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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The IPCRESS File. Len Deighton. Panther Books Ltd ( 1962)

A low key and very engaging spy story. The unnamed narrator joins a sub-division of the UK Intelligence Services and become involved with a situation where top scientists are vanishing. The most likely suspect is Jay, a very well connected information broker without any particular ideological alliance beyond money. The narrator find himself identified as a probable Russian agent and gets trapped in a murderous plot. The reveals are slowly let out and very effective when they arrive, the action is nearly all verbal, the tension is held steady by the consistent uncertainty that surrounds the situation. The resolution is bitterly satisfying and entirley true to the tone and intent of the book.
This is a book about the shabby and dangerous bureaucracy of spying and the the atmosphere of betrayal and distrust that it naturally breeds. The shadow of the Second World War hangs over the story as does the Cold War between East and West. There is no heroics just small opportunities for profit, power and possible advantage. The most dangerous person in the story is not armed with a gun but with a statistical analysis that shows the importance of information and the ability to manage it effectively.
One of the striking things about the book is the fact that the use of a computer and the possibilities it offers is the cornerstone of the power for the sub-section that the narrator works for. There is an enjoyable and very English taste for class warfare in the book. The narrator is a outsider in the Establishment circles that he is involved in, he gets to be troublesome because of his competence, a significantly better connected cast member is barely more than a caricature of an upper class twit, in their position because of his social network.
The coils of the plot take some time to emerge and they do so quietly and very effectively, nearly hidden by the low key narrative, when the scope of the betrayals and their consequences break into action is is sharp and effective. This really is a quiet, shadowy struggle that has no heroes, only survivors. The story is drenched in a weary cynicism that never grates as it is off-set by the narrators humor and fundamental belief in what he is doing. From fighting a very visible enemy to a secret one the war continues. The story never feels outdated or old fashioned, Len Deighton has created a cast that are alive and credible, engaging in a natural and gripping way.
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