The Ipcress File by Len Deighton # The 1962 Club

The Ipcress File by Len Deighton is I suppose what could be described as being charmingly dated. It was the first spy novel by the author. I wondered how many readers would be flumoxed by this:

Getting Keightley to tell one the punch line immediately was like trying to get an aspirin without first removing the cotton wool. 

I’m sure you have to be a certain age!

Anyway, I enjoyed this one although as usual with spy novels you’re  (I’m) never quite sure what’s actually going on.

The Cold War is in full swing and the book’s unnamed protagonist has just recently been transferred from a military intelligence unit to one within the British intelligence services, reporting directly to the British Cabinet. Top biochemists are disappearing, it’s presumed they’ve been abducted by the Russians. There have been eight top rank disappearances within six and a half weeks. Who is masterminding it all?

I can’t say too much about the plot, but it features brainwashing, the CIA, a neutron bomb test, kidnap, mental torture and class distinction as the working class protagonist from the north of England is unimpressed by what amounts to the ‘old boy network’. There’s a wee bit of romance thrown into the mix too.

Len Deighton was inspired  to write this first spy novel because as an 11 year old he had had the experience of having as a neighbour a woman (Anna Wolkoff) who had been arrested as a spy. She had been a White Russian emigree but had ended up spying for the Germans during World War 2. Deighton witnessed her arrest by MI5 in 1940.

The Ipcress File was made into a film in 1965 and a TV series was loosely based on the book in 2022.

Winter – A Berlin Family 1899-1945 by Len Deighton

Winter cover

Winter – A Berlin Family 1899-1945 by Len Deighton was first published in 1987. The blurb on the back says it’s Len Deighton’s superb novel of one family and its dramatic part in the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. I loved this one and for anyone who is a bit perplexed as to how World War 2 and the Nazis came about this book will explain it all through the history of the Winter family. They’ve been working their way up society, helped by access to American money via Harald Winter’s American/Jewish wife Veronica, her father agreed to invest money in Zeppelins, never thinking that in years to come they would be used to drop bombs.

Both of Harald and Veronica’s sons are involved in World War 1 and by the time America joins in three years later Veronica has become a loyal German, despite her husband’s constant infidelities, and although her parents want her to return to the US she won’t do it.

Germans never did accept that they had lost the war and so were more than disgruntled at the terms of the armistice, so there are lots of men with big chips on their shoulders. Perfect conditions for the growth of something like the Nazi party, mainly supported by the dregs of society.

But nobody takes them seriously! All that nonsense about the Jews is just a way of getting votes, it’s nothing to worry about.

I don’t know if there is anyone around nowadays who doesn’t understand how the Third Reich came about – if there are this is the perfect book to read, but I was brought up steeped in the war and still found it to be a great read. I did find it unlikely that there would have been people around in Germany who didn’t think it was normal to dislike Jews, it was just part of their culture in so many European countries at that time.

Even the portrayal of the women (which some have complained about) is typically Germanic, in fact even way back in the 1970s I was shocked at how women were treated within families. It was still very much Kinder, Kuche, Kirche then and they were very much second class citizens compared with any males in the family – even wee boys – in Bavaria at least.

Anyway, this is a bit of a chunkster at 536 pages of quite small print but it didn’t take me too long to read it as it is so enjoyable.

My Blog’s Name in TBR Books

I’ve never done this meme before but lots of the blogs that I enjoy frequenting have been doing it including Margaret at BooksPlease and I decided to join in. The idea is that you choose book titles from your TBR pile which begin with the letters of your blog name. So, here goes – sixteen of them. I intend to read them before the end of this year.

TBR Books

PPapa-la-bas by John Dickson Carr

IIf This Is a Man by Primo Levi

NNicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

IIf Not Now, When by Primo Levi

NNot So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

GGuest in the House by Philip MacDonald

FFor the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil

OOld Hall-New Hall by Michael Innes

RReputation for a Song by Edward Grierson

TTroy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

HHow Late It Was – How Late by James Kelman

EEdinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

WWinter by Len Deighton

EEverything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

SSpiderweb by Penelope Lively

TTrooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Have you read any of these books and if so where should I begin?

Spy Sinker by Len Deighton

Spy Sinker cover

Spy Sinker by Len Deighton was first published in 1990 and I hooked it out of the overflow bookcases in the garage ages ago. I can’t understand why it took me so long after that to read this last book in the Hook, Line and Sinker trilogy. It is of course a continuation of the Bernard Samson story.

Bernard hadn’t ever really fitted perfectly into the world of British spies that he had more or less been born into. His problem is that his father had decided not to send him to the right public school back in England, so Bernard had been brought up in Berlin, and as we all know – to get on in so many British institutions you must have the correct old school tie.

As ever, I can’t say too much about the story for fear of ruining it for any subsequent readers. But I’m assuming that it’s Bernard’s lack of the right background that singled him and his wife out for special treatment that they could well have done without.

This was an absolute cracker of a read.

Spy Line by Len Deighton

Spy Line cover

Spy Line by Len Deighton was first published in 1989 and it’s continuing the Bernard Samson story. The setting is Winter 1987.

Bernie is in a terrible mess at the moment. As an MI5 man he’s been under suspicion for quite a while. Just as he was beginning to believe that his superiors trusted him again it transpires that they decide that he has been working as a double agent.

In this book he’s on the run from British Intelligence and the Soviet KGB. Luckily he has contacts in East Berlin and he’s able to keep a very low profile.

As ever I can’t say too much about the storyline, except to say that it’s a page-turner and Deighton’s descriptive writing is at times poetic. I’ll be going on to the next one in this series soon-ish, Spy Sinker.

I actually finished this one about six weeks ago but it has taken me this long to get around to blogging about it. I signed up on Goodreads to read 90 books this year but I’ve completed that challenge already, mind you I knew that I would, I just didn’t want to be under stress towards the end of the year, if I had signed up for 125 or so. The amount of books I’ve read so far this year says more about our poor summer weather this year than anything else, I’ve been reading when normally I would have been gardening.


Spy Hook by Len Deighton

Spy Hook cover

Spy Hook by Len Deighton is continuing the story of Bernard Samson but as ever I can’t say too much about it for fear of ruining it for any other readers. The book was first published in 1989.

Bernie’s career prospects within the Department have plummeted and he no longer has the security clearance level that he once had. He’s under suspicion despite the fact that his bosses claim he isn’t. Bernie decides to start his own investigations but the use of computers is fairly new within the Department and as he keeps delving into computer files he keeps getting the message Access Denied. Obviously this just makes his position even more difficult, and he didn’t even realise that each of his attempts was logged on the system!

Things in Bernie’s family life have gone from bad to worse, he’s a single parent now and to make matters worse his father-in-law is keen to get custody of the children.

These books are surprisingly easy to read for espionage fiction, another page-turner.

20 Books of Summer 2017 update

I’m doing quite well with my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list this year although I had meant to do a bit of a half-way roundup before now. I have veered slightly from the list for various reasons, but I’m still hopeful of finding my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet before September. I did a fatal tidy up before some visitors arrived and now that book is lost in the stacks which is very annoying as before that I knew exactly where it was – on the floor!

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively
7. The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
12. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

London Match by Len Deighton

London Match cover

London Match by Len Deighton was first published in 1985 and it’s the third book featuring Bernard Samson and the various other ‘civil servants’ who were engaged in spying or spy spotting in London and West Berlin during the Cold War era.

As you would expect, nothing can be taken at face value, leaks in the department mean that just about everybody is under suspicion of being a double agent. At the same time there’s a lot going on in the way of office politics and back stabbing and Bernard believes his children are in danger of being snatched.

At 405 pages you would think that this wouldn’t be a quick read but it didn’t take me long (mind you the bad weather might have had a hand in that!) and I find Deighton’s writing to be really good and surprisingly descriptive, something that I appreciate. I’ll definitely be reading the next one in this series which is Spy Hook.

Len Deighton seems to be one of those talented people who have successes in many different arts, that’s always impressive, and slightly annoying of course!

London Match was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Mexico Set by Len Deighton

Mexico Set cover

Mexico Set by Len Deighton is the second of his books to feature Bernard Samson, the first one being Berlin Game which I enjoyed recently. I must say though that I found this one to be even better and I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Len Deighton, especially given the fact we have had all his books since they were originally published.

It’s difficult to say too much without giving away what happened in the previous book but here goes …

Bernard Samson has been working in British Intelligence for years, as his father before him did, but he has had a shock to his system recently and he’s now a suspect figure within the world of espionage.

There’s a lot of coming and going between Mexico, Berlin and London, it’s the Cold War era and the powers that be in London want to get a particular KGB operative to defect to Britain – will he? – won’t he?

There’s also a lot of office politics going on, but it seems that the top jobs only ever go to Oxbridge candidates which is quite scary when you consider that according to another book that I read recently – Oxford and Cambridge accepted students with virtually nothing in the way of exam passes, the important thing was that your face/background fitted – up until as recently as the 1960s.

I think that the author made a good job of the atmosphere in all of the countries but particularly the situation for people living in East Berlin and unable to see their families in West Berlin. It’s a fact that in those days whenever you (I) met any people who had been originally from ‘eastern bloc’ countries, they always had a flamboyantly embroidered imagination of the past – they were always from a family that had masses of land and property – and even aristocratic titles which was/is laughable but at the same time terribly sad.

Berlin Game by Len Deighton

Berlin Game cover

Berlin Game by Len Deighton was first published in 1983. I can remember it being published, in fact as I recall it, some people seemed to be waiting with bated breath for the next Len Deighton book to be published in those days. I think we have all of his books but this is the first one I’ve ever read. I had meant to blog about it before we went away on holiday, or during the holiday, but just didn’t get around to it.

I did think as I was reading it though that it was much more straightforward than I had imagined these espionage books to be. Written during the Cold War, at a time when people were still wondering if there were more ‘Establishment’ English public school Oxbridge spies still to be discovered – or to leg it to the USSR, Berlin Game would have been quite topical when it was first published.

An agent in east Berlin wants to leave and take up a new life in the west. Bernard Samson is given the job of getting the agent out safely, it’s the sort of thing he used to do years ago before he became desk bound in London. He’s reluctant to get involved with something so dangerous and his wife who also works in British Intelligence tells him to avoid the task, but there is no alternative.

Everybody and everything in this book is suspect, Samson knows there must be a traitor in London – possibly it’s his wife, or is she just having an affair with a colleague? He’s suspicious of everyone.

I enjoyed this book but I did think that if it had been written by a woman then these books would have been unlikely to have been as wildly successful as they were – back in the day I think Helen McInnes and Evelyn Anthony wrote more suspenseful espionage books, but I must admit that it’s years since I read any of those books so I might be completely wrong about that. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?