Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Ipcress File (Secret File #1) by Len Deighton.
My cue to read this volume came from Charles Stross, who characterized his opening Laundry novel (The Atrocity Archive) as something of an homage to Deighton. By all accounts, Deighton’s first novel The Ipcress File was the place to start with this author. I’m not sure what similarities I expected to encounter, but I found a lot of what made Stross’s book enjoyable to me: the syncopated plot, sardonic attitude, and partial disclosure in first-person reportage to convey the tension felt by the speaker in the events described. As a newcomer to the genre, Deighton signals his willingness to chuck its conventions in the opening pages:
“Find him?” I said. “How would we start?”
“How would you start?” asked Dalby.
“Haven’t the faintest,” I said. “Go to laboratory, wife doesn’t know what’s got into him lately, discover dark almond-eyed woman. Bank manager wonders where he’s been getting all that money. Fist fight through darkened lab. Glass tubes that would blow the world to shreds. Mad scientist back to freedom holding phial—flying tackle by me. Up grams Rule Brittania.”
Dalby gave me a look calculated to have me feeling like an employee. (15)
Another similarity to Stross was the morass of au courant cultural and technological allusions—like the verb “grams” in the preceding quote. Some of these, set in the UK a little before I was born, were pretty opaque to me, though I didn’t bother to use the 21st-century Internet overmind to puzzle through them. In other cases, Deighton would provide explanation for things that were then cutting edge or semi-secret, but are now just common knowledge. It is certainly a book that has aged strangely. (Fault the world, not the text!)
The denouement and epilogue cleverly alternate silver linings with touches of gun-metal gray. I had thought to rush afterward to a viewing of the 1965 cinematic version of the story, but the fact that it’s not streaming on Netflix at the moment stayed my spectacles. I’d probably rather read one or two of the sequels without being constrained by the precedent of a screen interpretation anyhow. [via]
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