THE DEIGHTON DOSSIER

The online resource about writer Len Deighton

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BOOKS

This is the heart of the Deighton Dossier. The section has information and images on all of the books by Len Deighton, about him, or books to which he's contributed in some way. Prolific is one way to describe his output over many decades.

This is as comprehensive as possible - every known book is here, with images and information to help the collector and the general reader understand Deighton's output, remember his top-sellers and, perhaps, find a book that interests you which you didn't know about. As well as information about the books - fiction and non-fiction - you can also read analysis of what it is that makes Deighton's works still so popular with readers around the world

If you enjoy Len Deighton's books and want to find out the stories behind them or learn about new stories you haven't read yet, then this is definitely the page to start.

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CHOOSE A SECTION

Len Deighton is known primarily as a thriller and spy fiction novelist and this site has a page devoted to all of his fiction works. There are dedicated pages covering his non-fiction books, his food & cooking books, and a section on books to which Deighton has contributed in some way, such as through a foreword or introduction, or which feature him heavily.

Make your selection below.

Fiction

Discover information and images for each of Deighton's 27 full fiction novels, ranging from the familiar stories such as The Ipcress File to less familiar stories which many readers may have overlooked, such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy. You'll get an overview of each story, a sample of the text and an understanding of why that particular story is worth investigating.

WHAT MAKES A DEIGHTON BOOK

Len Deighton is known primarily as a thriller and spy fiction novelist and this site has a page devoted to all of his fiction works. There are dedicated pages covering his non-fiction books, his food & cooking books, and a section on books to which Deighton has contributed in some way, such as through a foreword or introduction, or which feature him heavily.

Find out more in the drop-down sections below.

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  • The fate of the 'poor bloody infantry'

    Many of Deighton's novels have a wartime theme, whether it's actual warfare or the frozen tension that was the Cold War up until 1990. Whether soldiers or spies, the relationship between those on the front line and the ‘top brass’ - in both wartime and peace - crops up in most of his novels and histories.

    His writing communicates his desire that those in positions of power need greater scrutiny than those they send to be killed. In peacetime too, Bernard Samson’s moans about the 'idiots' in London Central reflects this annoyance at the apparent indifference of those in command to the men and women doing the hard graft. Deighton's writing also hints at the limits of loyalty facing agents sent into the field at risk of their lives to clear up the mess made by politicians.

    These themes are best explored in his book
    Declarations of War, twelve vignettes of army life throughout history in which the reader gets the sense that Deighton really understands how war - modern, mechanised warfare - dehumanises a soldier and force him to make decisions which, ordinarily, he would not want or have to make.

    Bomber and other stories also explored the important relationship between man and machine, which created the potential of the ordinary man as war 'hero'.

    Similarly, in
    Fighter, Deighton's research and his choice of accompanying photos shows his high regard for the ordinary airmen - on both sides - who struggled everyday against terrific danger to fulfil orders.

    Perhaps this question of the relationship between the fighting man and those leading him is best explored by Deighton in his very personal production of
    Oh! What a Lovely War, the songs of which and the narrative is based on communicating the experiences of the men at the front, as distinct from those of the top brass back at HQ.

  • The stench of hypocrisy

    At the heart of much of Deighton's writing about spying and spy-craft is an acknowledgement that, even with the best of intentions, the organisations and men charged with defending the honour and safety of their respective nations are, too often, at the same time undermining the very nation they seek to protect, putting ideological or personal interest ahead of the national interest.

    During the Cold War, such hypocrisy was shown up by the frequent cases of double-agents, spies like Kim Philby and John Cairncross who as intelligence officers were duty bound to protect the interests of the United Kingdom but who, in the end, sold out their countries - and their peers - for misguided ideological and personal reasons.

    In Deighton's fiction, similar hypocrisies can be seen at the heart of the agencies and institutions in which many of his lead characters work. So, for example, Erich Stinnes - KGB Colonel, committed communist and adversary of Bernard Samson - is shown in Charity to in the end be a simple, drug-dealing crook contributing to East Germany's slow death. In Funeral in Berlin, each main character's motivation is as much about putting one over on the enemy - in this case, 'Harry Palmer' - as it is about protecting their nation's interests and security.

    Espionage is shown in Deighton's fiction to often be a venal and corrupt place in which personal ambition, jealousy, pettiness and criminality as as much guides to characters' behaviours as training, morality and upbringing. This comes to the surface most often in the petty squabbles and irritations which mark out the office politics of secret government institutions, most effectively displayed in the daily hassles faced by Bernard Samson in Berlin Game and other books in the series.

  • Sparkling and original dialogue

    Whilst there are plenty of vivid character and location descriptions in Deighton’s books that put the reader ‘in the zone’, what stands out particularly as noteworthy is the use of dialogue in place of description. That is what really drives the stories along, because dialogue is how we live our daily lives and learn about things and interact with people. It gives the books a magic touch of reality and vitality.

    As Deighton has himself said:

    "I was always interested in dialogue, even before I started writing. This today remains one of the things I work hardest at, seeing how much I can delete from descriptive passages and convey by means of dialogue."

    Another theme cropping up across his books is miscommunication, particularly involving the English. It is often said that they are poor communicators, especially within a marriage. For instance, the marriage of Bernard and Fiona Samson - who kept from her husband for 12 years her secret identity - is a case in point.

    One gets the sense through the first two trilogies - and discovers the truth in
    Spy Sinker - that there is so much that is left unsaid between the two of them. Samson may be capable of unearthing the truth about Stasi plots but he is clearly unable to identify the treachery under his nose.

    In an interview with Edward Milward-Oliver, author of the
    Len Deighton Companion, Deighton said:

    "I feel it's one of the comedies and tragedies of our social life that very few people are able to communicate clearly, and very few people worry about it. Consequently, there is a lot of misinformation being exchanged. I think in England we are probably masters of telling people not quite what we want them to know."

    Deighton's is a fiction where face value is often a debased currency. His character exist in world of secrets, lies and the threat of treachery is ever-present. Can you really trust what the narrator or a character is saying? His character of Bernard Samson is the first-person narrator of eight of the nine books in the Samson triple-trilogy. In book six,
    Spy Sinker, which shifts to a third person narrator, it becomes clear that many of Samson's assumptions and prejudices are misguided at best.

    Outside the spy world, this theme is played out in books like
    Only When I Larf, where the gang of con artists is clearly only able to get away with their increasingly outrageous scams because they are able to convince a range of foreign marks that their collective English word is their bond.

    Most recently, Deighton returned to this theme of miscommunication and double speak in a newspaper interview on his 80th birthday:

    "You read the obituaries of Harold Pinter, for instance, if you want an insight into how people can say nasty things in what appears to be a eulogy. People communicate by mis-communicating. The English are supreme at this.”

  • Words and places infused with flavour

    As a gourmand and chef Len Deighton has often used food to signify important roles in his writing. Take, for example, The Ipcress File. What is culturally significant about Harry Palmer, compared with all previously literary spies, is that his interest in food stands in stark contrast to the prevailing dreadfulness of British food appreciation and preparation, characterised by Brown Windsor Soup.

    In the film of the book, Palmer is shopping in a supermarket when he is interrupted by his spymaster as he puts a tin of Champignons de Paris into his trolley:

    "You're paying 10d more for a fancy French label," his public-school boy-accented boss sneers.

    "If you want button mushrooms, they're better value on the next shelf," he replies.


    "It's not just the label. These have a better flavour."

    "You're quite the gourmet, aren't you Palmer?"

    His boss' retort hints at the fact that ‘gourmet’ was on a par with homosexual in nineteen-sixties' society, as evidenced by the sneering manner of this remark! Before the 'sixties it was very much the woman's job to be in the kitchen. So, when Deighton's spy returns home to cook his girlfriend a meal, that was a real statement of social change.

    It also, of course reflected Deighton's position in the sixties as restaurant reviewer and publisher of the
    Action Cook Book, which was marketed as opening up the kitchen to a generation of men. Deighton was also in 'sixties London a renowned party giver, so there are definite autobiographical elements to be discerned in this first key character he developed.

    Even in the nineteen-eighties, and the Samson series, upper middle-class characters like Fiona Samson and Dicky Cruyer are schooled in the food of
    la cuisine nouvelle and London's newer restaurants such as Paul Bocuse.

    Food is both counterpoint and metaphor in many scenes within Len Deighton's fiction.

  • The class system and the vicissitudes of hierarchy

    Class - and the constant references to it in social contexts - is a peculiarly British phenomenon and it is not surprising then that a writer writing about relationships at the heart of the British establishment, in its security and government services, would reference it. Deighton, however, makes the most of it and uses it to provide a particular patina to many of his characters, often quite subtly. The relationships of Britain’s working classes with their ‘betters’ - especially the middle classes - comes across in many his stories. In the 1960’s, class consciousness broke through the self-imposed strictures of old-style deference and elements of this can be seen in Deighton's books at that time.

    The cultural scene was becoming more ‘popular’ (i.e. less class-based) and Deighton’s novels were some of the first to creatively portray the working class perspective in fields previously dominated by the middle and upper classes: warfare and espionage. (Deighton himself grew up in a relatively poor part of London as a working class boy.)

    Harry Palmer and Bernard Samson, Deighton's two main spy characters, are both 'bolshie' to a degree - at least on the surface and in the presence of their superiors - and have chips on their shoulders about their middle and upper class colleagues. Palmer's sharp-tongued lack of respect for authority and old-fashioned bureaucracy certainly caught the mood of the time when the binds of the UK's class system were beginning to loosen. Harry Palmer was also one of the first genuinely cockney voices in British cinema.

    In
    Berlin Game, Bernard Samson's frequent barbs at his more senior - and more privately educated - colleagues in London Central are laced with references to the English class system and its embodiment in the prevalence of graduates from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge ... graduates like his boss, Dicky Cruyer.

    Take this scene from Samson's interrogation by Stinnes at the end of the novel:

    "I've been West a few times, just as you've come here. But who gets the promotions and the big wages - desk-bound Party bastards. How lucky you are not to have the Party system working against you", said Stinnes.

    "We have got it," I said. "It's called Eton and Oxbridge."

THE MARKETING OF DEIGHTON'S NOVELS

Such is the popularity of Deighton's canon, one would think that his books sold themselves.

But Deighton's works, like those of any other top author, are a combination of great story, a strong brand and an effective marketing campaign. Long before the days of social media, Jonathan Cape and other later publishing houses had to be inventive to alert the book trade and the wider book-reading public whenever a new Deighton book or film was published. This included poster campaigns, marketing packs and other ephemera designed to communicate the essence of the story and reach the intended audience

Click on any of the images below to see images of ephemera from some of the marketing campaigns supporting different Deighton books over the years.

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    SS-GB stamps
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    Horse Under Water
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    An Expensive Place to Die
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    Funeral in Berlin
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    Only When I Larf
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    XPD
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    Billion Dollar Brain
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