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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 23 June 2017
Was a Deighton fan from the off. His Sixties’ novels were the antidote to the implausible Bond fantasies, a sharper, smarter and more complex read. Perhaps I was beginning to realise the Swinging Sixties was a myth when Billion Dollar Brain was pblished because its exotic plot and over-the-top villain didn’t chime. Deighton had lost it. Forty years later idle curiosity drew me to “An Expensive Place To Die.” Had I been wrong? And the set up reads like Deighton himself had realized too that he need to get back to what he was good at, spinning a plot around the daily grind of intelligence gathering. This time he transplantes his anonymous hero to Paris where he stumbles onto something of significance to the Cold War’s espionage services. For me ‘Die” doesn’t have the fluidity nor the intrigue that had me turning the page in ‘File’, ‘Funeral’ and ‘Horse’. The intrigue is there. The cynical wit is there. The characters are believable. But Deighton’s soufflé doesn’t rise. Yes, I bought his ’65 Action Cookbook. I was a fan. ‘Die’ is not a disgrace. It’s just not a return to form.
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on 12 April 2017
very pleased
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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: (No spoilers!) The plot concerns a high class Paris brothel that runs a valuable, but very risky, sideline in gathering highly classified intelligence. It's clientele includes spies and politicians from either side of the Berlin Wall. When some agencies start to realise, it becomes both a prize and a target. With multiple agendas racking up the stakes, the city becomes a death trap.

It's a bit like jumping into the middle of Funeral in Berlin (1964) as our 'hero' is already in the city, juggling loyalties in typically Deighton fashion. It's also rather more meditative, almost melancholy: the title derives from Oscar Wilde's pithy "dying in Paris is a terribly expensive business for a foreigner". This tone does slow the narrative down at times, but when it's by a writer as good as Deighton you don't mind lingering. Not a classic, but high calibre.
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Plot: a British agent is keeping tabs on a blackmailing operation in a Paris clinic - involving sex perversions and torture. Files and films document all this, and foreign governments are interested, as powerful people have been filmed there. Possibly the French government is interested too - or are they involved in running the clinic? Loyalties shift and interact, betrayals on both personal and professional level seem imminent. The Americans are leaking secrets to the Chinese; deals are struck, but as all involved runn at several levels of interest, solutions seem difficult...

The title comes from Oliver Wilde, who said "dying in Paris is a terribly expensive business for a foreigner." He should know: he died there.

My opinion: possibly this 1967 novel is the fifth in the series of the un-named WOOC (P) agent of Ipcress File to Billion Dollar Brain - but I think not. This is greyer, more grim, and with fewer insights into international espionage facts. It is more like Deighton's later books, the Bernard Samson ones and the three 'Spy' titles.
But it is vintage Deighton, cynical, very observant, atmospheric. Not as good as the first four, I reckon; but there are scenes in this book, very filmic ones, that remain with you for a long time. And the interaction between the various personages is, again, both realistic and emotional; and very sharply observed. 'The poet of the spy story'? Maybe - but a very good writer, anyway.
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While written in 1967 and first read then, I found myself re-reading this book on vacation in 2011 and being pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it still was.

While a lifelong Len Deighton fan, one has to accept this story of international espionage and sex clinics used for political ends located in Paris now definitely shows its age in parts. The use of passports to move between EU countries and worries over national security, pirate radio ships located outside the 3 mile zone, and some dialogue that could only reflect the heady socialism beliefs of the late 1960s all date the book.

However the basic story line is still classic Deighton, with the inevitable nameless lead UK agent seen from prior novels, a cast of international characters who fit easily alongside the many acidic lines of dialogue and cynical observations plus a plot of many twists and turns that keeps you guessing all the way.

Not his best but still a pleasure to re-read.
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on 30 August 2012
This was one Len Deighton book I hadn't read so I was looking forward to it and bought the Kindle edition. It is well written but I kept asking myself what it was all about and I also found it difficult to get a mental picture of the characters. I persisted for a while and actually re-read a couple of the chapters but I'm slightly ashamed to say that I eventually gave up before I got half way through. Too easy to go to sleep over.
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on 30 April 2012
Len Deighton's prose pops and fizzes with more than enough 1960's swing to provide a fitting last act
for the English Agent With No Name who has smart mouthed his way in 1960's Cold War espionage.

The pop-cultural references have dated but they are what gives it such a great sense of period but Deighton's
style is as compelling to readers now as it was in 1967.
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on 6 October 2012
"An expensive place to die" has all the elements of a classic Deighton thriller: a British anonymous hero (who may or may not be Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine in films like Funeral in Berlin"); a cast of fun characters (a psychiatrist running a brothel, a Frencch secret service agent modelled on someone Deighton knew, a flaky playboy); lots of snappy dialogue; and a brief case full of nuclear secrets. As in many Deighton books, much of the fun is trying to work out who is on whose side, with plenty of twists and doublecrossing.

The title comes from Oscar Wilde's quote "dying in Paris is a terribly expensive business for a foreigner". As Deighton says in his new introduction (a big bonus in these new Kindle editions), Paris itself became one of the film's main characters - there is lots of 60s atmosphere, from art parties to local cafes.

I loved the style and liked the characters - but the central plot, revolving around a high class brothel where spies and diplomats compromise themselves, seemed a bit Hollywood to me (perhaps I move in the wrong circles). So I would recommend other Len Deightons - Horse Under Water, Funeral in Berlin etc. But if you like them, Expensive Place will give you a fun read.
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on 24 January 2015
Another of len Deighton's first person spy stories. Not as good as Funeral in Berlin but non the less an enjoyable outing from a very very good author. This one is set mainly in Paris and gets the atmosphere of the late 1960's. The one downside is that it does peter out rather at the end.
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on 19 August 2012
This was disappointing, I have read almost all Len Deighton's novels but for some reason not this one, it was not up to his usual high standard
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