Review: XPD – Len Deighton

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, WWII
First published: 1979
Pages: 432

From the cover:
“June 11, 1940 – Where is Winston Churchill?
A private aircraft takes off from a small town in central France, while Adolf Hitler, the would-be conqueror of Europe, prepares for a clandestine meeting near the Belgian border.
For more than 40 years the events of this day have been Britain’s most closely guarded secret. Anyone who learns of them must die -with their file stamped:
XPD – expedient demise.”

I would imagine, if you are like me of a certain age, and you have done a Michael Caine impression, you have probably done him as either his character from Zulu, or one of his early spy films. And they, The Ipcress File, Funeral In Berlin, etc, were written by one of the masters of the genre, Len Deighton.

Deighton along with le Carré, defined the later Cold War, spy-era, nipping back and forth over/under the Berlin Wall, novel. Deighton, for me, always felt a little more working class in his focus, and really, all the more realistic for that.

I had the feeling I’d read most of Len Deighton’s outstanding work (apart from the cookery books!). But, it seems, not this one. No reason other than never got round to it I guess. I read a lot of Len Deighton in my youth. I remember spending the whole of one Sunday in the ’80’s reading Winter from start to finish. Couldn’t put it down, fascinating. This one I got this from the collection of a friend of my family here in Denmark, who passed away last year.

Rather disappointingly then I find it’s not one of Deighton’s best. Beginning in 1979, all the elements are there – the premis that Churchill met with Hitler just after the outbreak of WWII, where Churchill, in order to placate Hitler and ‘save’ Great Britain, agreed to a long list of outrageous demands largely amounting to saving our own skin and selling our allies past, present and future, down the river. Then there’s a film being made, based on uncovered evidence of American GIs stealing Nazi (already stolen) art, gold and artifacts, including quite probably, the evidence of the above meeting. The British Secret Service and the CIA are, of course, interested. The British for obvious reasons, the CIA because of the possibility the Russians are involved somewhere or other down the line (we’re still in the Cold War period here, don’t forget). But everything feels like it’s relegated to a sideshow amongst many other sideshows. Nothing stands up and grabs you. Seems like there’s plenty going on, but it’s not of much consequence, not of enough interest and just not strong enough, I’m afraid. I really didn’t find myself caring an awful lot about any of the characters or predicaments.

I actually kept thinking how much better this story would have been, handled by one of the modern spy writers I’m currently enjoying reading. Jon Stock, for instance. And in Deighton’s characters ‘Boyd Stuart’ (the British spy) and his MI6 chief ‘Sir Sydney Ryden’, dare I say I saw a distant pre-echo (if such a thing is possible) of Jon Stock’s ‘Daniel Marchant’ and ‘Marcus Fielding’? I’d take that as flattery, were I Jon Stock.

Unfortunately, XPD just doesn’t all come together like a classic Deighton should. There are still moments of the classic Deighton style. His way of revealing a surprise, almost in passing, then, a few paragraphs later, making reference in some way to the development, from a slightly different angle as it were, blowing the whole thing up in your face again, is wonderful. Pure Deighton, pure genius. It’s just that here such moments are few and far between and not enough to pull this up and away from being a run of the mill Deighton. Sorry about that.

You can buy XPD from The Book Depository

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