Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Ipcress File (Secret File, #1)” as Want to Read:
The Ipcress File (Secret File, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Ipcress File (Secret File #1)

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  9,368 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Len Deighton’s classic first novel, whose
protagonist is a nameless spy – later christened Harry Palmer and made famous worldwide in the iconic 1960s film starring Michael Caine.

The Ipcress File was not only Len Deighton’s first novel, it was his first bestseller and the book that broke the mould of thriller writing.

For the working class narrator, an apparently straightforw
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Harper (first published 1962)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Ipcress File, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Ipcress File

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
19th out of 607 books — 721 voters
The Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
81st out of 767 books — 1,162 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Jeffrey Keeten
”Weapons aren’t terrible,” I said. “Areoplanes full of passengers to Paris, bombs full of insecticide, cannons with a man inside at a circus--these aren’t terrible. But a vase of roses in the hands of a man of evil intent is a murder weapon.”

 photo Ipcress File_zpsjz3ewjk1.jpg
Michael Caine is “Harry Palmer”.

The protagonist of this novel is nameless. Though there is a moment in the novel when someone whispers:

“Hello Harry.”

Now my name isn’t Harry, but in this business it’s hard to remember whether it ever had been.

When the produ
Lance Charnes
Jun 17, 2013 Lance Charnes rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Paleolithic spy fiction
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 t
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 29, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No One
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
This has been praised as a literary thriller that helped shape the espionage thriller genre, and I've seen Deighton compared to Dickens, contrasted favorably to Ian Fleming.

Frankly, this struck me as rather juvenile. Unlike Fleming, Deighton doesn't have a background in intelligence, and the book never struck me as plausible. It's more Get Smart than Graham Greene or John LeCarre--or even Tom Clancy. This is Len Deighton's first novel--before this he had been working as an illustrator according
Oct 07, 2011 Ed rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: spy, thriller
I really, really wanted to enjoy this more and maybe the fault was partly my own for thinking it was going to be one of those novels I could read in 20 minute snatches on my daily commute, but despite its relatively short length, I just found it maddeningly difficult to follow. The tone is basically Noir filtered through the spy thriller with a little dash of The Man Who Was Thursday surrealism with the result that it had one of those hyper-dense narratives, full of non sequiturs, one-liners and ...more
Stuart Aken
As Deighton admits in the preface to the Silver jubilee Edition that I read, ‘Like many inexperienced writers I expected far too much from my readers.’ And it’s this assumption that that the reader will ‘be aware of every tiny detail and allusion’ that makes this book, at least initially, a less than easy read. Of course, the film and the reputation of the book gives the reader motivation to stick with it. Without that motivation I can’t be absolutely sure I’d have got past the first few chapter ...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in December 2003.

In today's thrillers, we have come to expect that the heroes are likely to be flawed, disillusioned characters. Go back a few decades, and all that was different. I'm talking straight thrillers, here, not detective stories; a significant source for the change to the the thriller genre was the hardboiled detective school of fiction. Graham Greene was probably the writer who introduced this style to the spy story, but Len Deighton was not far b
Rosalind Mitchell
This was a groundbreaker in its day; a grittier, darker, more morally ambiguous kind of spy thriller than the glamorous escapist fantasies of James Bond. The unnamed protagonist is notoriously not called Harry Palmer as he is in the film (he specifically denies being called Harry), nor is he the young Michael Caine's chirpy cockney (he's from Burnley). He's not particularly likeable either, but then neither is anybody else, very much. It's a murky old world and it's impossible to tell who's a go ...more
Alex Gherzo
I really don't understand how spy novels are judged. It seems the ones held in highest esteem are the slowest, least exciting of what is supposed to be a thriller subgenre. Even by those standards, I don't see how The IPCRESS File can be considered anything but a mess. It goes off on constant tangents, gets bogged down in endless descriptions of the most innocuous details (while important things are left out), the protagonist does almost nothing proactive, and very little of what goes on has any ...more
How have I managed to avoid reading this book for so long? It is just the sort of thing I was reading back in the 80s, but I missed it, somehow.

This is a novel on a par with those of John le Carré, but written from the point of view of a decidedly working-class spy: he has verbal sparring matches with his Eton/Oxford boss, making occasional remarks such as suggesting that he might be able to muddle through a certain assignment "despite my lack of a classical education." All good stuff.

It is writ
The Crime Scene Scene
The Ipcress File is the first novel in the Secret Files series by author Len Deighton. A British biochemist has gone missing and so an unnamed former spy now working for Wooc(P) as a civilian contractor is sent on a mission to find out what happened and retrieve him. In the process he uncovers a dark conspiracy.

For some this is novel was a game changing spy thriller which turned the genre on its head. For gone are what you would typically expect from a British spy thriller.Read the full review h
I've read The Ipcress File more times than any other of Deighton's spy novels, which in general are all good reads, and for a first novel it is outstanding how Len Deighton landed his blend of hardboiled detective (almost Chandler-like) narrative style with a convoluted spy plot in the first go. Very much of their era (early Sixties), just as Fleming's Bond novels were to their's, they may seem slightly anachronistic. Len Deighton was never a spy, unlike John Le Carré, but he nails that spy-as-b ...more
Rupert Matthews
I chose to read this on holiday as I had heard much about it and it is regarded as a classic. It must be said that the story line was intriguing with many twists and turns, many unexpected and some rather bizarre. The characters were well drawn too, and interesting to boot. The only drawback I could see is that this is very much a book of its time. The author spends a lot of time talking about the trendy clothes people wear, the fashionable places they go, the smart foods and expensive drinks th ...more
Hmmmmmmm - I was looking forward to this book. I've long been a fan of the Michael Caine movie based on this novel, and having read the Bond books a couple of years ago and working through the Smiley novels this year, I was intrigued to see where the unnamed spy of Deighton's books fitted in to the triumvirate.

And unfortunately I was disappointed. I found this the least enjoyable of the three - in both style and content. In content it doesn't have the glamourously comic book style jetsetting of
I had read that Deighton's work, in particular this first novel, had a lot in common with John le Carre's books, so I thought I'd give him a try. In some ways, this is true: Deighton's unnamed narrator is operating in a world of largely amoral actions and shifting loyalties, without any sort of Tom Clancy-ish sense of duty or righteousness to justify bad acts.

The comparison doesn't necessarily end there, but after reading this, it's clear that the two British spy novelists don't have quite as m
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
The first thing I have to say is that I was disappointed - it was nothing like the film. Normally that would be a compliment because, more often than not, films tend to be the medium that let a good book down. There are a few exceptions - "The Road" or "Gone With the Wind" - which were as good as the book because they stayed honest to the written version (whilst making allowances for the fact that they are visual rather than verbal media). It is rare, I think, that one can say that the film is b ...more
Sean E.
The book “The IPCRESS Files” is expressed through the opinion of a nameless hero who works for the English intelligence agency WOOC(P). It tells of one account of his involving a man named Jay and explaining the hero’s tedious journey to capture him after he kidnaps one of the top nuclear physicists in the world. Throughout the story the hero learns more and more about this peculiar man who seems to have worked for everyone at one time or another. Eventually the investigation is postponed while ...more
Wilson Lanue
It's a classic thriller and, while I didn't really like it, I can see why. The unnamed protagonist (dubbed "Harry Palmer" for the screen adaptation with Michael Caine) is a recalcitrant everyman in cheap suits and raincoats where most of his predecessors in espionage novels were preening "gentlemen." I like grunge.

And I found the footnotes and endnotes that fleshed out the backgrounds of fictional intelligence organizations endearing. The plot didn't captivate me, but it's decent stuff for a pul
Ramón Pérez
IPCRESS File es la novela de espías más anti-Bond que he visto en mucho tiempo. Y me encanta. Por cierto, hay una adaptación a cine por Michael Caine, con el mismo nombre.

El anónimo protagonista (al igual que en Berlin Game, la novela es en primera persona) es un agente de inteligencia transferido al misterioso WOOC, una agencia inventada por Deighton. Su primera misión es averiguar qué ocurre con las desapariciones y posibles deserciones al bloque del Este de científicos británicos. En la peli
Chris Gager
I debated whether to start "Rabbit Is Rich" last night or stay on the light side for another short book. And here I am... I read the Bernard Samson trilogy fairly recently and liked it so I'll read the first Harry Palmer book now. I saw the excellent movie when it was new and Michael Caine was a relative unknown. This movie helped get his career going and the rest is history. Of course it included the usual superb British supporting cast: Nigel Green and Guy Doleman for two...

Man, talk about a d
A "haunted house" in north London yields the first clues toward dismantling a spy ring determined to kidnap and brainwash Britain's foremost scientists. Sound like a dozen other cold war thrillers or a case for Steed and Emma? Yup. But The Ipcress File (1962) is in many ways the pattern on which all the others are built. It manages, all at the same time, to be both a paradigm and a parody of all the wonderful spy fiction the cold war spawned. And for atmosphere and wit it's never been beat.

Len D
As far as I'm concerned, there are three great Cold War spy series. (I really mean 'franchises', because they all started as books and were then adapted into other media, but I've never been crazy about that word.)

They are: Ian Fleming's James Bond, natch; John Le Carre's George Smiley; Len Deighton's nameless spy, called 'Harry Palmer' in the movies.

I've now read the first book in each series.

I liked Deighton's best. Le Carre's is the best-written, but as a 'cosy' mystery with a spying backgr
"The Ipcress File" was Deighton's first novel and it showed the promise that was fulfilled in his work to come. A terrific description of time-servers waiting for retirement, second sons of the gentry with no qualifications besides their name, masters of the cut and thrust of inter-agency politics and the occasional patriotic British subject willing to deal with all of them while bending a few rules in the service of Queen and Country.

Acerbic, observant, witty and even a bit upbeat.
R.M.F Brown
My name is my cocaine.

Cliché aside, what to make of the Ipcress File? A secret agent who'd rather be doing something else. A spy agency that doesn't do much spying, and assignments that are so tedious, the protagonist would rather watch a brass band playing.

James Bond this is not.

Like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the Ipcress file was a deliberate attempt to be subversive - in this case the antithesis of James Bond. The working class protagonist, on a paltry salary, is as far removed from the
Fortunately, this book is short, so you might be able to finish it in one evening and have some chance of following the labyrinthine plot. I read it over the course of a week and was confused at least once per page. Deighton assumes a certain familiarity with the reader and sprinkles each paragraph with enough British slang to tickle a "Monty Python" fanatic, so that's entertaining. However, as a storyteller, he relies too heavily on inferences and abrupt time shifts to be of much interest to a ...more
Hmm, this jumps about a bit and leaves you having to play catch-up: Deighton himself said that he had expected too much from his readers with his first book. An interesting read though, but not essential unless you're British, lived through the sixties (very young but I did) and can cope with pre-decimalisation and the establishment's attitude to women. I'm not sure Miss Moneypenny had a tea trolley... Good enough to get me reading the second installment of The Harry Palmer Quartet 'Horse Under ...more
A lot of background and attention to detail, which for me from having read other Len Deighton novels, such as Bomber and SS-GB and Winter and Funeral in Berlin is his trademark as an author...
Interestingly enough, the novel's protagonist, doesn't have a name... although he does get referred to as "Harry" just once... In the movie adaption of the book, he does.
Cameron Wiggins
It was Okay. "The Ipcress File" by Len Deighton was an English cold war espionage spy thriller with a de-emphasis on the thriller. When several scientists mysteriously disappear in Berlin, what seems to be a straightforward case rapidly turns into a dark and deadly conspiracy.
Len Deighton's working-class unnamed spy is chosen to solve one of these mysterious disappearances: the defection of Raven, a biochemist who has been under long-term survellience by the home office. The agent is empowered t
DeAnna Knippling

The opening made me utterly miserable: wonderful images combined with a sense of surreal, almost Kafkaesque bureaucratic unreality. By the time I worked out what was going on at *that* point, events had long since passed me by.

In the end--a satisfying mystery, and kudos for both giving me a sense of how disorienting trying to work things out really is, and the skill to pull me through.
Howard Giordano
Curious about this well known spy novel, I picked it a short time ago and read it in two days. I had never read anything by Len Deighton before and was certain I would enjoy it. I did, but not as much as I anticipated. To begin, the publishing formatting of the 1960's in England made the story a struggle to follow . . . no breaks between scene changes . . . the quotation marks used, etc. Then, Deighton uses so many English expressions that were unfamiliar to me that it slowed my reading pace. Th ...more
Herb Andy
way too complicated, most of it explained in the epilogue at the end as the author did such a poor job of telling the story. Not as exciting as Fleming's Bond series and not as believable as Le Carre's Smiley - there are many better spy novels out there . . .
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Alternate book cover 2 11 Aug 08, 2014 11:47PM  
  • A Perfect Spy
  • Epitaph for a Spy
  • Six Days of the Condor
  • The Four Just Men  (The Four Just Men #1)
  • The Quiller Memorandum
  • Ice Station Zebra
  • The Great Impersonation
  • The Salzburg Connection
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Malice Aforethought
  • The Odessa File
  • Dirty Tricks
  • Rogue Male
  • The Poisoned Chocolates Case
Deighton was born in Marylebone, London, in 1929. His father was a chauffeur and mechanic, and his mother was a part-time cook.After leaving school, Deighton worked as a railway clerk before performing his National Service, which he spent as a photographer for the Royal Air Force's Special Investigation Branch. After discharge from the RAF, he studied at St Martin's School of Art in London in 1949 ...more
More about Len Deighton...

Other Books in the Series

Secret File (7 books)
  • Horse Under Water
  • Funeral in Berlin
  • Billion Dollar Brain
  • An Expensive Place to Die
  • Spy Story
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy
Berlin Game (Bernard Samson, #1) Mexico Set (Bernard Samson, #2) London Match (Bernard Samson, #3) Funeral in Berlin SS-GB

Share This Book

“He had a long thin nose, a moustache like flock wallpaper, sparse, carefully combed hair, and the complexion of a Hovis loaf.” 3 likes
“I think Jay is in import and export business as his cards say, but he finally found that the second most valuable commodity today is information."
"The most valuable?"
"People with information," I suggested.”
More quotes…