The Ipcress File

The Ipcress File

by Len Deighton
3.4 12

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)

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The Ipcress File 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
glauver More than 1 year ago
The Ipcress File actually preceded le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Although le Carre has been recognized as the man who elevated the spy thriller to serious literature, Len Deighton is more fun to read, at least in the WOOC(P) novels. Some critics have called him the Chandler of the spy novel. I actually think The Ipcress File is closer to one of Hammett's Op stories in which both the good and bad guys twist the scenario for their own purposes. “Harry Palmer” is a witty narrator but a fallible hero. The book is not perfect but it is memorable. I read it over 30 years ago but later gave my copy away. I am glad it and the other three WOOC(P) stories are back in print in the US.
Lance_Charnes More than 1 year ago
The Ipcress File is one of those novels that, burnished by the passage of time and forgetfulness, is now considered to be a classic in its genre. It was supposedly quite the trendsetter back in 1962, taking on the themes of organizational betrayal using the voice of a working-class spy who has a chip on his shoulder regarding his betters. In the cold light of reappraisal, however, it doesn’t live up to its reputation. The setup: a semi-unnamed civil servant/spy (referred to once as “Harry”) has to chase down the disappearances of several British defense scientists, an investigation that quickly turns into a hairball that spans half the world and sees Our Hero framed for treason. Along the way, Our Hero discomfits a number of upper-class twits, crosses paths with what we’d now call a “fixer” who works multiple sides at once, and puts the moves on his comely assistant (who happens to be as useful as she is decorative). Deighton was never a spy, but rather a 1950s illustrator and ad man. As a result, his settings and descriptions of characters are more involved and painterly than is usually the case; you’ll never want for knowing what his cast and sets look like. The dialog is very of-the-moment, and Our Hero has a smart mouth on him. This is the good part. The not-so-good? This was Deighton’s first novel – the one that launched him into the top ranks of spy- and war-thriller writers – and it shows. The plot wanders off into side streets and gets distracted by shiny things, usually with no real urgency behind it. A long detour to a Pacific atoll destined to be an American atomic testing site feels more like a bid to grab onto a trendy exotic setting (as it would’ve been back then) rather than something that actually needed to happen there. For something billed as a thriller, there are (as usual for thrillers of the period) remarkably few thrills, while the spycraft, atmosphere and intrigue aren’t up to LeCarre standards. Even Our Hero’s relentless smart-assery wears after a while. One further caution, especially for American readers: if you’re not deeply steeped in late-1950s/early-1960s British popular culture, you’re going to be reading this with Wikipedia permanently open by your side. All these issues together left me wondering one thing upon re-reading this novel after [mumble] years: Is that it? This is the “classic” spy novel? Really? These days, our reactions to the novel The Ipcress File are most likely colored by the classic film The Ipcress File and Michael Caine’s emblematic star turn as Harry Palmer. This may be a case of the film being better than the book that inspired it. If you choose to read The Ipcress File today, especially if you’re drunk deeply from the well of LeCarre, be prepared to be let down. It’s like taking a time machine ride and instead of attending the Battle of Gettysburg or MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, you wind up at a dinner party with Millard Fillmore. Interesting, no doubt, but not at all what you were hoping for.
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