Review: XPD by Len Deighton

When it comes to Len Deighton books, I have read a fair few.  That means that every time I read one, there is one less to go before I have gone through them all.  Mercifully I know that the day that happens is still a good while off, but it will come, and it will be a sad day.

I’ve learned that – as with any author – there are the classic books or trilogies and there are the lesser works.  I don’t have enough time as I would like these days to read novels, and so when the opportunity arose, I cracked open one of the supposed vintage ones, and this spy story did not disappoint.

Despite being nearly thirty years old the story hasn’t aged as it is specifically set in the year 1979.  The  basic premise is that some files detailing a secret wartime meeting held between Winston Churchill and Hitler (discussing terms to end the war that would essentially hand victory to the Germans) have come to light, having been stolen at the end of World War 2 by some American soldiers.  Given the sensitive subject matter, the British, American and Russian secret services are all eager to get their hands on them.  Most of the people that learn of the files end up meeting a grisly end.

Deighton’s talent for writing fantastic dialogue between characters is much in evidence here, and you can easily find that a good fifty pages have gone by when you only meant to pick the book up for a short break.  Everything is exquisitely planned (in particular the intricate maneuvering between the different intelligence agencies) , and although the author does not really go in for last minute twists, you do get the trademark build up of tension.  In this case it takes some unexpected turns, but the plot leaves you suspecting some outcomes.  The thrill is being kept expertly in suspense, longing to have your suspicions validated or dashed.  As in the best Deighton books – for me the first two Bernard Samson trilogies – the final 100 pages truly flow, in a way that is almost cinematic.  It is hard to take your eyes away from the page.

This would make an excellent introduction to Len Deighton, and I’m sure would lead the reader to venture further into the murky world of espionage that is only really mastered by a few writers.

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  1. Rob Mallows

    Great review Andre. It combines Deighton’s great story telling with his undoubted skill as a military historian of the second world war. What comes through on each page is the meticulous research he does for all his books; detail is everything.

  2. Joseph

    I have an ancient copy of this on my new bookshelves and I haven’t even opened it. To my shame I have only read one Len Deighton book so far. But I read it three times. It was very good. (The Ipcress File.)

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