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The Ipcress File (Secret File #1)

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,989 Ratings  ·  165 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 straightfor
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Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Harper (first published 1962)
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe 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
62nd out of 829 books — 1,475 voters
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
Espionage
23rd out of 696 books — 810 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Jan 23, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies
”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
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Lance Charnes
Jun 17, 2013 Lance Charnes rated it liked it  ·  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
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Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 29, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it did not like it
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
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Jim
Feb 23, 2016 Jim rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, spy
Ipcress is not a name or a place: It is an abbreviation for “Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress” -- or, in other words, brainwashing. I remember seeing the film of the book when it came out in 1965 and believed I had also read the book. Instead of a re-read, this turned out to be a first-timer.

On one hand, I liked The Ipcress File; on the other, I found it curiously remote. The protagonist is never named (though for the movie, Michael Caine himself invented the name
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Ed
Oct 07, 2011 Ed rated it liked it
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
Mar 20, 2013 Stuart Aken rated it really liked it
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
Cphe
Nov 15, 2015 Cphe rated it it was ok
I've noticed this book mentioned on a lot of espionage/thriller lists over the years but hadn't got around to reading it, nor have I seen the movie. I was in a way expecting it to be a rollicking good read but it wasn't quite that for me. I did like that the narrator was unnamed and I thoroughly enjoyed his sense of black humor, and deadpan dialogue. The thriller/espionage component was interesting as well.

However there were a few too many gaps in the delivery of the plot. Not everything was exp
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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
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Simon Mcleish
Feb 09, 2013 Simon Mcleish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
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Matthew
Jul 26, 2015 Matthew rated it it was ok
We get a sense of the value of popular fiction when we see how well it dates within a couple of generations. The classic will stay with us, no matter how far social attitudes and concerns have moved on. The popular novel of little or moderate worth will date less well, and will actually become rather dull for future readers, a strange fate for a book that was written precisely to grab their attention.

The popular works of female literature tend to be historical, romantic, family sagas etc. Male l
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Gavin Smith
Jan 20, 2016 Gavin Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, britain
Given the espionage theme, I had expected to find myself comparing The Ipcress File to Ian Fleming's much more famous British spy novels. A better point of comparison, though, comes from over the pond. Deighton's decidedly non-Oxbridge spy reminded me of a British version of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Compliments for hard-boiled noir heroes simply don't get any higher, and this is most definitely that kind of story. For great big chunks of the narrative, the reader is as much in the dark ...more
Linda
Aug 01, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it
I am uncertain on the dates I read this book and then saw the movie. It was one of the first books of that genre that I read, and I still like to read spy and thriller books.

Thank you Mr. Deighton, for a good read.
Rajan
Apr 24, 2016 Rajan is currently reading it
‘You remember the Jesuit motto.’ He was always surprised to find that I had read any sort of book.


‘When the end is lawful the means are also lawful,’ I answered.
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Rob Thompson
Harry Palmer

“He had a long thin nose, a moustache like flock wallpaper, sparse, carefully combed hair, and the complexion of a Hovis loaf.”

An enjoyable but bewildering and confusing book. Deighton withholds almost all the information needed to make sense of the plot. Even a basic structure of the story is difficult to discern. There are endless twists and turns, digressions and movements in place and time. I'm sure this was super cool back in the 1960s with its leisurely and convoluted meandering.

Here's my
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Joy H.
Aug 08, 2015 Joy H. marked it as watched-film-only
Added 8/8/15. (first published 1962) ("IPCRESS" stands for: "Induction of Psycho-Neuroses by Conditioned Reflex with Stress".)
I did not read the book but watched the film on the TCM channel in August 2015.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059319/?...
http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/The-Ipcr...

In the story, Harry Palmer, the spy (later christened Harry Palmer and played in the movie by Michael Caine), has a mission to find a missing biochemist. He discovers a deadly conspiracy. It was truly scary and susp
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Stephanie Helms
Jul 12, 2015 Stephanie Helms rated it it was amazing
I always enjoy a 60's Pulp novel. Pulp novels today lack the class and glamor and absurdity. There also seems to be a dearth of Pulp-Art novels. If you read British novels from the 60s, occasionally you find one and think, "this is not a pulp." Authors now regarded as bad-ass new Gods of mid-century Literature (your Pynchon, Greene, Vonnegut, and Deighton apparently) took the mass-market escap into action/adventure/sex/intrigue pulp genre, and did a Manneristic revisioning, bringing self-aware h ...more
Rosalind Mitchell
Feb 19, 2014 Rosalind Mitchell rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller
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
Dale
Sep 30, 2014 Dale rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
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The Crime Scene Scene
Jul 02, 2014 The Crime Scene Scene rated it it was amazing
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
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Laura
Oct 25, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
This is the first novel based on the story of the famous spy Harry Palmer who was brilliantly played by Michael Caine.
David
Oct 18, 2014 David rated it really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2014 Rupert Matthews rated it liked it
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
Mark Adkins
Feb 07, 2016 Mark Adkins rated it liked it
The Ipcress File is an espionage novel that was written in the 1960s about a nameless spy that works for the British Government. It was an alright novel that unfortunately is rather dated and in my opinion does not hold up well when you compare it to other spy novels written during that time period.

What it does do well is immerse the reader into 1960s UK. This is also its drawback as things have changed quite a bit since then and you may find yourself having to look up simple things such as curr
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Kelanth
Feb 01, 2016 Kelanth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spionaggio
La pratica Ipcress, in originale "The Ipcress File", è un romanzo di spionaggio del 1962, dell'autore inglese Len Deighton. La sua produzione letteraria spazia dai romanzi di spionaggio e di suspense, ai libri di cucina e ai saggi storici. È il creatore del personaggio Harry Palmer, una spia britannica protagonista di una serie di romanzi e di film interpretati da Michael Caine. Tutti gli appassionati di spy-stories ricordano la figura di Michael Caine con gli occhiali e l'impermeabile. E' Harry ...more
Mac
Sep 29, 2012 Mac rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Jun 09, 2011 Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller, fiction
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.
Nov 03, 2011 Sean E. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 24, 2013 Wilson Lanue rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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Ramón Nogueras Pérez
Feb 01, 2013 Ramón Nogueras Pérez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spionage
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
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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...

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

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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.” 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."
"And?"
"The most valuable?"
"People with information," I suggested.”
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