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on 26 March 2006
The unnamed spy whose adventures were first chronicled in 'The Ipcress File' goes to Helsinki to meet Olaf Kaarna, a journalist claiming to have uncovered a British Military Intelligence operation in the area. He finds Kaarna in his flat, a hatpin sticking out of his back and covered in raw egg.
Kaarna's killer is an agent of 'Facts For Freedom', an organisation dedicated to the destruction of Communism, run by a rabid right-wing millionaire called General Midwinter and controlled by an advanced computer network called The Brain. Using stolen viruses from Porton Down, Midwinter plans to start an uprising in Latvia. But he is being swindled by one of his own men, Harvey Newbegin, a man with a taste for dangerous but beautiful women...
For my money, the best thing Deighton has ever done. Back in the '60's, spy stories where the Russians weren't the baddies were rare. Indeed with the benefit of hindsight this could now be viewed as the first anti-Vietnam War tract. Midwinter is a xenophobe prone to making 'God loves America' speeches while the 'all-powerful super-computer' idea preempted HAL 9000 from Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' by a few years. A return appearance by Colonel Stok ( last seen in 'Funeral In Berlin' ) is especially welcome. But what makes this so much fun is the wonderfully witty prose. Yes, there's a lot of coffee drinking and clandestine meetings in offices but if one book perfectly summed up the turbulent '60's as a whole, its this one.
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on 30 August 2012
Had to have this wonderful story by Len Deighton on my Kindle...first read the paperback decades back and liked it then and still do today.
Here again is the man with no name...well except the use of an the film it was Harry Palmer, wonderfully undertaken by Michael Caine.
The reality of the story is that somewhere around the world and in this case it is the United States; is a man determined to bring about a situation, whether political or otherwise on the world stage. Sometimes it is against just one country and yet there are times in this book that the aim is cause problems that ultimately change the map of the world into not just the favour of the United States, but mainly for one person's aim to change his own country's and also that of another for his own aims.
Billion Dollar Brain, I believe was ahead of its time, as the computer to the man on the street was largely unknown and Mr. Deighton has crafted a story that would seem so fresh today.
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on 22 August 2013
I started reading Deighton back in the late 1970's and thought I had read the best. But having looked at his book list I realised that there are a good few still to go at.
Although his books of this era do not move around with lots of sub plots as do a number of later authors the insight in to the cold war and the politics of spying keep you involved. The thought that spys worked without the gadgets we expect today having to find a phone box etc makes these almost history stories as well as engrossing.
A good read.
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on 13 January 2013
Set in North Africa during the war, the Policeman bringing a Corporal for Court Martial dies on the train from a heart attack. since the corporal shot his captain, he is certain for the death penalty so assumes the identity of e MP and then finds himself in charge of an investigation to find e spy who is leaking the British battle plans to Rommel.
Turn out he is rather good at it.......
Great story of wartime Cairo with a good range of dubious characters and Byzantine plots.
Excellent story by Deighton at his best...
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on 7 July 2016
Unlike the movie which was the worst of the three, this is probably the best Harry Palmer saga. Like Ipcress it is very different to its film, I liked the bigger role given to colonel Stok and Harry is smooth and mocking throughout.
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on 11 April 2010
W.O.O.C (P) is a discreetly-located spying agency of the British Ministry of Defence, headed by a Mr. Dawlish. In Spy Story he is the owner of a pre-WW II car, in this book also an expert on garden weeds. Its premises in Charlotte Street encompass floor after floor of ostensibly unattractive or failing businesses, behind whose doors the agency works, with the Dispatch Section always booming with brass band music. Dawlish is the only staff member with an office with two windows.
A nameless but likable spy tells his story in the I form. He is sent on his way to Scandinavia by Dawlish to find out more about alleged rumours and conspiracies that could be detrimental to the UK, the US, the Soviet Union, even world peace. Dawlish's brief: "Find out more. If possible, infiltrate!" His tour includes, initially, Helsinki, Leningrad, Riga, New York and San Antonio, Texas. There he is introduced to the billion dollar brain, a series of high-capacity mainframe computers, which are purported to have been programmed to prevent human error in intelligence gathering and -operations. It is owned not by the US government, but by a right-wing organisation headed by a naturalised, formerly Latvian general. If the planned operation targeting Latvia is successful, rows and rows of primed and linked mainframes will take on the rest of the Soviet Union...
The(not very plausible) plot is nevertheless amusing and so are the characters and dialogues. KGB Colonel Stok captures the British agent on home soil and sends him home because he needs to know more, by following the British spook's next moves. But not before expressing his admiration for the British WW II war effort and reciting at length from his favourite writer in English, the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns. The enigmatic, extravert Finnish girl Signe, her lover Harvey and the spy himself are interesting characters too. Descriptions of the different venues are also authentic.
Len Deighton is also a renowned war historian. The terrible facts included in BDB about Latvian collaboration with Germany during WW II and its eagerness to play the role of executioner on the Nazi's behalf is most probably based on pure fact. Latvians, among other nationals, should read and enjoy this book and provide comment.
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on 8 June 2016
I had forgotten how subtle a writer Deighton can be. Although now very much a period piece (as might be said of Cold War le Carre) rather than a modem cutting edge espionage thriller the portrayal of the foibles and strengths of the protagonists, viewed through the eyes of its quasi-anonymous narrator, overcomes its dated setting. In other words, it still works for me.
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on 16 October 2015
It's strange to read this again after 60 years; the cutting edge IT background has become ancient history, much like the old style Cold War which is the backdrop and generator of the plot. But history has its charms, especially if the transition has been made in such a short stretch of time. Deighton is on top form in a style that he had by this time perfected. You could easily skip ten pages, or whole chapters, of technical mumbo jumbo but the mumbo jumbo is all part of its attraction.

For a different take on this segment of the cold war look up Blame it on the Bossa Nova by James Brodie. The Deighton influence is almost overpowering, but it comes from a different angle.- the protagonists are outsiders, on the fringe of the early 1960s London espionage scene, accidentally tripping over the Cuba missile crisis.
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Plot: the very rich American General Midwinter wants to fight communism, and decides the best way is to support (what he thinks are) Latvian Freedom Fighters. "raised a private army out of (his) profits on cans of oil and beans, frozen orange juice and advertising, and to operate (his) own undeclared war against the Russians". Our unnamed hero of the Ipcress File, Horse under water and Funeral in Berlin infiltrates the organization, which uses a giant computer (the Brain of the title) to coordinate action.

My opinion: though the plot sounds hackneyed and the stuff of many a B-movie, it might have been Deighton who invented it. Anyway, Deighton could make washing powder sound cool (he probably did, too, when he was in advertising). There are whole passages (try the first page of Chapter 20) that sound like Chandler, Kerouac or any beat poet; and he couples that to a knowledge of Russian intelligence branches, office tactics and inter-departmental stategies, the power of secretaries, life in Helsinki... The style is honed, too, with scalpel-sharp twists in the tail. Sardonic rather than suave, smart rather than violent. Dated, yes, but still highly readable, and thoroughly enjoyable. Nothing too obvious; things inferred, to be enjoyed by conaisseurs and cynics like you and me. And a welcome encore for the Russian Colonel Stok, quoting Burns.

Dawlish, his boss (a public school-boy, of course) asks the nameless 'hero', who was a grammar schoolboy, and therefore an expert on the wiles of the lower classes, "what are the socialists going to do about public schools?" "send their sons to them." This book was written in 1966; plus ca change...

Excellen, and one of Deighton's best (which is saying quite something). Le Carre, the other master of his craft, grips you by the neck and drags you to a viewpoint, emotionally involved; Deighton just lays bare some facts, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions. I like both; I prefer Deighton.
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on 4 January 2014
Read the book more times than I care to remember - hence the five stars. Len Deighton is a superlative story teller with a prose so rich you can almost taste it.
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