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caractacus potts wrote:

The Honourable SchoolBoy
John leCarre

Sir Hillary Bray wrote:

My all-time favorite writer.  No, not you Potts -- Le Carre!  ajb007/biggrin

Very fair review, although I liked the whole journey a bit more than you did.  Westerby is the classic Le Carre sad sack -- jaded, resentful, but with just enough left in him to care.  I'll be interested in your review of Smiley's People, assuming you intend to read it (or may have already done so).

oh I liked it plenty.
I've read most of his early books over the last little while, and gotten to appreciate the tricks he uses to tell his story in a roundabout way. And that approach probably is more appropriate to a spy story, where so little us actually known by the people who're paid to know whats what.
But I did notice in this one he was really working that roundabout storytelling, and when I got to those two passages when he seemed to be congratulating himself for his own technique I did say out loud "oh get on with it!"

anyway our Fleming books average two hundred pages, so since leCarre does give us two hundred pages of  straightforward adventure in SouthEast Asia at the end, the rest is bonus.

I do have Smiley's People lined up next, in fact everything up to A Perfect Spy is currently sitting on my bookshelf and I will probably keep going after that.

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I've finished "Knife" the latest Harry Hole novel from Jo Nesbö. Nesbö is a masterful crime novel writer and I actually think he would be a good bond continuation novel writer if given the chance. I'm not going to say too much about "Knife". Harry is far from as well-adjusted and happy as he was in "Police" and that makes me happy. Not because I'm a sadist (I think I would like the novel even if I wasn't one  ajb007/shifty ) but because Harry Hole works better as a character when he's fighting with his demons. A very good crime novel  ajb007/smile

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Flashman on the March

Finally made it to the end of the Flashman adventures! sad day. I'd been pacing myself because they were so good and wanted to keep something to look forwards to, but that's it I've now read all twelve.


Has anybody ever compiled a list of Flashman's Unseen Missions? He mentions dozens in passing every book. I think in the earliest books, he would mention events that Fraser would later return to as the subject of future books, and in the later books he is mostly referring to adventures we've already seen. But there's still completely untold tales he references even in the last books.

And there's a few long unexplained gaps in his biography. In this one, in one of the footnotes Fraser even "hypothesises" Flashman's movements during the long gap following the most recent (internally chronological) adventure. I don't think Fraser would have felt the need to do this in his earlier novels, he'd just leave that to be explored later. So I suspect he knew he'd be writing no more and would never have another chance to fill in the gaps?


I do have a copy of the Pyrates in my to-read pile. I was attracted by the sexy cover. So there's that to look forward to.
A bookstore near me has Fraser's Hollywood History of the World: from One Million BC to Apocalypse Now. Has anybody read this? The idea of history as mis-told by pop culture appeals to me, as that's what future generations will be trusting to get their information from.

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Smiley's People

Sir Hillary Bray wrote:

...I'll be interested in your review of Smiley's People...

ha! after me kvetching about the overcomplicated PoV stuff in the previous book, you knew what I'd find!
This book is told almost entirely through the eyes of George Smiley!
I guess its title derives from it being basically a series of interrogations, as Smiley inches his way towards his archenemy Karla.

The first half of the book takes the form of a murder mystery, much like when Smiley was first introduced in Call for the Dead.
The trickiest bit of narrative technique comes in the middle, just as Smiley figures out whats going on. Sort of a set of nested flashbacks, as one character remembers another who in turn once described a memory of someone else who might actually have met Karla and even hinted that Karla may have a secret of his own.
Then Smiley himself goes on a field mission, to the redlight district of Hamburg, and finally to Geneva. I felt rather scared for our pudgy hero in some of these scenes.

It all ends surprisingly conclusively for a le Carre novel, at least at first glance.

Spoilerthe final scene is a mirror image of the opening of the "the Spy Who Came in from the Cold"

so its resolving more than just the storyline begun in Tinker Tailor
but...

Spoiler1) after 300 pages of interrogations, we don't actually see Smiley so much as speak to Karla. le Carre leaves us at the cusp of that moment. Yet Smiley's entire life's work was a type of conversation with his alter-ego, what can these two men possibly have to say face-to-face that hasnt already been said?
2) its impossible to believe an evil genius like Karla could be persuaded to surrender. He must be up to something, Smiley must be being played even as his colleagues congratulate him on his success. This implication is left to our imaginations, but becomes hard to deny the more I dwell on plot points and the ending.

I see le Carre has a new book out. I wonder is it safe to leap ahead and read that one? or are his recent books still intertwined with recurring characters and story arcs?

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caractacus potts wrote:

Smiley's People...

Great review, CP.  After what I considered the brilliant TTSS and the almost-brilliant THS, I could only imagine the Karla Trilogy's conclusion would be anticlimactic, and so I approached it with great trepidation.  Imagine my surprise to find it an absolute crackerjack.  The story just flew by, and I loved being in Smiley's head almost exclusively.  Even though I didn't have the same reaction you articulate in your second spoiler, neither can I really argue against it.  I did love Smiley's muted reaction to his triumph in a struggle he had dedicated much of his professional life to and could never really was winnable.  Classic George, and classic Le Carré.

Hilly...you old devil!

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I think that of the 10 (or thereabouts) John Le Carré novels that I have read, it was probably Smiley's People that I found most gripping, and I certainly didn't expect that. It is even more surprising considering that it was the only time that I had watched a screen adaptation of the novel before reading the book, so I knew the plot of the story and yet I still found it a really exciting read.

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I see that Smiley and Guillame each appear in two later novels, reminiscing about their classic adventures. So I guess if something went wrong after the final page of Smiley's People, we would have heard about it.
Smiley's People doesn't really reference the Honourable Schoolboy much, mostly building directly from events in Tinker Tailor.... But it does clarify the ending of ...Schoolboy, turns out Guillame was right to be paranoid.

Thinking more about the title:
Smiley doesn't seem to do normal healthy relationships with fellow humans, as repeatedly evidenced by his disfunctional marriage. But this interrogating he does, politely yet relentlessly ripping the truth out of the various characters he meets, that seems to be how he relates to people. He does that with several of his former professional colleagues in this book, people that a normal human would consider friends, and they comment on it.
It's part of why the long painful interrogation of Connie Sachs is so central and rather disturbing.

also: imagine if Bond had to abandon his Aston mid-adventure because gypsy urchins had vandalised it. I think le Carre was having a laugh at his hero in that scene.

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and in other spy-fiction,
Archie as the Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.
Archie Andrews that is!

a recent paperback from Archie Comics, compiling a run of stories from the mid60s, in which Archie and his gang are secret agents!
Originally published in Life with Archie 45 through 63 (Jan 66-July 67), around the same time as the better known Archie-as-superhero Pureheart the Powerful stories.


R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. stands for Really Impressive Vast Enterprise for Routing Dangerous Adversaries, Louts, Etc, but the actual organisation they work for is called P.O.P. (Protect our Planet), named after Pop Tate, whose soda shop is their secret headquarters.
Their opposing organizaion is C.R.U.S.H., whose acronym is never explained. And the P.O.P.agents names are correctly spelled A.R.C.H.I.E., J.U.G.H.E.A.D., etc, and these acronyms are not explained either.

In the first missions, V.E.R.O.N.I.C.A. and R.E.G.G.I.E. are members of C.R.U.S.H., but inexplicably about four missions in they too become part of P.O.P. In agent V.E.R.O.N.I.C.A.'s case, she is sporting a mod bob hairstyle and dressing in sleek Diana Rigg style costumes, which the more modest girl-next-door agent B.E.T.T.Y. tends not to do. Also, many of the plots revolve around Mr Lodge's factory, which now produces secret weapons technology such as invisible bombs.
But it is Agent B.E.T.T.Y. who gets her own spinoff series the Girl from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.

The villains are all costumed supervillain types, with gimmicky superpowers, the same as Pureheart the Powerful would be fighting, but in this context mostly motivated to steal top secret technology from Mr Lodge's factory.

And, A.R.C.H.I.E.'s jalopy is now tricked out with outrageous gadgets our Q department never thought of.

Maybe not quite so good as Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, or Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents, but easier to read than le Carre.

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The IPCRESS File
Len Deighton

Bios tell me Dieghton was a graphic artist before becoming an author. Which makes sense, as he gives us a series of striking visual images but leaves it up to us readers to interpret their meaning and assemble them into a narrative.

The first half especially he gives us our Plot in random isolated fragments.
The conventional spythriller plot fragments come in between much more interesting dialogs, as our nameless protagonist makes smart-ass remarks to his superiors and complains constantly about expenses owing and backpay even as he is transferred and promoted to  much better job. Mostly its all about class resentments, as everybody else is posh and born to power and our nameless protagonist never misses an opportunity to remind them.

Partway through there's a change of scene to a Pacific atoll where there's a neutron bomb test scheduled, and the episodic storytelling is replaced by something resembling a conventional plot. And something bad does happen, but I'm not sure its anything to actually do with the bomb or just an excuse to entrap our nameless protagonist. The plot flows more continuously from this point, but it's still a sequence of confusing images that may or may not add up.

Novel ends with two chapters of exposition, where our nameless protagonist explains to his sexy assistant all the fine details of the plot that were only ever hinted at in glimpses the first time round. Sounds like there was an exciting spy story going on in between all the smart-ass exchanges about backpay! (ironic the sexy assistant has to ask what the plot was all about, since during the Pacific atoll scenes she demonstrated she was a smarter more competent spy than her boss.)

SpoilerI'm also not convinced our nameless protagonist did anything to solve the case or catch the baddies. Seems like he was being played for a patsy by all sides, and other characters were doing all the important work in between the paragraphs we got to read

Lots of food snobbery here, and coffee snobbery decades before that was fashionable. And everybody reads fine literature. Our nameless protagonist may give attitude to all the toffs he has to work for, but he seems desperate to prove he's better than he is with all his ostentatious fine tastes.
But I gather Deighton also writes cookbooks when he's not writing spynovels, so thatd explain the big lobster and champagne finale too.

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Horse Under Water
Len Deighton

More coherent than the first book, at least this time everything we are told is relevant to the espionage plot. Deighton still conceals much important information, but what he reveals and what he hides seems more deliberate this time, and there are at least three incorrect explanations as to why everybody is so interested in the sunken submarine until all is revealed in the end.

Deighton's descriptions of the Algarve are detailed and tactile, he really has a sense of place. The first book had long passages of very specific London geography, and I gather his descriptions of Berlin in later books are just as good.

Did Saltzman not adapt this one maybe because all the diving content was too similar to Thunderball?

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NB -GIFT IDEA!

https://www.bokklubben.no/servlet/VisBildeServlet?produktId=15831164&width=400

I'm not reading this book at the  moment, but "Snøsøsteren" ("The snow sister") by Maja Lunde was a huge success when it was published last year. I know it's published in 26 languages and Hollywood has bought the rights and are devoloping the film.  It's a novel for children and it has 24 chapters, making it perfect as a litterary Christmas calendar. It's about ten year old Julian who looks forward to Christmas, but he also thinks about his older sister who he recently lost. To quote a reviewer: "The snow sister" is a beautiful book, full of moods, emotions and wisdom.
Already last year the novel was a big success internationally and it's probably translated to your language too by now. Maja Lunde has already had big international succuess with a novel for adults: "The history of bees"
The illustrations in "The snow sister" are incredibly beautiful too!

https://www.museumsbutikken.dk/images/pageimage/34688b.jpg

https://salg.aisato.no/assets/img/1024/1024/bilder_nettbutikk/77d2973688d534056f7c17921bff72f6-image.jpeg

Last edited by Number24 (8th Dec 2019 22:59)

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caractacus potts wrote:

Horse Under Water
Len Deighton

More coherent than the first book, at least this time everything we are told is relevant to the espionage plot. Deighton still conceals much important information, but what he reveals and what he hides seems more deliberate this time, and there are at least three incorrect explanations as to why everybody is so interested in the sunken submarine until all is revealed in the end.

Deighton's descriptions of the Algarve are detailed and tactile, he really has a sense of place. The first book had long passages of very specific London geography, and I gather his descriptions of Berlin in later books are just as good.

Did Saltzman not adapt this one maybe because all the diving content was too similar to Thunderball?

In the last couple of years I've read Deighton's 'Game, Set and Match' trilogy and am looking forward to getting into the 'Hook, Line and Sinker' trilogy. I also re-read The Ipcress File earlier this year, and I've been meaning to get around to Horse Under Water for ages now. I've never read it before and your post has just reminded me that I need to bump it up near the top of my ever-lengthening 'to-read' list.

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Golrush007 wrote:

In the last couple of years I've read Deighton's 'Game, Set and Match' trilogy and am looking forward to getting into the 'Hook, Line and Sinker' trilogy. I also re-read The Ipcress File earlier this year, and I've been meaning to get around to Horse Under Water for ages now. I've never read it before and your post has just reminded me that I need to bump it up near the top of my ever-lengthening 'to-read' list.

I should be interested in your thoughts on IPCRESS and Deighton's later books. I've never read him before, and am mighty entertained so far.
If I give him heck for concealing information and seeming to tell the wrong story, well that's what he does and there may be reason for it, its not necessarily because he's a sloppy storyteller.

I found this indepth analysis of Deighton's literary technique, specifically in Horse Under Water. The reviewer argues all the "inconsequential detail" is part of the Unnamed Protagonists' training, that he is trained to be a dispassionate observor as part of his job and takes in all sensory data and assesses it objectively, whether it is apparantly relevant to his mission or not. Any of the seemingly random observations he makes could be a clue or could save his life.

The reviewer compares the effect of this technique to cubism! In that no detail is priveleged over any other, whether it pertains to the presumed plot or not, and that all facets of the Protagonist's experience are given equal weight.
That might not be so crazy. Deighton is the artiest of all the spy thriller authors I've read, with his own professional background, his constant namedrropping of hip Jazz musicians and modern artists, and his hands on involvement in the design and layout of his books, with chapter headings forwards and appendices all having a visual role in the experience of deciphering his books.

So does his storytelling get any more conventional in his later novels?

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Nope!  ajb007/biggrin
At least in his spy novels, anyway- some of the war stories are more conventional in structure.

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hey Barbel!
do you know why Saltzman didnt film Horse Under Water?

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It was intended to be the 4th film in the Harry Palmer series. Michael Caine was no longer under contract, and the returns for Billion Dollar Brain (the 3rd film) hadn't been impressive. Saltzman initially planned to recast with Nigel Davenport but couldn't raise the money.

Can I refer you to https://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/46150/th … ry-palmer/ ?

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caractacus potts wrote:

I should be interested in your thoughts on IPCRESS and Deighton's later books. I've never read him before, and am mighty entertained so far.
If I give him heck for concealing information and seeming to tell the wrong story, well that's what he does and there may be reason for it, its not necessarily because he's a sloppy storyteller.

I first tackled The IPCRESS File about 12 years ago, not long after I had discovered the Harry Palmer films. I enjoyed it up to a point, but once the action moved to the atoll I started to get a bit confused and lost interest a bit. Subsequently I read Funeral in Berlin and enjoyed that one more.

I then didn't read any more Deighton for about 10 years until I picked up Berlin Game, the first book in the Bernard Samson series. Berlin Game is terrific. Classic Cold War stuff involving defection, crossing borders, running agents in enemy territory. And structurally I'd say it is pretty conventional. It has a great Cold War Berlin atmosphere and an excellent cast of characters. Samson is a middle aged operator who grew up in Berlin, and often works with his childhood friend Werner Volkmann. Samson's relationship with his superiors is often a bit strained, particularly his immediate superior Dicky Cruyer who is one of the most memorable characters. Samson's wife is also a key character.

Like the 'Palmer' novels, Samson narrates in the first person so we get a lot of his opinion about the incompetence of people like Cruyer, as well as some wistful passages expressing his love of Berlin. Spy Sinker, the sixth novel in the series (which I haven't read yet), shifts the narration to third person and from what I've been told, this shift throws some doubt on Samson's reliability as a narrator so I'm looking forward to reading that one. From my experience of Deighton so far, I prefer the Bernard Samson novels, and as a nine part series it makes a rather impressive saga, with a strong continuing story running through it. I definitely recommend you give them a try.

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Seconded. As Golrush says, Samson is an unreliable narrator which is something Deighton excels at all the way back to his early novels.

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I wrote:

hey Barbel!
do you know why Saltzman didnt film Horse Under Water?

Barbel wrote:

It was intended to be the 4th film in the Harry Palmer series. Michael Caine was no longer under contract, and the returns for Billion Dollar Brain (the 3rd film) hadn't been impressive. Saltzman initially planned to recast with Nigel Davenport but couldn't raise the money.

Can I refer you to https://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/46150/th … ry-palmer/ ?

thanks Barbel, lot of good info and discussion about the films in that thread.
I've been looking for the three films on dvd for some time now, they're elusive.
Strange considering Michael Caine is still a popular actor, and those are some of the films that made his reputation.

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More like next book I'm going to read  ..... Today I was in a second-hand book store looking for Christmas gifts (I'm finished buying all the gifts - jay me!  ajb007/biggrin ) and Dusko Popov's autobiography "Spy - counterspy" cought my eye. Popov was one of the most important spies in MI5's Double Cross system. He is often mentioned as an inspiration for James Bond and I can see why. Playboy, womanizer, gambler, loved to drive fast cars and skiing, a crack pistol shot, knew five languages and an international spy  ajb007/bond
I'll write a review when I'm fininshed reading.

Last edited by Number24 (20th Dec 2019 20:30)

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I just finished The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin, book number 3 in Brian Freemantle's Charlie Muffin series. Charlie Muffin is a memorable fictional spy, scruffy, a bit insubordinate and unorthodox. The first book in the series was one of the most memorable spy thrillers I've read in recent years, and both of the subsequent books have been thrilling reads. The style of writing is very simple, no flowery descriptions, and no wasted words, and the chapters often end with a hook that gets you eager to continue reading. This novel also has a nice Bondian connection - the plot is centred around a luxury liner that is being converted into a university by a Hong Kong businessman and moored in Hong Kong harbour, until it mysteriously catches alight and partially sinks - much like the Queen Elizabeth which features in the TMWTGG film.

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Funeral in Berlin
Len Deighton

Indeed his descriptions of Berlin are excellent, completely unglamorous. A grey utilitarian city full of shadowy backalleys, with a river flowing through you would never notice. As he points out, in any other city it would be the river that divides a city in two. And every last random passerby is some sort of for-profit triple agent.
There is also a detour to Prague that makes that city sound quite beautiful.

For the first time there are chapters from other characters points of view, basically one for each of the suspicious supporting characters our unnamed protagonist is forced to cooperate with. Each reveals aspects of character our unnamed protagonist did not notice, sometime humourously contradicting what he just told us. And I don't think any of these digressions give any clues as to what's really up, the real clues are hidden elsewhere.


This book (published 1964) begs comparison with the Spy Who Came in With the Cold (1963). They both deal with the problem of getting someone across the Wall, and in both stories there are layers upon layers of treachery the protagonist is unaware of until the end, and both make a game of concealing crucial information from the reader.
Le Carre told a more elegant story, with a genuinely tragic shock ending (I still think its his best book I've read), Deighton is much much much more complicated, but at the end I care little about the characters, instead I am impressed by how he did indeed scatter all the clues throughout the book while misdirecting.

The Berlin wall had only been built three years previous, so its no surprise it would provide appealing subject matter to all the big spy writers. Fleming had a similar story too: it was even originally titled Berlin Escape!

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"Spy/counterspy" by Dusko Popov

This is the autobiography of  the Serbian triple agent who served as part of the MI6 and Abwehr during World War II, and passed off disinformation to Germany as part of the Double-Cross System and working also as agent for the Yugoslav government-in-exile in London. I honestly can't say if Popov is 100% true to the facts in this book, but I know It's well documented that he was a very important in the espionage game he was playing. I can say he's  a good writer who knows how to make a story exciting. Popov has been mentioned as one of the possible inspirations for James Bond and it's easy to see why: He describes a world of danger, espionage, beautiful women, fast cars, luxury hotels and high stakes gambling. Popov even describes an experience with Ian Fleming in a Casino in Portugal. In fact I've never read a non-Bond book that feels as Bondian as this one. I can recomend it highly to any Bond fan!

Last edited by Number24 (27th Dec 2019 20:59)

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Ma'am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

This has been renamed on Amazon with the strap as The hilarious, bestselling royal biography, perfect for fans of The Crown to cash in on the Netflix series, but there's no need. This is brilliant.

'Now why is Nap recommending a bio of a late royal?' some of you might puzzle. Now, Brown is possibly the wittiest journalist in Britain today, he writes for the satirical magazine Private Eye - superb spoofs of the supposed great and good - and also for the Daily Mail, though he seems above the newspaper itself, which is not to everyone's taste.

Brown's book is not a conventional bio, though it is in chronological order. It's a bit like those History of the Napoleonic War in 50 Objects books... each chapter is a bize-sized chunk. In this case the stories are anecdotal, and there's a lot here because Margaret really was an all-out cow on occasion and stories are legion about her outrageous rudeness whenever the mood took her. Being fond of the party life, all sorts pop up in her chequered life, including Cecil Beaton, Gore Vidal, Peter Sellers and the Beatles, who get their own chapters here, based on their interaction with her.

What Brown has picked up on is that Margaret had a walk-on part in many of the diaries of these old queens, such as Noel Coward, Beaton and Vidal, who often would sum her up with withering, waspish scorn, while being charming to her in person. Brown collates all these stories and more. If he often damns Margaret, it is also a damnation of our country and it's society, in that so many people are taken in with the Royal cult and go along with her awful behaviour.
It is a real eye-opener.

The bite-size chapter format allows the author to overthink and overwrite, often with great insight and comic effect. Often you can judge a book by its footnotes - the fictional Flashman Chronicles do this to great effect - and there's one savage footnote regarding the Queen Mother's behaviour towards her staff which will make you think ill of her.

Brown has a book on the Beatles out this spring, so I'll certainly be looking out for that.

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Billion Dollar Brain
Len Deighton

Lots of globetrotting in this one: Helsinki > Leningrad > Latvia > Greenwich Village and Wall Street > San Antonio and back again. I particularly  liked the Greenwich Village content, but that's because its the only location I've seen in real life. Still, Deighton is credited with his invocations of mod London, so a trip to mid60s Greenwich Village is relevant.

Features two characters returning from the previous book: Harvey Newbegin, who is much more of a loudtalking con-artist than he was when we first met him; and Colonel Stok, probably my favourite character who definitely deserves more pages.

I think Deighton was already assuming his books would get filmed, as the scenes in San Antonio and Wall Street seem conceived with Ken Adam set design in mind.
But all those Ken Adam potential setpieces are ultimately irrelevant, having nothing to do with the story's resolution, which is rather more personal. wikipedia claims this book is a labyrinth full of  "dead-ends" and the bit we Bondfans might assume to be the most important turns out to be one of those dead ends.


That's all the Deighton for me, for now. That's all his books I have, and most sources state these are the four books about the character whose name isn't Harry. Though Wikipedia thinks An Expensive Place to Die is part of the same series.

I found a good Deighton fansite, with lots of original interviews with Deighton himself. In one of those interviews, he states he had to invent a new unnamed protagonist because of copyright reasons (meaning what, maybe Saltzman owned any stories about the Palmer character even when he didn't have a name?)

[Q:] Is the character called "Pat Armstrong" in "Spy Story" really the unnamed protagonist from the early "Secret File" novels? There seems to be evidence both for and against, but I'd like to hear Len's view. Pat seems to me to have a lot in common with "Harry Palmer", whereas the unnamed hero of "An Expensive Place to Die" seems like a very different person.

Len: I was asked to use different names for the books because of the legal implications of 'character rights'. I took advantage of this in adapting their characters and their past history. Yes, the man in Expensive Place to Die is not quite Harry Palmer. But, generally, they are the same basic character. Years later, when I started planning the Bernard Samson stories I created a completely different character. I wanted a family man with a more complex attitude to his life and his work.

He also talks a bit about his involvement with the From Russia With Love film on that page.

Last edited by caractacus potts (21st Jan 2020 00:12)