Deighton, Len

views updated May 21 2018

Len Deighton


Born February 18, 1929, in Marylebone, London, England; married Shirley Thompson (an illustrator), 1960. Education: Attended St. Martin's School of Art, London, three years; graduated from Royal College of Art.


Office— 25 Newman St., London W1, England.


Novelist. Worked as a railway lengthman, an assistant pastry cook at the Royal Festival Hall, 1951, a manager of a gown factory in Aldgate, England, a waiter in Piccadilly, an advertising man in London, England, and New York, NY, a teacher in Brittany, a co-proprietor of a glossy magazine, and as a magazine artist and news photographer; steward, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), 1956-57; producer of films, including Only When I Larf, based on his novel of the same title, 1969.

Awards, Honors

Goodbye, Mickey Mouse and Spy Hook were Book-ofthe-Month Club selections; Winter: A Novel of a Berlin Family was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection; Horse Under Water and Mexico Set were Literary Guild Selections.


Only When I Larf (novel), M. Joseph (London, England), 1968, published as Only When I Laugh, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1987.

Oh, What a Lovely War! (screenplay), Paramount, 1969.

Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an R.A.F. Bomber over Germany on the Night of June 31, 1943 (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1970.

Declarations of War (story collection), J. Cape (London, England), 1971, published as Eleven Declarations of War, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975.

Close-Up (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1972.

SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain, 1941 (novel), J. Cape (London, England), 1978, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Goodbye, Mickey Mouse (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.

Winter: A Novel of a Berlin Family, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Also author of television scripts Long Past Glory, 1963, and It Must Have Been Two Other Fellows, 1977. Also author of weekly comic strip on cooking, Observer, 1962—.


The Ipcress File, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1962, reprinted, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1982.

Horse under Water, J. Cape (London, England), 1963, Putnam (New York, NY), 1967.

Funeral in Berlin, J. Cape (London, England), 1964, Putnam (New York, NY), 1965.

The Billion Dollar Brain, Putnam (New York, NY), 1966.

An Expensive Place to Die, Putnam (New York, NY), 1967.

Spy Story, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1974.

Yesterday's Spy, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, J. Cape (London, England), 1976, published as Catch a Falling Spy, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976.

XPD, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

Berlin Game, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.

Mexico Set, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

London Match, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Spy Hook, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Spy Line, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

Spy Sinker, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

MAMista, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

City of Gold, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Violent Ward, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Faith, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Hope, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Charity, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.


(Editor) Drinks-man-ship: Town's Album of Fine Wines and High Spirits, Haymarket Press, 1964.

Ou est le garlic; or, Len Deighton's French Cookbook, Penguin (London, England), 1965, revised edition published as Basic French Cooking, J. Cape (London, England), 1979.

Action Cookbook: Len Deighton's Guide to Eating, J. Cape (London, England), 1965.

Len Deighton's Cookstrip Cook Book, Bernard Geis Associates, 1966.

(Editor, with Michael Rand and Howard Loxton) The Assassination of President Kennedy, J. Cape (London, England), 1967.

(Editor and contributor) Len Deighton's London Dossier, J. Cape (London, England), 1967.

Len Deighton's Continental Dossier: A Collection of Cultural, Culinary, Historical, Spooky, Grim and Preposterous Fact, compiled by Victor and Margaret Pettitt, M. Joseph (London, England), 1968.

Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, J. Cape (London, England), 1977, Knopf (New York, NY), 1978.

(With Peter Mayle) How to Be a Pregnant Father, Lyle Stuart (New York, NY), 1977.

(With Arnold Schwartzman) Airshipwreck, J. Cape (London, England), 1978, Holt (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Simon Goodenough) Tactical Genius in Battle, Phaidon Press (San Francisco, CA), 1979.

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk, Coward (New York, NY), 1980.

(With Max Hastings) Battle of Britain, Coward (New York, NY), 1980.

ABC of French Food, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.

Blood, Tears, and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.


The Ipcress File was filmed by Universal in 1965, Funeral in Berlin by Paramount in 1966, The Billion Dollar Brain by United Artists in 1967, Only When I Larf by Paramount in 1969, Spy Story in 1976; film rights to An Expensive Place to Die have been sold. Deighton's nameless British spy hero was given the name Harry Palmer in the film adaptations of his adventures.


With his early novels, especially The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin, Len Deighton established himself as one of the mainstays of modern espionage fiction. He is often ranked—along with Graham Greene, John le Carre, and Ian Fleming—among the foremost writers in the field. Deighton shows a painstaking attention to accuracy in depicting espionage activities, and in his early novels this realism was combined with a light ironic touch that sets his work apart. Deighton, David Quammen remarked in the New York Times Book Review, is "a talented, droll and original spy novelist."

Born in London, England, in 1929, Deighton worked a series of jobs before becoming a writer. He was a railway lengthman, an assistant pastry cook at the Royal Festival Hall, a manager of a gown factory, a waiter, an advertising man, a teacher, a co-proprietor of a glossy magazine, a magazine artist, a news photographer, and a steward with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). In 1960 he married Shirley Thompson, an illustrator. In 1962, he published his first novel, The Ipcress File.

The Reluctant Spy

Deighton's early novels are written in an elliptical style that emphasizes the mysterious nature of the espionage activities portrayed. They feature a nameless British intelligence officer who is quite different from the usual fictional spy. This officer is a reluctant spy, cynical, and full of wisecracks. Unlike many other British agents, he is also, Julian Symons stated in Mortal Consequences: A History—From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel, "a working-class boy from Brunley, opposed to all authority, who dislikes or distrusts anybody outside his own class. He is set down in a world of terrifying complexity, in which nobody is ever what he seems." "The creation of this slightly anarchic, wise-cracking, working-class hero," T. J. Binyon wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "was Deighton's most original contribution to the spy thriller. And this, taken together with his characteristic highly elliptical expositional manner, with his fascination with the technical nuts and bolts of espionage, and with a gift for vivid, startling description, make the first seven [of Deighton's spy] stories classics of the genre." Peter S. Prescott of Newsweek, speaking of the early novels featuring Deighton's nameless hero, found that the style, marked by "oblique narration, nervous laughter and ironic detachment, … effectively transformed [Deighton's] spy stories into comedies of manners."

Deighton's narrative approach in these early books is clipped and episodic, deliberately omitting vital explanations of what his characters are discussing or thinking. This style, Robin W. Winks wrote in the New Republic, makes Deighton's "plots seem more complex than they are.… Because very little is stated explicitly, sequences appear to begin in mid-passage, and only through observation of the action does one come to understand either the motives of the villains, or the thought processes of the heroes." In these novels, Winks concluded, "Deighton had patented a style in which every third paragraph appeared to have been left out." Although this style confuses some readers—Prescott claimed that Deighton's "specialty has always been a nearly incoherent plot"—Pearl K. Bell found it well suited to the subject matter of Deighton's novels. Writing in New Leader, Bell stated that Deighton's "obsessive reliance on the blurred and intangible, on loaded pauses and mysteriously disjointed dialogue, did convey the shadowy meanness of the spy's world, with its elusive loyalties, camouflaged identities and weary brutality."

The Ipcress File

Deighton was an immediate success with his first novel, The Ipcress File, a book that Anthony Boucher of the New York Times Book Review admitted "caused quite a stir among both critics and customers in England." The Ipcress File unfolds as the unnamed narrator/protagonist, a British man in his early thirties from working-class origins, tells the government's Minister of Defense of his instrumental role in a recent, highly sensitive case. The narrator begins by noting he had recently resigned from British Military Intelligence to join a newly formed special civilian intelligence group called the W.O. O.C. (P.), which stands for War Office Operations Committee (Provisional). He and his former department head, Colonel Ross, despised each other but managed a tense working relationship. Brigadier Dalby, director of the W.O.O.C. (P.), is similar to Ross in sharing a middle-class background, but has a more chummy relationship with the narrator.

At the W.O.O.C. (P.) the narrator is assigned to investigate the disappearance of eight British biochemists who have been abducted over a six-week period. The investigation takes Deighton's nameless protagonist and his boss on an adventure to a nuclear testing site on a Pacific atoll, to the Middle East, and behind the Iron Curtain, with the narrator never knowing exactly who to trust. The book continues to be popular for its combination of a serious espionage plot with a parody of the genre. As Richard Locke observed in the New York Times Book Review, The Ipcress File possesses "a Kennedy-cool amorality…, a cross of Hammett and cold war lingo."

Critics praised The Ipcress File's gritty evocation of intelligence work, ironic narrative, and comic touches. Boucher called it "a sharply written, ironic and realistic tale of modern spy activities." Deighton's humor attracted the most attention from John B. Cullen of Best Sellers, who claimed that in The Ipcress File "Deighton writes with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.…No one is spared the needle of subtle ridicule, but the author still tells a plausible story which holds your attention throughout." However, for Robert Donald Spectar of the New York Herald Tribune Book Review Deighton's humor ruined the espionage story. "Deighton," Spectar wrote, "has combined picaresque satire, parody, and suspense and produced a hybrid more humorous than thrilling." But this opinion is disputed by G. W. Stonier in the New Statesman. Comparing Deighton with James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Stonier found Deighton to be "a good deal more expert and twice the writer" and believed "there has been no brighter arrival on the shady scene since Graham Greene." Even in 1979, some seventeen years after the book's initial publication, Julian Symons of the New York Times Book Review was moved to call The Ipcress File "a dazzling performance. The verve and energy, the rattle of wit in the dialogue, the side-of-the-mouth comments, the evident pleasure taken in cocking a snook at the British spy story's upper-middle-class tradition—all these, together with the teasing convolutions of the plot, made it clear that a writer of remarkable talent in this field had appeared."

Deighton's reputation as an espionage writer was enhanced by Funeral in Berlin, a story revolving around an attempt to smuggle a defecting East German biologist out of Berlin. With the assistance of a high-ranking Russian agent, former Nazi intelligence officers, and a freelance operator of doubtful allegiance, Deighton's unnamed hero arranges the details of the defection. The many plot twists, and Deighton's enigmatic presentation of his story, prompted Stephen Hugh-Jones of New Statesman to admit, "I spent most of the book wondering what the devil was going on." Boucher found the mysterious goings-on to be handled well. "The double and triple crosses involved," Boucher wrote, "are beautifully worked out." Published at the same time as John le Carre's classic espionage tale The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, a novel also set in Germany's divided city, Funeral in Berlin compared favorably with its competitor. Boucher called its plot "very nearly as complex and nicely calculated," while Charles Poore of the New York Times maintained that it is "even better" than le Carre's book. It is, Poore concluded, "a ferociously cool fable of the current struggle between East and West." Andy East of Armchair Detective claimed that Funeral in Berlin "has endured as Deighton's most celebrated novel."

Since these early novels, Deighton's style has evolved, becoming more expansive and less oblique. His "approach has grown more sophisticated," Mark Schorr related in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "His more recent writings offer a deft balance of fact, scene-setting and the who-can-we-trust paranoia that makes spy novels engrossing." Peter Elstob of Books and Bookmen elaborated on the change. Deighton "develops with each new book," Elstob believed. "He could have gone on repeating the formula of The Ipcress File with undoubted success, but instead he tried for more subtlety, for more convincing, more substantial characters."

Game, Set, and Match

Among Deighton's most important work has been the trilogy comprised of Berlin Game, Mexico Set, and London Match. Here, Deighton spins a long story of moles (agents working within an enemy intelligence organization), defection, and betrayal that also comments on his own writing career, the espionage genre, and the cold war between East and West that has inspired such fiction. Derrick Murdoch of the Toronto Globe and Mail called the trilogy "Deighton's most ambitious project; the conventional spy-story turned inside-out."

The first novel of the trilogy, Berlin Game, opens with two agents waiting near the Berlin Wall for a defector to cross over from East Berlin. "How long have we been sitting here?" asks Bernie Samson, British agent and the protagonist of the trilogy. "Nearly a quarter of a century," his companion replies. With that exchange Deighton underlines the familiarity of this scene in espionage fiction, in his own early work and in the work of others, while commenting on the continuing relevance of the Berlin Wall as a symbol of East-West conflict, noted Anthony Olcott in the Washington Post Book World. Deighton, Olcott argued, "is not only aware of this familiarity, it is his subject.… Berlin and the Wall remain as much the embodiment of East-West rivalry as ever.…Toread Berlin Game is to shrug off 25 years of acclimatization to the Cold War, and to recall what espionage fiction is about in the first place."

In Berlin Game, Samson works to uncover a Soviet agent secretly working at the highest levels of British intelligence. This, too, is a standard plot in spy fiction, inspired by the real-life case of Soviet spy Kim Philby. But, as the New Yorker critic pointed out, "Deighton, as always, makes the familiar twists and turns of spy errantry new again, partly by his grip of narrative, partly by his grasp of character, and partly by his easy, sardonic tone." Prescott claimed that the novel does not display the wit of Deighton's earlier works, but the book overcomes its faults because of Deighton's overall skill as a storyteller. "Each scene in this story," Prescott wrote, "is so adroitly realized that it creates its own suspense. Samson, the people who work for him, his wife, even the twits who have some reason to be working for Moscow, are interesting characters; what they say to each other is convincing. Besides, the book is full of Berlin lore: we can easily believe that Samson did grow up there and thinks of it as home." In like terms, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times held that in Berlin Game "the immediate scene is always brilliantly clear, thanks mostly to Mr. Deighton's intimate familiarity with the Berlin landscape. Every building and street seems to have resonance for him, which he imparts to the reader." Olcott judged Berlin Game to be "among Deighton's best books" because "his Berlin, his characters, the smallest details of his narrative are so sharp." Olcott concluded that it is "a book to strip away the age-withered, custom-staled betrayals of all that quarter century of novels, perhaps even of history, and once again make painful, real, alive, the meaning of treason."

Mexico Set continues the story begun in Berlin Game. In the first book, Samson uncovers the spy in British intelligence—his own wife—and she defects to East Germany. To redeem himself in the eyes of his superiors, who now harbor understandable doubts about his own loyalty, Samson works in Mexico Set to convince a Russian KGB agent to defect. But the agent may only be a plant meant to further discredit Samson and destroy his credibility. If Samson cannot convince him to defect, his superiors may assume that he is secretly working for the Russians himself. But the Russian may defect only to provide British intelligence with "proof" of Samson's treason. As in Berlin Game, Deighton relates this novel back to the origins of the cold war and, "just when you've forgotten what the Cold War was all about, Len Deighton takes you right back to the [Berlin] Wall and rubs your nose on it," as Chuck Moss wrote in the Detroit News.

Samson's efforts to persuade the Russian agent to defect take him from London to Mexico, Paris, and Berlin. "Every mile along the way," Noel Behn wrote in the Chicago Tribune, "objectives seem to alter, friends and enemies become indistinguishable, perils increase, people disappear, people die." Behn found that it is Deighton's characters that make the story believable: "They strut forward one after the other—amusing, beguiling, arousing, deceiving, threatening—making us look in the wrong direction when it most behooves the prestidigitator's purpose." Ross Thomas also saw Deighton's characters as an essential ingredient in the novel's success. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Thomas reported that Deighton "serves up fascinating glimpses of such types as the nearly senile head of British intelligence; a KGB major with a passion for Sherlock Holmes; and Samson's boyhood friend and Jewish orphan, Werner Volkmann," all of whom Thomas found to be "convincing characters." Thomas concluded that Mexico Set is "one of [Deighton's] better efforts," while Behn called the novel "a pure tale, told by an author at the height of his power."

In the final novel of the trilogy, London Match, the Russian agent has defected to the British. But Samson must now decide whether the defector is telling the truth when he insists that a high-ranking member of British intelligence is a Russian mole. The situation grows more complicated when the suspected mole, one of Samson's superiors, comes to Samson for help in clearing his name. London Match "is the most complex novel of the trilogy," Julius Lester wrote in the New York Times Book Review. But Lester found London Match's complexity to be a liability. He explained that "the feeling it conveys of being trapped in a maze of distorting mirrors is almost a cliche in spy novels now." Similarly, Gene Lyons of Newsweek called London Match "not the most original spy story ever told." In his review of the book for the Washington Post Book World, J. I. M. Stewart criticized Deighton's characterization. He stated that "the characters, although liable to bore a little during their frequently over-extended verbal fencings, are tenaciously true to themselves even if not quite to human nature."

But even critics with reservations about some of the novel's qualities found aspects of the book to praise. Stewart lauded Deighton's ability to recreate the settings of his story. "The places, whether urban or rural, can be described only as triumphs alike of painstaking observation and striking descriptive power," Stewart wrote. Lester found this strength, too, calling "the best character" in the book "the city of Berlin. It is a living presence, and in some of the descriptions one can almost hear the stones breathing." More favorable critics pointed to Deighton's handling of characters as one of the book's best features. Schorr, for example, believed that "Deighton gives a skilled and believable portrait of Samson.… Samson maintains his professional cool, but there is a sense that emotions are repressed, and not nonexistent, as with too many other spy heroes." Margaret Cannon of the Toronto Globe and Mail praised London Match, calling the trilogy "some of [Deighton's] best work," and London Match "a brilliant climax to the story."

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Deighton continues Samson's adventures in Spy Hook, the first story in a second trilogy about the British intelligence agent. In this thriller, Samson is charged with accounting for the disappearance of millions in Secret Service funds. At first, he suspects his ex-wife—who defected in the earlier Berlin Game—as the thief, but Samson learns that his superiors have begun to suspect him for the crime. Spy Hook was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and became a best seller. Critical reception of the work was generally favorable, with reviewers praising the book's carefully developed and intricate plot, detailed settings, and suspenseful atmosphere. "Deighton's craftsmanship—his taut action and his insightful study of complex characters under pressure—is very much in place here, but many … unanswered questions raised in Spy Hook remain just that at the novel's conclusion," stated Don G. Campbell in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Several critics, though, shared Margaret Cannon's Toronto Globe and Mail assessment of Spy Hook as matching Deighton's previous achievements in the espionage genre. The novel, she wrote, "promises to be even better than its terrific predecessors and proves that Deighton, the old spymaster, is still in top form."

Deighton followed Spy Hook with the trilogy's second installment, Spy Line, in 1989 and the concluding book, Spy Sinker, in 1990. Spy Sinker focuses on the clandestine efforts of Samson's wife to effect the fall of the Berlin Wall from inside East Germany. As it turns out, Samson's wife was working as a double-agent all along. Her earlier defection and callous abandonment of her husband was ordered by British Intelligence as part of a long-term strategic plan to subvert East German internal order. "Here Spy Sinker shows Deighton at the top of his form, in his concentration upon the one player in this series whose story is not yet told," wrote Anthony Olcott in the Washington Post Book World. Olcott added, "Deighton is able now to close in Spy Sinker by exploring what betrayal costs the betrayer, a woman who for higher loyalties leaves husband, home, and country, to incur even more betrayals in a cycle which may, in the end, destroy her."

According to Albert Hunt in New Statesmen and Society, "Everything slots together beautifully—Len Deighton has done as professional a job as Bernard Samson ever did." A Time reviewer similarly praised Spy Sinker, noting that Deighton accomplishes the near impossible—"winding up a closely plotted six-volume thriller … and still writing a credible novel. He makes a good job of it with a clever change of focus." However, New York Times Book Review contributor Morton Kondracke strongly disagreed: "As a stand-alone spy novel, this book is implausible, often incomprehensible and, altogether, downright dull." Though acknowledging the rather convenient resolution achieved by Deighton as the omnipotent narrator, Hunt remarked, "Manipulation, rather than the Berlin Wall, is what these books are about—that, and the way what Bernard calls 'marital, professional and political' betrayals are enmeshed."

Faith, Hope, and Charity

Deighton initiated another Samson trilogy with Faith and Hope in 1995. Set in Berlin in 1987, Faith tells of Samson's participation in the defection of a Communist spy and relates complicated domestic circumstances surrounding the return of his wife after their long separation. "What raises Deighton's genre to art," according to Andy Solomon in the Washington Post Book World, "is not only his absorbing characters but his metaphoric grace … droll wit … command of technical detail … and sure sense of place." Despite such praise, New York Times Book Review contributor Newgate Callendar described Faith as "dull and turgid." Likewise a Kirkus Reviews critic noted Deighton's "vapid characters, murky plot, and infelicitous descriptions." While noting slow passages concerning Samson's marital difficulties and intelligence agency politics, Times Literary Supplement reviewer John-Paul Flintoff wrote, "Deighton throws in plenty of plausible details—tricks of the trade, gun specifications, a picture of Berlin as a local would see it."

Deighton followed with Hope, in which Samson pursues his Polish brother-in-law despite official evidence of his death at the hands of Russian army deserters. Commenting on the strained relationship depicted between Samson and his wife, a Times LiterarySupplement reviewer described Hope as "an unexpectedly ambiguous novel, complicated by repressed emotions and jealousies as well as by double crosses and false identities." Scott Veale complained in the New York Times Book Review, "there's more secrecy than action in this novel, and too often it's easy to get lost in the plot's numerous byways." However, Chris Petrakos praised Hope in the Chicago Tribune Books, noting that "as usual" Deighton puts forth "a taut, enigmatic effort." The Publishers Weekly reviewer also commended Hope and hailed Deighton as "the only author other than le Carre who deserves to be known as 'spymaster.'"

The trilogy's third novel, Charity, appeared in 1996. In this installment Samson investigates the suspicious death of his sister-in-law, an investigation met with official silence from his superiors. Meanwhile, he confronts agency politics in Berlin and battles with his father-in-law over custody of his children back in London. Emily Melton in Booklist described Charity as a "brilliant new entry in Deighton's superb repertoire." A critic for Publishers Weekly called the novel "well crafted and reliably satisfying."

More Than Just a Spy Novelist

Although Deighton is best known for his espionage fiction, he has also written best selling novels outside the espionage field, as well as books of military history. These other novels and books of history are usually concerned with the events and figures of World War II. Among the most successful of his novels have been SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain, 1941 and Goodbye, Mickey Mouse. The True Story of the Battle of Britain has earned Deighton praise as a writer of military history. Deighton's writing in other fields has shown him, Symons believed, to be "determined not to stay within the conventional pattern of the spy story or thriller."

SS-GB takes place in an alternative history of World War II, a history in which England lost the crucial Battle of Britain and Nazi Germany conquered the country. The story takes place after the conquest when Scotland Yard superintendent Douglas Archer investigates a murder and finds that the trail leads to the upper echelons of the Nazi party. An underground plot to rescue the king of England, who is being held prisoner in the Tower of London, and the ongoing efforts of the Nazis to develop the atom bomb also complicate Archer's problems. "As is usual with Mr. Deighton," John Leonard wrote in Books of the Times, "there are as many twists as there are betrayals."

Deighton's ability to fully render what a Nazi-occupied Britain would be like is the most widely-noted strength of the book. "The atmosphere of occupied England," Michael Demarest wrote in his review of SS-GB for Newsweek, "is limned in eerie detail.…In fact, Deighton's ungreened isle frequently seems even more realistic than the authentic backgrounds of his previous novels." "What especially distinguishes SS-GB," Leonard believed, "is its gritty atmosphere, the shadows of defeat on every page. Yes, we think, this is what martial law would feel like; this is the way the Germans would have behaved; this is how rationing and the black market and curfews and detention camps would work; this is the contempt for ourselves that we would experience."

Although Michael Howard of the Times Literary Supplement felt that "there can be little doubt that this is much the way things would have turned out if the Germans had won the war in 1940," he nonetheless concluded that "on this level of imaginative creation Mr. Deighton is so good that the second level, the plot itself, seems by comparison unnecessarily silly and confused." This criticism of the novel's plot was shared by Paul Ableman of the Spectator, who complained: "From about Page 100, the subversive thought kept surfacing: what is the point of this kind of historical 'might have been'?… I fear [the novel] ultimately lost its hold on me. We could have been given the same yarn set in occupied France."

But Symons and many other reviewers judged SS-GB a successful and imaginative novel. It is, Symons wrote, "a triumphant success. It is Mr. Deighton's best book, one that blends his expertise in the spy field with his interest in military and political history to produce an absorbingly exciting spy story that is also a fascinating exercise in might-have-been speculation." And Demarest concluded his review by predicting that SS-GB "is on its way to becoming a worldwide classic of the 'What If?' genre."

Goodbye, Mickey Mouse, another Deighton novel about World War II, concerns a group of American pilots in England who run fighter protection for the bombers making daylight runs over Germany. It was described by Thomas Gifford of the Washington Post Book World as "satisfying on every imaginable level, but truly astonishing in its recreation of a time and place through minute detail." Equally high praise came from Peter Andrews, who wrote in his review for the New York Times Book Review: "Deighton's latest World War II adventure novel is such a plain, old-fashioned, good book about combat pilots who make war and fall in love that it defies a complicated examination.… Goodbye, Mickey Mouse is high adventure of the best sort but always solidly true to life."

Not all reviewers were so enthusiastic, but even those with reservations about the novel's ultimate quality were impressed with the way Deighton presented the scenes of aerial combat. "As long as he keeps his propellers turning,". Prescott allowed in his Newsweek review, "Deighton's book lives. He understands the camaraderie of pilots and to a lesser degree the politics of combat.… It's a pity that his people, like his prose, are built from plywood." Similarly, a reviewer for Harper's reported that "the book is oddly anemic—except on the subject of fighter planes. Deighton's obsession with planes makes the combat sequences lurid and exciting. If only the rest of the book were too."

While sharing the belief that Deighton writes extremely well about aerial combat, Lehmann-Haupt saw a more serious side to the novel which, for him, raised it "above the merely entertaining." Deighton, Lehmann-Haupt wrote, "has an almost uncanny ability to make war action in the air come visually alive.…But what is most intriguing about Good bye, Mickey Mouse is that it explores a profound but little noticed aspect of war—namely, the necessity it creates for parents to send their children off to death." The book's title, the last words of a dying pilot to his friend, Lieutenant Morse, nicknamed Mickey Mouse, are "also an expression of farewell to childhood and its trivialities, as well as what a father or mother might say to a departing son," Lehmann-Haupt concluded. Gifford, too, interpreted the novel on a more serious level. Speaking of the generation who fought in the Second World War, many of whom are "approaching the time when they will one by one pass into our history," Gifford found Deighton's novel to be a tribute to that generation and its monumental fight. "Some of them," Gifford noted, "are fittingly memorialized in Deighton's hugely assured novel."

Deighton returned to historical fiction in his 1987 book Winter: A Novel of a Berlin Family. The story of a well-to-do German family led by a banker and war financier, Winter depicts how cultural and historical factors influence the attitudes of his two sons, one of whom joins the murderous Nazi party, while the other moves to the United States and marries a Jewish woman. The mixed criticism for Winter revolved around Deighton's sympathetic portrayals of his Nazi characters and around the novel's wide historical scope, which some reviewers felt is inadequately represented, mainly through dialogue rather than plot "Unlike much of Deighton's work," wrote Gary Dretzka in the Chicago Tribune Books, "Winter isn't much concerned with military strategy, suspense and spies as with people and relationships." According to Elizabeth Ward in the Washington Post Book World, "Winter is neither fiction nor history but docudrama, running like a film script in a series of dutifully dated vignettes from New Year's Eve 1899 … to 1945." Favorably describing Winter as a fictional counterpart to William L. Shirer's acclaimed historical work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Ward maintained that "Winter is an altogether silkier, less demanding and more entertaining read," adding, "Len Deighton certainly knows how to move a narrative along, build suspense and weave mysteries."

Deighton also produced City of Gold in 1992, another volume of historical fiction based on events during the Second World War. This novel is set in Cairo at the height of Nazi domination of North Africa under the command of General Erwin Rommel. The protagonist is Corporal Jim Ross, a British soldier who escapes court-martial by assuming the identity of Major Bert Cutler, a British Intelligence agent who dies of a heart attack on a train. With his new identity and security clearance, Ross (as Cutler) is assigned to uncover the source of Rommel's detailed information about Allied forces and their movements. Though critical of Deighton's unusually large cast of stereotyped characters, Michael Kernan wrote in the Washington Post Book World, "The action scenes in the desert are as good as anything he has written." A critic for Kirkus Reviews praised Deighton's "terrific return" to the Second World War and the "rich drama of heroes and villains" in City of Gold. "In the finest Deighton form," wrote Dick Roraback in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "the master sets up his row of people then surrounds them with the authentic sights, sounds, smells, the moods and mores of their locale."

The crucial Battle of Britain, which figures prominently in SS-GB, and the air battles of that period, which appear in Goodbye, Mickey Mouse, are further explored in the nonfiction Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, a history of the Royal Air Force defense of England during the Battle of Britain. A highly acclaimed popular account of what Noble Frankland of the Times Literary Supplement called "among the handful of decisive battles in British history," Fighter "is the best, most dispassionate story of the battle I have read," Drew Middleton stated in the New York Times Book Review, "and I say that even though the book destroyed many of my illusions and, indeed, attacks the validity of some of what I wrote as an eyewitness of the air battle 38 years ago."

The Battle of Britain took place over several months of 1940. After overrunning France, the Nazi leadership focused their attention on softening up England for a land invasion. They launched extensive bombing raids against the British Isles, attacking the city of London, air bases, factories, and seaports. The Royal Air Force, vastly outnumbered by their opponents, bravely fought the Germans to a standstill, which resulted in the proposed invasion being delayed and ultimately canceled. Or so most historians relate the story. Deighton dispels some of the myths about the Battle of Britain still widely believed. He shows, for example, that a major reason for the failure of the German offensive was the decision to shift the main attack from British airfields to the city of London. The Nazis hoped that bombing the civilian population would cause Britain to sue for peace. But leaving the airfields alone only allowed the Royal Air Force to launch their fighter planes against the German bombers. And when bomber losses rose too high, the Nazi invasion plans were called off. Other insights into the Battle of Britain include the facts "that British anti-aircraft fire was ineffective, that some R.A.F. ground personnel fled under fire, that the Admiralty provoked costly skirmishes.…The book resounds with exploded myths," Leonard Bushkoff wrote in the Washington Post Book World. Deighton also shows that British estimates of German losses were far higher than they actually were, while British losses were reported to be less serious than was actually the case. But Bushkoff saw the importance of these revelations to be inconsequential. "Is debunking sufficient to carry a book that essentially is a rehash of earlier works?" he asked. Frankland admitted that Deighton is sometimes "prone to get his technicalities wrong," but found that "the Battle of Britain after all is a very difficult subject. No two people seem quite to agree about when it began, when it ended, what were its turning points or why they occurred.…Len Deighton cuts through this fog incisively and utterly correctly." In his article for the Saturday Review, George H. Reeves reported that "there is a profusion of detail in Fighter … that will delight the military history specialist, and Deighton's well-paced narrative and techniques of deft characterization will also hold the attention of the general reader." He believed that Deighton "has turned his hand with commendable results to the writing of military history."

If you enjoy the works of Len Deighton

you might want to check out the following books:

Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943, 2002.

Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear, 1943.

John LeCarre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1974.

In all of his writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, Deighton shows a concern for an accurate and detailed presentation of the facts. He has included appendices in several novels to explain to his readers such espionage esoterica as the structure of foreign intelligence organizations and the effects of various poisons. Howard claimed that Deighton "takes enormous, almost obsessional care to get the background to his books exactly right." Part of Deighton's research involves extensive travel throughout the world; he is reported to have contacts in cities as far-flung as Anchorage and Casablanca. These research trips have sometimes proven dangerous. Hugh Moffett noted that Deighton was once "hauled into police barracks in Czechoslovakia when he neglected to renew his visa." And Russian soldiers once took him into custody in East Berlin. For Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an R.A.F. Bomber Over Germany on the Night of June 31, 1943, Deighton made three trips to Germany and spent several years in research, gathering some half million words in notes. Research for the books Fighter and Blitzkreig: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk took nearly nine years. But these efforts have paid off. MacLeish believed that in a Deighton novel, "the atmospherics ring forever true. Deighton seems to know the places he writes about." Speaking of XPD, Les Whitten of the Washington Post Book World found that "the research on exotic guns, cars, poisons, trains, wall safes, foliage is shining and satisfying evidence of the hard work Deighton has done to make his background genuine and informative."

Deighton's position as one of the most prominent of contemporary espionage writers is secure. Cannon described him as "one of the finest living writers of espionage novels." Melton called him "one of the all-time best writers of espionage thrillers." Schorr related that it was Rudyard Kipling who "first called espionage the 'Great Game,' and no one is more adept at providing a fictional play-by-play than Len Deighton." Writing in Whodunit?: A Guide to Crime, Suspense and Spy Fiction about his life as a writer, Deighton revealed: "I have no formal training and have evolved a muddled sort of system by trial and error.…Myownwriting is characterized by an agonizing reappraisal of everything I write so that I have to work seven days a week.…The most difficult lesson to learn is that thousands and thousands of words must go into the waste paper basket." Summing up his feelings about being a best-selling author, Deighton concluded, "It's not such a bad job after all; except for sitting here at this damned typewriter."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Bestsellers 89, Issue 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography: Contemporary Writers, 1960 to Present, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975; Volume 7, 1977; Volume 22, 1982; Volume 46, 1988.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 87: British Mystery and Thriller Writers since 1940, First Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Keating, H. R. F., editor, Whodunit?: A Guide to Crime, Suspense and Spy Fiction, Van Nostrand (New York, NY), 1982.

Symons, Julian, Mortal Consequences: A History— From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.


Armchair Detective, winter, 1986.

Best Sellers, November 15, 1963; January 1, 1968.

Booklist, June 1-15, 1993; November 1, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Faith, p. 459; November 15, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Hope, p. 514; October 15, 1996, Emily Melton, review of Charity, p. 379.

Books and Bookmen, September, 1967; December, 1971.

Books of the Times, February, 1979; August, 1981.

British Book News, December, 1980.

Chicago Tribune Book World, March 18, 1979; January 19, 1986.

Detroit News, February 3, 1985; February 9, 1986.

Entertainment Weekly, February 17, 1995, Gene Lyons, review of Faith, p. 55.

Europe, April, 1995, Robert J. Guttman, review of Faith, p. 29.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 1, 1984; December 14, 1985.

Harper's, November, 1982.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1992, p. 555; October 15, 1994, p. 1364.

Library Journal, December, 1995, Susan A. Zappia, review of Hope, p. 152.

Life, March 25, 1966.

London Review of Books, March 19-April 1, 1981.

Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1982; March 23, 1987.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 17, 1985; February 16, 1986; November 22, 1987; August 19, 1990, p. 8; July 26, 1992, p. 9.

New Leader, January 19, 1976.

New Republic, December 13, 1975.

New Statesman, December 7, 1962; September 8, 1964; May 12, 1967; June 18, 1976; August 25, 1978.

New Statesman and Society, September 14, 1990; September 6, 1991.

Newsweek, January 18, 1965; January 31, 1966; June 26, 1972; October 14, 1974; February 19, 1979; December 27, 1982; December 19, 1983; February 11, 1985; January 13, 1986.

New Yorker, February 3, 1968; May 7, 1979; February 6, 1984.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, November 17, 1963.

New York Times, January 12, 1965; October 17, 1970; October 16, 1976; September 20, 1977; May 13, 1981; June 21, 1981; December 7, 1982; December 12, 1983; December 21, 1987.

New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1963; January 17, 1965; May 21, 1967; January 14, 1968; October 4, 1970; April 13, 1975; July 9, 1978; February 25, 1979; May 3, 1981; November 14, 1982; January 8, 1984; March 10, 1985; December 1, 1985; January 10, 1988; December 25, 1988; September 2, 1990, p. 6; June 28, 1992; August 15, 1993; January 29, 1995, p. 21; February 25, 1996, p. 21.

Playboy, May, 1966.

Publishers Weekly, November 7, 1994, review of Faith, p. 63; November 27, 1995, review of Hope, p. 53; November 4, 1996, review of Charity, p. 64.

Saturday Review, January 30, 1965; June 10, 1978.

Spectator, September 24, 1977; September 2, 1978; April 18, 1981.

Time, March 12, 1979; April 27, 1981; January 13, 1986; December 28, 1987; December 5, 1988; September 17, 1990, p. 79.

Times Literary Supplement, February 8, 1963; June 1, 1967; June 22, 1967; September 25, 1970; June 16, 1972; May 3, 1974; October 28, 1977; September 15, 1978; March 13, 1981; October 21, 1983; October 21, 1994; October 6, 1995.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 24, 1985; December 27, 1987; January 1, 1989; January 8, 1989; January 21, 1996, p. 6.

Village Voice, February 19, 1979.

Wall Street Journal, May 21, 1980.

Washington Post, October 9, 1970; December 20, 1987; December 13, 1988; December 12, 1989; July 12, 1992.

Washington Post Book World, September 29, 1974; June 4, 1978; March 20, 1979; April 14, 1981; November 7, 1982; January 8, 1984; January 27, 1985; December 15, 1985; December 20, 1987; September 23, 1990; February 12, 1995.*

Deighton, Len

views updated May 18 2018


Nationality: British. Born: Leonard Cyril Deighton in London, 18 February 1929. Education: Marylebone Grammar School, St. Martin's School of Art, and Royal College of Art, 1952-55, all London. Military Service: Served in the Royal Air Force. Family: Married Shirley Thompson in 1960. Career: Has worked as a railway lengthman, pastry cook, dress factory manager, waiter, illustrator, teacher, and photographer; art director of advertising agencies in London and New York; steward, British Overseas Airways Corporation, 1956-57; wrote weekly comic strip on cooking for the Observer, London, 1960s; founder, Continuum One literary agency, London. Agent: Jonathan Clowes Ltd., 10 Iron Bridge House, Bridge Approach, London NW1 8BD, England.



The Ipcress File. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1962; New York, Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Horse under Water. London, Cape, 1963; New York, Putnam, 1968.

Funeral in Berlin. London, Cape, 1964; New York, Putnam, 1965.

Billion-Dollar Brain. London, Cape, 1966; as The Billion-Dollar Brain, New York, Putnam, 1966.

An Expensive Place to Die. London, Cape, and New York, Putnam, 1967.

Only When I Larf. London, Joseph, 1968; as Only When I Laugh, NewYork, Mysterious Press, 1987.

Bomber. London, Cape, and New York, Harper, 1970.

Close-Up. London, Cape, and New York, Atheneum, 1972.

Spy Story. London, Cape, and New York, Harcourt Brace, 1974.

Yesterday's Spy. London, Cape, and New York, Harcourt Brace, 1975.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy. London, Cape, 1976; as Catch a Falling Spy, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1976.

SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain 1941. London, Cape, 1978; NewYork, Knopf, 1979.

XPD. London, Hutchinson, and New York, Knopf, 1981.

Goodbye Mickey Mouse. London, Hutchinson, and New York, Knopf, 1982.

Game, Set and Match. London, Hutchinson, 1985; New York, Knopf, 1989.

Berlin Game. London, Hutchinson, 1983; New York, Knopf, 1984.

Mexico Set. London, Hutchinson, 1984; New York, Knopf, 1985.

London Match. London, Hutchinson, 1985; New York, Knopf, 1986.

Winter: A Berlin Family 1899-1945. London, Century Hutchinson, and New York, Knopf, 1987.

Spy Hook. London, Century Hutchinson, and New York, Knopf, 1988.

Spy Line. London, Century Hutchinson, and New York, Knopf, 1989.

Spy Sinker. London, Hutchinson, and New York, HarperCollins, 1990.

MAMista. New York, HarperCollins, 1991.

City of Gold. New York, HarperCollins, 1992.

Violent Ward. New York, HarperCollins, 1993.

Blood, Tears & Folly. London, Jonathan Cape, and New York, HarperCollins, 1993.

Faith. Bath, England, Chivers Press, and New York, HarperCollins, 1994.

Hope. New York, HarperCollins, 1995.

Charity. New York, HarperCollins, 1996.

Short Stories

Declarations of War. London, Cape, 1971; as Eleven Declarations of War, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1975.


Pests: A Play in Three Acts. Mansfield Woodhouse, England, C. Martin, 1994.


Oh! What a Lovely War, 1969.

Television Plays:

Long Past Glory, 1963; It Must Have Been Two Other Fellows, 1977.


Action Cook Book: Len Deighton's Guide to Eating. London, Cape, 1965; as Cookstrip Cook Book, New York, Geis, 1966.

Ou Est le Garlic; or, Len Deighton's French Cook Book. London, Penguin, 1965; New York, Harper, 1977; revised edition, as Basic French Cooking, London, Cape, 1979; Berkeley, California, Creative Arts, 1987; revised edition, as Basic French Cookery, London, Century, 1990.

Len Deighton's Continental Dossier: A Collection of Cultural, Culinary, Historical, Spooky, Grim and Preposterous Fact, compiled by Victor and Margaret Pettitt. London, Joseph, 1968.

Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain. London, Cape, 1977;New York, Knopf, 1978.

Airshipwreck, with Arnold Schwartzman. London, Cape, 1978; NewYork, Holt Rinehart, 1979.

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk. London, Cape, 1979; New York, Knopf, 1980.

Battle of Britain. London, Cape, and New York, Coward McCann, 1980; revised edition, with Max Hastings, London, Joseph, 1990.

The Orient Flight L.Z. 127-Graf Zeppelin (as Cyril Deighton), withFred F. Blau. N.p., Germany Philatelic Society, 1980.

The Egypt Flight L.Z. 127-Graf Zeppelin (as Cyril Deighton), withFred F. Blau. N.p., Germany Philatelic Society, 1981.

ABC of French Food. London, Century Hutchinson, 1989; New York, Bantam, 1990.

Editor, Drinks-man-ship: Town's Album of Fine Wines and High Spirits. London, Haymarket Press, 1964.

Editor, London Dossier. London, Cape, 1967.

Editor, with Michael Rund and Howard Loxton, The Assassination of President Kennedy. London, Cape, 1967.

Editor, Tactical Genius in Battle, by Simon Goodenough. Oxford, Phaidon Press, and New York, Dutton, 1979.



Len Deighton: An Annotated Bibliography 1954-85 by Edward Milward-Oliver, Maidstone, Kent, Sammler, 1985.

Critical Studies:

Secret Agents in Fiction: Ian Fleming, John le Carré, and Len Deighton by L.O. Sauerberg, London, Macmillan, 1984; The Len Deighton Companion by Edward Milward-Oliver, London, Grafton, 1987.

* * *

Partly as a result of the work of Len Deighton, the spy story has replaced the formal detective novel as the relevant thriller for its time. While continuing the tradition of literary excellence that has distinguished British espionage fiction since the days of Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler, and Graham Greene, both Deighton and his gifted contemporary John le Carré have contributed new energy, intelligence, and meaning to the novel of espionage. Ever since his first novel, The Ipcress File, Deighton has instructed a large reading public in some of the factual and emotional realities of espionage and counterespionage. Writing with a lively wit, a keen eye for the surfaces of modern life, a convincing sense of authenticity, and a genuine intellectual concern for what the dark side of governmental practice can mean, Deighton has revealed, in all of his novels, some of the sham and self-delusion of contemporary politics.

The spy novels employ a nameless first-person narrator who owes something to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in his breezy wisecracks and sometimes strained metaphors; beneath the wiseguy surface, however, he possesses some of Marlowe's decency and compassion. Resolutely working-class in background, education, and point of view, Deighton's hero is a professional spy who must do constant battle with the forces of the British Establishment in their full and whinnying glory as well as with whatever is on the other side. Frequently, in fact, his spy never knows precisely which side he is on, and is so often betrayed by his colleagues and superiors that it sometimes doesn't matter. Professional and personal betrayal mesh perfectly in the two separate trilogies about Bernard Samson, whose wife and colleague, Fiona, turns out to be a defecting Soviet agent in the middle of an immensely complicated operation. The double trilogyBerlin Game, Mexico Set, London Match, and Spy Hook, Spy Line, and Spy Sinker initially appeared to signal a certain finality in Deighton's exploration of contemporary international politics, but he later resurrected the Samson saga in a third series: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Set in 1987the backdrop includes the stock market crash of that yearHope finds Samson in pursuit of his Polish brother-inlaw, George Kosinski, who has returned to Poland in search of his wife. With Charity, the saga comes up to 1988, and while it would be difficult for someone new to the Samson trilogies to jump in with this ninth book in the series, the book offers plenty of satisfaction for Deighton's veteran fans.

As the ambitiousness of the three trilogies indicates, a complicated sense of novelistic architecture supports Deighton's energetic style and disillusioned outlook. His books frequently delay revelation of method and meaning until their conclusions. As the protagonist solves whatever mystery has been confounding him, or wraps up a long and tangled investigation, the book reaches the end of an often puzzling and complex narrative structure. The complications of its subject and of its fictional development appear to blend perfectly: the construction artfully becomes an emblem of the meaning of espionage, as much as the usual anonymity of the narrator suggests something about the problem of identity in this troubled world.

Deighton's fictional and nonfictional researches into the history of World War II and his knowledge of Germany reflect some of the same concerns and interests of his espionage fiction. Like his spy novels, his war novels, Bomber and Goodbye Mickey Mouse, demonstrate his passion for authenticity along with a bittersweet attitude toward a past that is both glorious and ignoble. His generally unsuccessful Winter deals with the history of a particular family through the turmoil of two wars, economic collapse, and the rise of Nazism; characters in that novel recur in his Samson books, as if his oeuvre, in effect, constituted a single work in many volumes about some of the central events of the 20th century. Deighton has also dabbled in such odd areas of the modern landscape as fantasies of German victory in World War II (SS-GB ) and a Graham Greeneish exploration of South American revolution (MAMista ), which indicate an almost heroic attempt to comprehend the violence and horror of political conflict in our age.

Like le Carré again, Deighton has done much to advance our knowledge of the way spies and spying work and what they really mean in our time. For both writers the novel of espionage serves an emblematic function. It shows, all too convincingly, the sad history of treason that marks the real battle in the shadowsa spy seems always to betray one cause, one country, one person or another in order to accomplish his task. The contemporary reality of the Western world provides the necessary historical context for Deighton's writing; daily headlines indicate the truth of his fictional perceptions, and the Kafkaesque quality of international politics and modern life itself reflects the deeper truth of his books.

Because Deighton's novels invariably show the folly, imbecility, and corruption of the wealthy and privileged classes in England, they suggest something of the satiric flavor of the Angry Young Men, and his hero is somewhat of a Lucky Jim of espionage. Because they present a labyrinthine picture of undeclared war, conflicting loyalties, multiple betrayals, misuse of power, and complicated national alignments, they provide a useful image of the world we all inhabit. Their dominant emotions are those of our timepuzzlement, anxiety, cynicism, and guilt. They recognize, further, one of the major lessons of the modern English spy novel, that an entire class, long protected by its own sense of unity and privilege, has sold its birthright, as the sordid history of Burgess, Maclean, Philby, and Blunt, among others, has proved.

In his own flip, entertaining, and exciting style, Deighton treats essentially the same problem that haunts a great deal of English fiction, the timeless question of who will inherit the virtue of the nation, who will save England from itself. His works thus show some connections with books like Adam Bede, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, continuing in a highly unlikely form the theme of a nation and a class that, ultimately, have betrayed themselves. His work at its best indicates that the continuing vitality of the English novel itself may very well depend upon the popular and subliterary genres. As a spy novelist and simply as an author of British fiction, he deserves sympathetic reading and consideration with some of the better writers of his time.

George Grella

Deighton, Len

views updated May 18 2018


DEIGHTON, Len. British, b. 1929. Genres: Novels, Mystery/Crime/Suspense, Food and Wine, History, Novellas/Short stories. Publications: The Ipcress File, 1962; Horse Under Water, 1963; Funeral in Berlin, 1964; Action Cook Book (in U.S. as Cookstrip Cook Book), 1965; Ou est le Garlic, 1965, rev. ed. as Basic French Cooking, 1979; Billion Dollar Brain, 1966; An Expensive Place to Die, 1967; (ed.) Len Deighton's London Dossier, 1967; (co-author) The Assassination of President Kennedy, 1967; Only When I Larf, 1968; Bomber, 1970; Declarations of War (stories), 1971; Close-Up, 1972; Spy Story, 1974; Yesterday's Spy, 1975; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy (in U.S. as Catch a Falling Spy), 1976; Fighter, 1977; SS-GB, 1978; (with A. Schwartzman) Airshipwreck, 1978; Blitzkrieg, 1979; (co-author) Battle of Britain, 1980; XPD, 1981; Goodbye Mickey Mouse, 1982; Berlin Game, 1983; Mexico Set, 1984; London Match, 1985; Winter, 1987; Spy Hook, 1988; ABC of French Food, 1989; Spy Line, 1989; Spy Sinker, 1990; Basic French Cookery Course, 1990; MAMista, 1991; City of Gold, 1992; Violent Ward, 1993; Blood, Tears & Folly, 1993; Faith, 1994; Hope, 1995; Charity, 1997. Address: c/o Jonathan Clowes Ltd, 10 Ironbridge House, Bridge Approach, London NW1 8BD, England.

Deighton, Len

views updated May 21 2018

Deighton, Len ( Leonard Cyril) (1929– ) English novelist. His spy thrillers The Ipcress File (1962) and Funeral in Berlin (1964) were made into films. Bernard Samson is the central character of the Game, Set and Match trilogy: Berlin Game (1983), Mexico Set (1984), and London Match (1986).