Eyes Only

2 September, 2005 at 1:30 pm (literary)

Despite my love of John le Carré novels, I have found that the wider realms of British Espionage haven’t really lit my fire. Recently, even though I had been told that his early spy stuff is generally considered to be the weakest of his output, I tried and failed to slog through Graham Greene’s The Human Factor, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t moving at a sufficient clip to retain my allegiance. But after watching a couple of Michael Caine’s “Harry Palmer” films and recalling that for years I’d been listening to interviews with Hugh Laurie where he sung the praises of Len Deighton, I decided that it was probably time to see why they were popularly considered to be influential and gripping.

And I have not found out. It is my habit to read books that were the source for films I’ve enjoyed. I enjoy being able to not have to pay any attention to the movement of the plot, and concentrate solely on the writing. I already know what’s going to happen — with the obvious exceptions that a film’s fidelity to a novel is loose at best — and so can instead look at the craftmanship, at the tricks of narrative and perception, at the doling out of information. So I decided to begin my Deighton investigation with The Ipcress File. And what surprised me was that while Mr. Caine had played the main character with a curious blandness, with a sloping simplicity that made his performance intriguing and compelling, the same lack of passion, verve, or motive force in the character on the page made him a sheer bore. Watching him play characters one off the other, double deal, and lie lacked the ambling off-handedness of Caine’s portrayal and simply seemed… empty. Without being able to read his motivations, there was no compulsion on the part of this reader to follow him along and eventually discover what his end game was. It seemed too blandly happenstance to actually have an end game in mind.

I am about to give Deighton a second try, though, based not upon my hopes for his writitng or the clever plots detailed on the cover blurbs. No, but because of a clever piece of gimickry discovered in a vintage copy of An Expensive Place to Die, the first American edition, as printed in 1967. On the inside front flap there is a TOP SECRET document folder, containing miniature facsimilies of fictional memoranda of documents apprently key to the story events contained within.

TOP SECRET.  Access to the contents of this file is restricted to Ministers and Heads of Departments.

Dear Prime Minister, following your telephone discussion with the President, he has asked me to forward the enclosed documents...

Verisimilitude, or attempts thereunto, will almost always pique my interest. And so I am giving Len Deighton a second shot. For those interested, I have made a 1 MB .PDF scan of the dossier available for download. Perhaps it will intrigue you sufficiently as well.

Lastly, the docket folder claims that there are ten items enclosed, but my public library edition only has three documents remaining. Anyone with copies of the other seven pages, should they actually exist, is encouraged to share them with me.

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