The Ipcress File (Secret File, #1)
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The Ipcress File (Secret File #1)

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  7,909 ratings  ·  109 reviews
When a number of scientists mysteriously disappear in Berlin, what seems to be a straightforward case rapidly becomes a journey to the heart of a dark and deadly conspiracy. It is a conspiracy that takes Len Deighton's working-class hero on a journey that will test him to the limits of his ingenuity and resolve.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Harper (first published 1962)
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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
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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...more
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...more
Ed
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
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...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
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
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...more
Phil
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...more
Mac
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...more
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
Migdalia
The Ipcress File is Len Deighton's first novel and thriller, introducing us to an agent who goes by the name of Harry Palmer (though he never divulges his real name during this story). When we first meet him, he is working in one department within the intelligence network in the UK (and despising his "boring" and "unimaginative" boss), but he's soon transferred to another division under the command of one of the rising stars within the community. He is recruited to work on a special mission, but...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...more
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...more
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...more
Scott
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...more
Daniel
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...more
Ed
"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.
Paul
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
Stephen
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...more
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
Jay
I think I may have to give up on the spy novel genre. Le Carre novels, the Bourne series, and now this one...too many names for characters that too quickly come and go, and too much technical jargon. It's impossible for me to keep up with what's going on. Easier just to watch the movies.
Steve Shilstone
Raymond Chandler style narrator spins a John LeCarre style Cold War spy tale featuring delightful sentences such as: A cigarette girl, clad in a handful of sequins, tried to sell me a souvenir program.
Chris
Aug 19, 2014 Chris marked it as unfinished
Found it really hard to follow, lots of dated slang and products mentioned. The narrative didn't seem to really make any sense, I struggled to picture what was happening in my head.
Jason Tutterrow
I enjoy the spy genre, so I had high hopes for this book before I started reading it. This book ran the gamit. There were narrow escapes, mysterious deaths, seedy dealings, double agents, and brainwashing. It is hard to fathom that this is Len Deighton's debut, because it is written in a way that makes the reader feel that this is an experienced writer honing his craft. Ironically, enough, this book was such a success that it was made into a smash hit film just a year after publication. In fact,...more
Victor Gibson
The Ipcress file was Len Deighton's first book and considering that he was a graphic designer one wonders how he learnt so much about the spy business, which whether it is true or not sounds totally authentic. Deighton's hero, who is un-named in the Ipcress File, but who becomes Harry Palmer played by Michael Caine in the film, is a sardonic, sarcastic, irreverent spy who it seems is always one jump ahead of the villains, and actually the reader.

Even after fifty years it remains an entertaining...more
David
Was okay, not bad and got better towards the end. Would give it two and a half stars really. Seemed like it was written by someone who didn't know how to write a book at first... wait, it was since this was his first book and he said he started not knowing anything about writing a book. The writing is very dated and very British in that there are things that you have no idea what or where they are and this, with the first person rambling, made it more difficult to get into the story. All in all...more
Woody
Had I been alive in the 50s and 60s, and British, I might have enjoyed this more. I found it a bit tough to follow. I don't know if this was a result of never really getting into this book, or a result of not picking up on some of the slang, but I kept getting the feeling that things were being alluded to that I simply wasn't catching. At several points I went back and reread passages and still had no clue what was happening. In the end, I got the big picture of what happened but in a spy novel,...more
Ian Webb
For me, this was no where near the level of John Le Carre or Ian Fleming. John Le Carre has the intrigue if the Cold War and the government departments in his inimical style, Ian Fleming has the fast paced thriller and action. Although the Ipcress File had both of these I found the way it was written hard to follow at times and the use of the first person confusing. Disappointing since I was expecting more.
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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...
Berlin Game (Bernard Samson, #1) Mexico Set (Bernard Samson, #2) London Match (Bernard Samson, #3) Funeral in Berlin SS-GB

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“He had a long thin nose, a moustache like flock wallpaper, sparse, carefully combed hair, and the complexion of a Hovis loaf.” 2 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."
"And?"
"The most valuable?"
"People with information," I suggested.”
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