This review is from: The Ipcress File (Mass Market Paperback)
Published more than fifty years ago, this was Len Deighton's first novel, and the debut of his anonymous secret agent anti-hero (named Harry Palmer in the film adaptions, which starred Michael Caine). He stands in contrast to the more glamorous James Bond (whose first film, Dr. No, appeared in the same year as this book), in that he's working class, shops in supermarkets, wears glasses and is hindered by bureaucracy. He also has a sharp eye (e.g. "The barman - a tall ex-pug with a tan out of a bottle and a tie-knot the size of a large garden pea - was rubbing an old duster around spotless unused ashtrays and taking sly sips at a half-pint of Guinness." [p72]), and a memorable turn of phrase. Here, for example, is his way of describing his discovery of the true nature of the man in the next seat on a flight to Rome, after he's picked his pocket and leafed through his wallet, discovering some photos [p30]:
"[They were of] a dark-haired, round-faced character; deep sunk eyes with bags under horn-rimmed glasses, chin jutting and cleft. On the back of the photos was written '5ft 11in; muscular, inclined to overweight, No visible scar tissue; hair dark brown, eyes blue'. I looked at the familiar face again. I knew the eyes were blue, even though the photograph was in black and white. I'd seen the face before; most mornings I shaved it."
I've read this a few times over a period of many years, and greatly enjoy scenes like this in the story, most of which has a timeless quality (the outsider tackling an unseen enemy in a confusing and misleading world), although some aspects - for example, the way in which his female companion is employed mainly to ask questions so that he can provide the explanation of the labyrinthine plot in the denouement - haven't dated well. There are also many fascinating reminders of how long ago this all was sprinkled throughout the text - thus, in the very first sentence, a footnote is used to explain what the (then) neologism "hot line" means. And, in my edition (published in 1965), exotic words like 'aubergine' are printed in italics, as if to introduce them to the inhabitants of an age of innocence and unsophistication.