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on 8 June 2012
Written in 1975, Deighton went back (after a break, for some less memorable 70s thrillers) to his classic Cold War spy story mould - hence the name. Spy Story brings back his anonymous Cold War (anti) hero, Dawlish (his old boss) and Russian Colonel Stok (his enemy). But he is now semi-retired, at the War Studies Centre, which war games Soviet/NATO confrontation in the Atlantic and Arctic Circle. So we head straight into nuclear submarines, infighting in the intelligence establishment, and playing games with the Soviets. There is plenty of fun with mixed identities and trips under the ice, with details on everything from life on a nuclear submarine to 70s restaurants ans dinner parties.

For me, this was a return to the great form of Deighton's early spy books (Billion Dollar Brain, IPCRESS File - played on film by Michael Caine) - a cynical hero, snappy lines, twists and turns - and a continual sense of not quite knowing who the enemy - or your friend - really is.

So it's witty, clever and fun, with plenty of action. Perhaps not quite as groundbreaking as his early classics. But if you like them, get this.
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on 4 June 2012
Deighton remains chiefly known for his first 4 books (The Ipcress File through to Billion Dollar Brain) featuring the grammar school educated WOOC(P) agent, named Harry Palmer in the Michael Caine films. Less well known are his next four spy novels: An Expensive Place to Die (1967), Spy Story (1972), Yesterday's Spy (1975) & Twinkle Twinkle Little Spy (1976).

Probably overshadowed by the 1980s Bernard Samson novels and some excellent World War 2 fiction and non-fiction, they seem chiefly unmemorable because of the mystery of the unnamed protagonist. While some argue they feature the 'Harry Palmer" character of the first 4 books, others contend they are 4 completely different people! Even the new covers teasingly suggest they could be all the same, but it's ultimately up to you.

Although originally touted as an alternative to 007, Deighton's novels had drifted increasingly into supervillain tackling globetrottery. Nothing wrong with that, but you sense that the WOOC(P) team had become a little too cosy for Deighton's liking and he wanted to return to the murky uncertain world he'd depicted early on. It's an exciting and refreshing move.

Story: Once again our 'hero' has moved jobs and now works for the apocryphal Studies Centre, an institution that runs computerised war game simulations and recreations for government agencies. In many ways Spy Story feels like a return to The Ipcress File, and could easily concern the same man. Here he's using the alias Armstrong but he used to work for Dawlish, the chief of WOOC(P), and shows the same interest in state of the art IBMs in intelligence work. Even Colonel Stok turns up again!

There's plenty of counter-intelligence double dealing and everyone has secrets to hide. The inter agency rivalries (British, Russian, American) are crueller here than before, more personal than 'the great game' played out in earlier novels. The revelation in the hero's flat is a corker and the action murderous. The cold war had never been colder- and not just because of the nuclear sub under the Arctic Ocean. Dark, deadly and one of Deighton's best.
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on 10 January 2015
It says something of how Len Deighton understands the genre that he chose “Spy Story” to carry such a title. This novel is more downbeat and lacking in smart humour than those that have come to be called the Harry Palmer novels, and it is less formulaic than the Bernard Samson novels. In some respects, “Spy Story” is more downbeat, even, than John Le Carre’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”, not because the story lacks drama but because it is often difficult to know what is going on. Accordingly, a vague unease pervades the book, whether the scene is an isolated Scottish submarine base, the War Studies Centre in London, where simulated war-games run in parallel to a Cold War crisis or a London flat with a mirror set of rooms and someone who resembles the central character and narrator, Patrick Armstrong. With deliberate confusion, the plot heads towards a tense rendezvous under the Arctic ice-cap, with the UK-US complexities that are also common to Le Carre’s fiction threaded into the Soviet threat.
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on 7 July 2013
I greatly enjoy these unnamed spy/Harry Palmer books. I'd like to think that the spy in this one is the same as IPCRESS et al. The main reason is the involvement of characters from the earlier books and references to what appears to be a previous career.

It appears that our favourite spy has decided for a change of pace and is now working in a centre simulating naval battles (during the cold war, when this book was set). Plus he is almost about to set up home with a doctor. But nothing is ever that straightforward is it?
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on 13 May 2014
Another good, if slightly confusing read from Deighton. It almost seemed a proving ground for later, much more rounded figures in future books. I found some parts confusing, and it seemed as if they were in the wrong order, but as always Deighton is always value for money. Perhaps I'm a little spoiled by his later ten part series but I enjoyed it.
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on 16 March 2015
The story runs along at a reasonable pace but moves from one place to another for reasons I did not always follow. The plot does wind up to a conclusion but I was not convinced it could actually happen. The characters are believable but not particularly chromatic. Overall a reasonable read to fill some time, but not a book I would go back to.
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on 28 February 2013
I reread this story after many years: it still "crackled" and had the degree of suspense one wanted and read as little dated. Well worth rereading 9or for a first read).
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on 17 November 2014
Kept me turning the pages. a couple of slow parts which dropped the 5th star. Normal twist near the end . Good characters. Admit I am a big L D fan.
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on 18 August 2013
Not quite the usual thought provoking intrigue of other Len Deighton novels, but nevertheless an enjoyable read. Makes good holiday reading.
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on 27 September 2014
To my mind the best of the anonymous narrator novels. I enjoyed it a lot certainly the best Dawlish appearance.
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