Tuesday, October 23, 2018

28. Horse Under Water by Len Deighton

I picked this one up mainly for aesthetic and collecting reasons. It is a second printing of the original Penguin paperback with all the hyperbolic promotional text on the back from the period.  I am not against Len Deighton and my mom even has a couple of his original cookbooks, which I delved into once or twice.  He was always just a little too mainstream and pure espionage for my tastes.  So this was a good excuse to give him a try.

I have to say I was quite surprised by how poetic his writing is.  The chapters are short, like 3-5 pages long, each with a vaguely suggestive, sometimes punny title.  There is a lot of wry humour as well. Many of the chapters end on a pithy one-liner.  I found myself quite caught up in the style of it all. It wasn't until about 2/3 of the way through that the narrative revealed itself to be pretty traditional in structure, which is fine.  There is a bit of sound and fury here, signifying nothing.  You come away enjoying yourself and getting a bit of a fictional education on the details of spycraft (there are appendices with details on how to tap phones, real or fictional episodes and characters) but mostly not with any strong feelings.

Here the protagonist spy whose name I already have forgotten is sent to Portugal to search for counterfeit bills in a sunken German U-boat.  This money is going to be used to cheaply support an insurrection against the Spanish government.  Things are not what they seem and a cast of weird expats gather together on the coast and do expat/spying things.

Again, his language is quite creative and effective and you can see the appeal in these books to the British public who longed for exotic vacations abroad and culture.  There is a strong old boy element as well, especially in the relationship between the spy and his superior, Dawlish, who remains at home battling the bureaucracy. There is a backstory about one of the antagonists, who went over to the Nazis in WWII, that is actually quite touching and makes complex and sympathetic the reasons one might betray one's country in a time of war.

A good read.  I will keep my eye open for the earlier books by Deighton.

I'm going to take several photos of the interior pages so you can get a sense of how these books were marketed at the time (1965)


Unknown said...

Big soft girls

Kate M. said...

My dad had this exact edition. The reason you can't remember the main character's name is that he never had one, at least in the books. When they filmed IPCRESS File with Michael Caine they named the character Harry Palmer, I guess because it would've been too awkward for him to have no name in the movie.