I'll keep that in mind, thanks 😊
Until you mentioned that, N24, I had forgotten, it’s been many years since I read that book.
I don’t like Cormack McCarthay’s writing, although he is very highly regarded. I’m on obviously not educated enough because I like pulp fiction best 🤣
Going back to the LALD diary, Roger mentions that he was shown incontrovertible proof by film that JFK was assassinated by another gunman, that fact interests me very much indeed and would have loved to have asked him about it if I had ever met him.
I never was able to find An Expensive Place to Die, so skipped ahead to this one. Deighton says in his introduction "Patrick Armstrong is not the man from The Ipcress File, although he's obviously a close relative." Armstrong is not his real name any more than Harry was the "other" man's name. Armstrong has retired from a previous job working for Dawlish, not-Harry's old boss, and is currently working as a programmer/mathematician with Ministry of Defense's war games simulations department. How he got that job is vague, he claims he bumped into a pal at the bar but nobody believes him.
Confusing plot is some sort of inversion of Funeral in Berlin, where there is a Soviet defector expected and it is Western conspirators who intend to leave a duplicate corpse on the ice north of Russia in place of the missing defector. There is a big dinner party sequence in a posh house where all the major characters come together, two scenes at a fancy French restaurant, a lengthy chase through Scottish highlands in a blizzard (has Deighton been reading Buchan?) then a grand finale on the seafloor under the polar ice sheets.
I never did get what's going on, but what's interesting is the questions of identity. Its not just that Armstrong may or may not be my-name's-not-Harry. Early on he visits his old apartment to discover someone is still living there, but with all his clothes and family photos (carefully edited to include another man's face). When he bluffs his way into a MoD library to research his double, he finds someone has already entered the building using his ID. And then there's a random corpse stolen from the mortuary which is to double for the missing defector. And if the Russian defector does make it to the West, is the intention he take over Armstrong's life for good and Armstrong must choose yet another name and profession? The subplot with the girlfriend also suggests the real life need to compromise ones identity in a relationship, to be who the other person needs you to be.
So I'd say Deighton's ambiguity about whether this is the same character we already know is deliberate, as the loss and reinvention of identity is the theme of this novel.
so whats the deal with An Expensive Place to Die? Is that a my-name's-not-Harry adventure or another "close relative"?
I've always thought it was the anonymous agent's 5th story, but Deighton as ever leaves matters ambiguous.
And PS- I'm not sure how much we can trust Deighton on the identity of "Patrick Armstrong".....
sorry Barbel, which one do you think is the 5th story, An Expensive Place to Die or Spy Story?
Oh, "An Expensive Place To Die".
They made a film of Spy Story in 1976 but I've never seen it and I don't believe that it's commercially available or even available online anywhere. It's even hard to find out much about it. Perhaps bootleg versions are out there? It didn't have the star power of the likes of Michael Caine to help sell it. It's probably not very good but I'd still like to see it as a kind of lost Harry Palmer-type curio. I know the lead character is called Patrick Armstrong but it could just as easily be "Palmer" under another name. Anyway, here's the film trailer which looks rather cheap and shoddy:
There's a little more info about it in the "60s Bond Rivals: Harry Palmer" thread. I think I'm one of the very few to have seen that movie!
Thanks, @Barbel. I'll have to have a look at that thread again then. I remember reading years ago on the message board of the Harry Palmer site run by Kees Stam that the film wasn't shown on TV much or at all. Someone made the point that the only people to have seen it were pretty much those who saw it at the cinema on its release in 1976! There doesn't seem to be any incentive for the copyright holders to release it commercially possibly because it didn't do well at the box office or because of the lack of a star-studded cast. I'm not really sure which.
Here's the thread- The 60s Bond Rivals (2): Harry Palmer — ajb007
Thanks, @Barbel. I had a little look at it earlier. Good stuff!
What did you make of the film of Spy Story? I take it you saw it on its original release in the cinema?
that trailer does have a cheap mid70s look to it, completely the opposite of the stylish Caine films. But about 80% of the shots are recognisable from the plot of the book, so it could be a faithful adaptation.
I just tried looking for it online with no luck, but its such a generic sounding title it makes Searching difficult.
Yes, my thoughts exactly. Especially with them using the Deighton novel cover as the title board. A real case of cutting corners. The trailer narrator (who I recognise from old Bond trailers too I think) tries his best and he does make it sound exciting. I had thought maybe it was on YouTube at one point but I honestly think it's so rare that there's no copies kicking around. That said, I have seen references online to a bootleg copy which might be the only way of seeing it in reality as it's unfortunately unlikely to ever get a commercial DVD release.
I've just finished BOX 88 by British spy author Charles Cumming.
I found this a seriously enjoyable spy novel. It is my third Cumming book, and after three novels I can comfortably say that he is now one of my favourite spy novelists, perhaps second only to Mick Herron as my favourite contemporary author in the genre.
The plot runs along two timelines, the first in the late 1980s where a young Lachlan Kite is recruited by a Anglo-US spy network called BOX 88 while a student at Alford (a very obvious stand-in for Eton). He is then given an assignment to spy on an Iranian suspected of involvement with the Lockerbie bombing who happens to be a family friend of Kite's best pal at Alford. The second timeline is set in the present day, as MI6 are trying to uncover the truth behind Box 88, while at the same time another Iranian group are after Lachlan for his involvement in the 1980s operation.
The novel moves along at a decent pace and getting to know Lachlan as a youngster dipping his toe into the secret world for the first time makes him a very relatable character. I highly recomment BOX 88, and Charles Cumming himself imformed me that a sequel is on the way in September called JUDAS 62.
Yes, in my local long-gone fleapit when teenage Chas went to the cinema maybe 3 times a week. I was already reading Deighton by then and was keen to see this one. It was very close to the book- in fact, if I recall correctly there's no screenplay credit so it's almost as if the cast learned their lines straight from the novel while the director stood beside the camera holding a copy open.
Derren Nesbitt, a good actor, was no match for Oscar Homolka as Colonel Stok but then who would be? It was strange to see Nicholas Parsons in a straight dramatic role. The lead, Michael Petrovitch (? spelling) did not slip on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and try a cockney accent but it might have made his very bland performance more interesting if he'd tried.
Overall, a very cheap looking movie.
Hey, my memory of a 45-year old movie is pretty good!
PS If you don't recognise the name Derren Nesbitt, he's in "Where Eagles Dare" so why not join in our watchalong on July 9th?
Where Eagles Dare watchalong in late June or early July? - Page 2 — ajb007
Thanks very much for sharing your memories of seeing Spy Story in the cinema, @Barbel. It's interesting to hear the experiences of someone who actually saw this now highly elusive spy film. You're right in that your memory of seeing the film 45 years ago is very good. I suppose one remembers that which one enjoys and tries to suppress that which one does not?
Its interesting that you say that there was no screenplay credit suggesting that only the Deighton source novel was used as the point of reference. That kind of tallies with what I was saying above about the novel cover being used in the film's trailer as the title card for the film. The trailer and the finished film itself was clearly made on the cheap. Such an approach must have made for a very literal interpretation of the novel in the film adaptation. If only some of the less faithful Bond films had shown the same level of fidelity to Fleming's work! I suppose that the closest we've come to anything like that in the Bond film series was on OHMSS where George Lazenby and Peter Hunt both read the novel on the set to gain inspiration and to make sure that things were tallying up on film with what Fleming had originally written. It's certainly an interesting and different way to make a film but if it works I suppose why not?
On the matter of the cast, I'm sure there were some good actors in there too but perhaps not of the same star quality and staying power of the Harry Saltzman produced Harry Palmer films of the 1960s. Not every actor can be expected to be Michael Caine after all! I'd forgotten (if I realised it at all) that the late Nicholas Parsons was an actor and not just a radio and TV presenter of long standing. I'm sure it was indeed interesting to see his serious role in the film!
Now to try to track down a copy...
I've only seen a bit of that film on TV years ago. I could do with giving it a proper watch some time as it is considered a classic. I'll see if I can get it fitted in!
Thanks for the review…I’ve been looking at picking up Box88 after reading several other good reviews…is it worth reading his other novels first?
I only heard about Mick Herron a couple of months ago…again after good reviews…I’m also looking at picking up some of his…
@Sir Miles, I've only read 3 of Charles Cumming's standalone novels so far and I'd say there isn't any reason to read them in publication order. He has also written a couple of series though: A pair of novels with Alex Milius as the main character, and then his Thomas Kell trilogy. With those I'd suspect that they are best read in order.
As for Mick Herron, definitely read his Slough House series in order, starting with Slow Horses. These novels are a really enjoyable and unique take on the spy genre, wickedly funny and brilliantly written. I'm very much looking forward to the TV adaption of Slow Horses which is currently in production.
Slow Horses? Oh, yeah, the one about the misfits holed up in a high street apartment with the obnoxious boss who spend all their time sleuthing on line in the local cafe where everyone can hear them. Too many scenes built to a point of interest only to have the author cut away at the tension apex and send us somewhere else. Six pages on, after building to another point of interest, he returned to the original tension apex and had to rebuild all the suspense he had just dissipated. Repeat and reload. Over and over. Hated it.
I actually really enjoy that structure of cross-cutting between different scenes and locations that Mick Herron uses in his books.
Someone told me this is how they write modern thrillers. I must exist in a different era.
Just a little tip, @Sir Miles, if you are interested in getting some of the Mick Herron spy novels. I recently bought 3 of his Slough House series novels in paperback for £5 at The Works. They might still have the same deal on at your local branch of the store so it'd be worth having a look there. Thought that it was a very good price for relatively new novels. I've heard someone compare them to the Boysie Oakes novels by John Gardner so that's good enough for me! 😉
Thank you all for your input - much appreciated 🍸
The Four Just Men
Edgar Wallace, 1905
The first in a series of novels by the prolific Wallace. The Four Just Men are a shadowy vigilante group who have already assassinated a dozen or so evil doers around the world, who they rationalise had it coming. The authorities cant do anything, the world would be better off, etc, that sort of logic. Three of them are respectable and blend into the heart of society with ease, even as the nations police search for them everywhere, and the fourth an unstable psychopath who has the skills they need for this latest job.
Latest job is to assassinate the British Foreign Secretary, who is about to extradite a revolutionary leader back to Spain!!!! I suppose our "heroes" are worried about the revolutionary's prospects once home and feel extradition is morally wrong, but this is hardly making me see the novel's protagonists as any sort of Good Guys! I'm not sure if in any of the sequels they became less, er, morally ambiguous.
What's interesting is the cryptic writing style in which little is spelled out and we are left to piece the clues together what happened (and thus a good followup to Deighton). Also very brief, 150 pgs.
This was turned into a teevee show on ITV in 1959, thus a sort of prototype to our 1960s spy/adventure shows. The vigilantes must have found more benign things to do than assassinate Cabinet ministers to have their own teevee show, even Simon Templar had to tone it down.
I was going through some boxes in storage, and found a book that I read some 30 years ago: "By Way of Deception" written by Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad case officer. Eventhough this is a re-read, it should prove a perfect summer reading: not quite fact, but with enough "high speed, low drag and way cool" -to make it interesting.
Just to lower the tone of this thread, I read Herne The Hunter 1: White Death by John G. McLaglen. This is actually written by Laurence James and John Harvey. James was a prolific writer using over a dozen pen names and this is the first in a series of 24 books. Jedediah Herne is a reformed gunfighter who is now working a small homestead with his wife. Whilst he is away with a neighbouring farmer buying supplies, a group of seven men brutally rape Herne’s wife and kill the neighbours wife. Upon their return she tells them of the events and later hangs herself in a barn. Jed then returns to his former way of life as the gunfighter Herne The Hunter, to seek revenge on the perpetrators. The book ends before he has killed all the rapists, so the story will continue in the next book.
This is atmospherically written with several references to classic western movies including The Magnificent Seven and 3.10 to Yuma.
Laurence James was always a good writer of pulp fiction across a number of genres, including the post-apocalyptic series Deathlands under the name James Axler, a Hells Angels series (Mick Norman), and he contributed to several western series. Unfortunately he died at the age of 56 due to cancer.
"The jealousy man and other stories" by Jo Nesbø.
While it's written by Nesbø, this collection of short stories does not feature Harry Hole. Each story feature new people and only some are set in Norway. The titular short story is set on a Greek island - "The jealousy man" is already set to be a Hollywood movie, by the way. Almost all the stories are crime stories. The exeption is a short story about an author who struggles with fame, the author myth, privacy and integrity. It's really interesting. I think the other stories are of varying quality. I've never before been able to guess the solution of a Nesbø mystery before, but this time I did it twice. But Jo Nesbø is still a master of the genere and the book is very much worth reading.
Two fun facts about Jo Nesbø:
- He has a successfull series of children's books.
-He was a famous svinger before he became an author and he still has concerts.