diminishing the chance of ownership of printed versions. In the case of new readers of thrillers, the profile is of people with a few years' experience with their day jobs, who invariably possess tablets, and it is almost always the best sellers like Lee Child- his fast action gripping narratives of Jack Reacher' ebooks. Only a very few of these readers buy the printed version of a Jack Reacher novel.

    Penguin historically published classics versions, and they are following this tradition in the case of Deighton's books. My argument is, if Penguin is interested to gain new readers, they should have kicked off with the classics version of 'The Ipcress file', hoping to attract new readers, as old readers tend to own this book for long, in addition to a few other best sellers associated with other thriller writers. Even they I wonder would be interested to own all the classics versions or only the selective classics versions of those few Deighton's books they already have, of which I am sure, 'The Ipcress File ' will be one.