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Len Deighton Biography

Nationality: British. Born: Leonard Cyril Deighton in London, 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 trilogy—Berlin 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 1987—the backdrop includes the stock market crash of that year—Hope 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 shadows—a 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 time—puzzlement, 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

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