THE DEIGHTON DOSSIER

The online resource about writer Len Deighton

FICTION

His career started with a brand new type of spy fiction and went on from there. It is stories like The Ipcress File, Yesterday's Spy, Winter and Berlin Game for which Len Deighton has become world-renowned and it is through his fiction that most readers will be aware of the author.

His plots, characters, dialogue and innovation in story telling, particularly in the spy genre, have put Len Deighton up alongside writers like Eric Amberley, Ian Fleming and John Le Carré in the pantheon of 'greats'. Like these other authors, most of Len Deighton's fiction books remain in print and most sell very, very well. To mark his eightieth birthday in 2009, Deighton's publishers Harper Collins re-issued all of his fiction works with new covers by his friend Arnold Schwartzman, which served to highlight just how reliable these stories are, even though the world in which many of them were written has changed so much, with the ending of the Cold War and the rise of the online spy.

This section illustrates that as well as the spy fiction novels for which he's famous, Len Deighton has also produced other works of fiction which the general reader may not be aware of but which are well worth checking out by readers who have enjoyed his other works. Stories like Violent Ward, Close-Up and Only When I Larf are testament to Deighton's skills.

This section provides information on every story Deighton's written and published and provides the reader with a guide to each book and why it makes an impact.

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THE 'UN-NAMED SPY' SERIES aka THE HARRY PALMER BOOKS

Indelibly associated with Len Deighton, his first five books - and the un-named, working class spy who featured in them - are arguably his most successful based on their impact on popular culture (thanks, in part, to the film adaptations).

Published at a time when Ian Fleming's Bond was the archetype spy hero, Deighton's agent - subsequently named Harry Palmer by film producer Harry Saltzman for the movie adaptations - was something new in the 'sixties, a refreshingly recognisable spy who took the bus to work and complained about his superiors. His back chat and sardonic pleasure in defying his bosses rang a bell with readers at a time when the Cold War was taking a firm grip on the West and spy scandals were frequently in the news. Here was a spy who wasn't part of the Eton establishment … a spy you could trust.

The five Harry Palmer novels - most readers are not aware that An Expensive Place to Die is, to all intents and purposes, the fifth novel in the sequence - represent a great place to start reading Len Deighton's fiction. They're fun, accessible, full of cracking dialogue and full of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.

Explore the world of Harry Palmer in more detail below.

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    The Ipcress File
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    Horse Under Water
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    Funeral in Berlin
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    Billion Dollar Brain
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    An Expensive Place to Die

THE BERNARD SAMSON ENNEALOGY

An ennealogy is the name for a series of nine novels. In fact, in the series built around agent Bernard Samson - arguably, Deighton's magnum opus and most complete set of novels - there are ten novels; Winter provides a prequel to introduce many of the characters in the nine main books.

The series starting with Berlin Game is a spy fiction classic which updated the genre at the height of the Cold War and perfectly replicated the tensions and uncertainties of the 'eighties in the relationship between top field agent Bernard Samson and his wife, Fiona. What follows is a story on an epic scale with numerous story arcs and hidden character flaws revealed over the ten books. These books deserve the description 'unputdownable.'

The illustration on the right is by illustrator Adrian Bail, who depicted all the main characters in the series. In the end, only the image of Fiona Samson - bottom right, the lady with the scarf - was used by publisher Hutchinson for the first UK edition of Spy Sinker (see below). The figure on the far right is Len Deighton himself!

Immerse yourself in the world of one of espionage fiction's greatest characters.

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    Berlin Game
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    Mexico Set
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    London Match
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    Winter
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    Spy Hook
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    Spy Line
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    Spy Sinker
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    Faith
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    Hope
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    Charity

NOVELS

Though famed, rightly, for his genre-changing series of spy novels and thrillers, Len Deighton's fiction writing has touched a range of other themes and styles, including crime thrillers, police-procedurals and short stories. Some of these are well-known, such as Bomber; others, including thrillers like City of Gold, sold well but are perhaps less familiar to the general reader.

Len Deighton's fiction writing has covered wartime stories, revolution, the golden age of cinema and many other topics beyond espionage. Deighton also turned his hand to writing short stories and produced one collection of novellas.

While he explored themes beyond the spy fiction genre for which he is renowned, during the peak of his writing career he broadened out his spy fiction writing, looking beyond the 'Harry Palmer' character to create stand-alone spy novels such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy and Yesterday's Spy, each of which carried the characteristic Deighton style and dialogue.

Find out more below about the breadth of Deighton's fiction writing.

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    Only When I Larf
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    Bomber
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    Close-Up
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    Spy Story
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    Yesterday's Spy
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    Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy
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    SS-GB
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    XPD
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    Goodbye Mickey Mouse
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    Mamista
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    City of Gold
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    Violent Ward

SHORT STORIES & NOVELLAS

Deighton is a novelist first and foremost and that's how he's made his name.

But as a storyteller he has, periodically, sought to tell his stories in shorter forms, either as collections of short stories bound together with a theme of the experiences of the soldier in the front line - Declarations of War - or through one-off stories contributed to as part of a compendium along with other authors.

Indeed, since his last full novel Violent Ward was published in 1994, the two short stories he has contributed to the collections shown below remain his only new fiction output.

Click below to read about the lesser known stories published by Deighton in short form.

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    Declarations of War
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    The Man Who Was A Coyote
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    Sherlock Holmes & The Titanic Swindle
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