Showing posts with label Len Deighton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Len Deighton. Show all posts

14 September 2018

Spies and Secret Agents

by O'Neil De Noux

The subject of the latest MYSTERY READER'S JOURNAL, the Journal of Mystery Readers International (Vol 34, No 2, Summer 2018) is SPIES AND SECRET AGENTS. It features articles by a number of writers, including me. I thought I'd share the gist of my article here on SleuthSayers.

Secret Agent Superheros

When I realized I would never play centerfield for the New York Yankees (too small, too slow, no athletic ability) I turned to books and decided I'd be a south seas adventurer or maybe an archaeologist. Then I stumbled across Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, John Le Carré, Adam Hall and others, which began a life-long fascination with secret agents. I wanted to be one. That did not turn out for me either. Ever hear of a 5'6" leading-man secret agent? I'm not cool or suave, not multilingual. Hell, I'm barely lingual.


Michael Caine as my all-time favorite spy – Harry Palmer (from THE IPCRESS FILE)

I became a police officer instead, an intelligence analyst and a homicide detective before becoming a private investigator. Along the way I found my true calling to be a writer. I wrote about what I knew – police and private eye stories before penning historical novels (I have a history degree).

The secret agent lingered in my mind, tapping my shoulder, asking when it would his turn. So, I created two secret agents and gave them a little help – superhuman powers – and let them loose in 1936, in a world on the brink of war.

So far I've had two novels published in the series:

LUCIFER'S TIGER (Big Kiss Productions 2017) introduces American agent Lucifer LeRoux in search of a mysterious stone only to run into a group of trigger-happy Japanese and Nazi agents and an alluring brunette who needs rescuing. Or does she? The audacious brunette is Catrin Allaway and like Luce, she has hidden powers and the chase in on as Japanese spies and German thugs pursue the American secret agents. Against a backdrop of exotic locales – from a giant casino in Macao, aboard ship through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca into the Bay of Bengal to India and to the Arabian Sea to battle Nazi SS troops and evil scientists. Enmeshed in a struggle between good and evil, the two Americans are drawn to one another on a lush, tropical island. What diabolical plan do Nazi scientists have for tigers? The perilous adventure becomes a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in the realm of the ultimate predator – the tiger.



LUCIFER'S FALCON (Big Kiss Productions 2018). It is still 1936 and newlyweds Luce and Catrin are on a mission to rescue two men from two European castles. From the coast of Spain to the French Riviera to a high castle in snowy Bavaria, the American agents tangle with Spanish fascists, Nazi fanatics and monstrous men with superhuman powers. Can Catrin and Luce pull off the rescues and make it out alive to continue their honeymoon? With the unexpected aid of a rapacious falcon, they just may get out alive.

In creating these larger-than-life secret agents, I made them Advanced Humans whose ancestors evolved differently than regular people. It also gave me the opportunity to create superhuman villians. It is great fun to write and for a little while, I get to be a secret agent.

I'll save y'all the trouble. I know I'm a mess. My writing's all over the place. My brain just works that way.

That's it for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com



04 June 2015

Science Fiction Fantasy Mysteries

by Eve Fisher

I just got my copy of the July/August Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and (no surprise, folks!) SleuthSayers is well represented:
  • Robert Lopresti's "Shooting at Firemen" just knocked me out. I already knew to look out for it from Rob's blog here (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/05/telling-fiction-from-fact.html) and it's a wonderful story about riots, politics, and race.
  • David Edgerly Gates gave us "In For a Penny", and what the cover says is true: The graft is greener at the border.
  • Janice Law's "A Domestic Incident" - besides being a harrowing account of betrayal on almost every level - raises the question, "what would/should I have done?"

Congratulations to all!

Another great story is Donald Moffitt's "A Handful of Clay". Sadly, Mr. Moffitt died just before publication. He was a multiple science fiction/fantasy/ and mystery writer. I love this story, both as an historian (setting a story in ancient Sumeria - 4500 years ago - and getting the details right without bogging down in them while keeping the universal humanity of the past, now that's an achievement) and as a mystery buff (love the plot). And it also got me thinking about the way so many people have shifted between sci-fi / fantasy/ mystery / horror without missing a beat.

First, some BSP:


Yes, that's me on the left, and later on the right, at the reception and panel discussion for the Startling Sci-Fi anthology that was held on May 16th in Greenwich Village, NYC, NY. Yes, I got my 15 minutes of fame. We answered questions, posed for photos, and signed books. We signed a lot of books. (Huzzah!)

It's a darned good anthology, if I do say so myself: My story, "Embraced" is a black comedy of lust, obsession, war, prophecy, and resistance during the apocalypse, as told by Yuri Dzhankov, who is, unfortunately, having the time of his life. Jhon Sanchez' "The Japanese Rice Cooker" may be all things to all men (and women), but is it the right thing? And Daniel Gooding's "Cro-Magnum Xix" is one of the best takes I've ever read on poor planning in the search for eternal life. And many, many more.

Copies can be purchased here.

This isn't the first of my sci-fi/fantasy work. "Dark Hollow" appeared in the Fall, 2000 issue of Space and Time, and its semi-sequel, "At the End of the Path", in the July/August 2002 issue of AHMM. And I've written a few others that have showed up in various places.

But here's the thing, innumerable authors, far better than I, have done the same thing. To wit:

DoAndroidsDream.png
a/k/a Bladerunner
  • First off, I would argue that every ghost story is also a mystery story - why are they there? Why won't they leave? Why won't they leave us alone? What do they want? Etc.
  • "Dracula", in case you've never noticed, is a mystery as well as a horror/fantasy story. It's not my fault that Jonathan Harker is a lousy detective, at least compared with Van Helsing.
  • Isaac Asimov - who wrote about freaking everything (says the owner of his "Annotated Gulliver's Travels", which I highly recommend) wrote 66 stories about the "Black Widowers", mostly published in EQMM. There's also The Caves of Steel, introducing policeman Elijah Baley and robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw.
  • Ray Bradbury's work switches regularly between fantasy (he himself claimed he never wrote science fiction) and mystery/horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes).
  • Len Deighton's alternate history novel SS-GB, about a British homicide detective in Nazi-occupied London.
  • J. K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike mysteries (which, to be honest, I have not yet read...) The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.
  • Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. (Delicious!)
  • Stephen King has been writing horror/sci-fi/fantasy/and now Westerns, so you figure it out.
  • Our own Melissa Yi recently posted about being a finalist for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/04/the-writers-dilemma-risk-vs-reward.html
  • and Melissa just posted about some modern mash-ups of mysteries and werewolves (and other creatures) in Monday's post: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/06/would-you-like-little-werewolf-in-your.html
  • And my personal favorite: that unique, beautiful, crazy, hilarious, and haunting mash-up of history, mystery, fantasy, and Chinese myth, Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was. I read it in one gulp at a library and went out and bought it that afternoon. (Can you tell that I used to teach Chinese history?)
    • Best quote: 'Immortality is only for the gods,' he whispered. 'I wonder how they can stand it.'
    • Seriously - go buy it, read it, just revel in it. An amazing work…
Anyway, I think this sort of switching between genres is pretty normal and fairly common. When you're killing people [fictionally] for a living, sometimes you need a wider horizon, or a shift in time, or a shift in dimensions in order to get the point sharpened, the point across, the point driven in.

And really, given the basic universals of pride, anger, envy, greed, lust, gluttony, and even sloth - and yes, I remember reading, long ago, a sci-fi story about murder by betrayal being done because of sloth - Anyway, given these universals it just doesn't matter about ages, universes, or much of anything else. It can always work. Anything is possible. Or at least wildly improbable.


And keep writing.

09 January 2013

LEN DEIGHTON: Bomber


David Edgerley Gates


Len Deighton made his bones with THE IPCRESS FILE---and the movie arguably made Michael Caine a star.  There were four more books in the Harry Palmer series (although in the books, the hero is never named), the three Bernard Sampson trilogies (GAME, SET, and MATCH; HOOK, LINE, and SINKER; and FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY), and over a dozen stand-alone novels, for the most part spy stories.
Deighton and Caine on the set of Ipcress.

Deighton, as a spy writer, falls somewhere between the closely-observed tradecraft of LeCarre and the more fantastical Bonds: a little like Adam Hall and his Quiller books, with their cheeky narrator and sharp eye for class differences.  Deighton's stories are about false friends and inconstant masters, and a weary Englishness, fallen into desuetude, the mannerisms of empire the butt of the joke, like the weather and the food.  They're also engaging and enormously fun.

For my money, though, the spy stories aside, the best of Deighton's novels is BOMBER, about an RAF night raid over the Ruhr in 1943, closely observed in detail and utterly terrifying, both from the point of view of the British air crews and the Germans on the ground.  The unusual thing about it is that heroics, cowardice, opportunism, kindness, devotion to duty, and nervous collapse, are on display in all the characters, and sometimes in the same character, no matter which side they're on.

Deighton was born in London in 1929, and experienced the Blitz as a boy.  He's written well-received non-fiction about the war, as well as novels, and his attention to the nuts and bolts, not just technical accuracy but his care for the human cost, shows in everything he writes, and none of it's phoned in.  BOMBER may have its schematic side, both in plot and the description of hardware, but it's never less than unsparingly real.  The accumulation of exact and telling specifics, the clumsiness of the Lancasters in flight, the flak bursts, the release of the bomb loads, the broken water mains, the falling buildings, the heat of phosphorus, and the acrid smell of fear, loose bowels, and burnt metal and flesh, are never out of sight or mind.  The clammy sweat sticks to your skin.
The cover image is a detail from Turner.

There's a subtext of class priggishness in the book, too.  Deighton is always aware of class condescensions, with that particular radar the Brits have.  (One thinks again of Michael Caine, now with his knighthood, but back when, a Cockney upstart, below the salt.)  Interestingly, in BOMBER, the Germans are as class-conscious as the English, the vons supercilious with men who've made their way up through the ranks, promoted on merit.  In the case of the English airmen, a lot of the flying officers who skipper the planes are NCO's, not officers, and at one point in the book, one of the best pilots in the squadron is demoted, and taken off flying status (for refusing to bowl for the cricket team).  This isn't just a petty humiliation, although it is of course exactly that, but Deighton makes it all too clear that such dated public school muscular Christianity is not only damaging to morale, but in fact to the war effort itself.

The air war over Germany didn't play favorites, and in BOMBER, death is arbitrary.  Naughty or nice, brave men, rotters, foolish or wise, upper-class Sandhurst grads, the sons of East End fishmongers, civilians and combatants, they live or die by accident, bad luck, equipment failure, the thousand natural calamities that flesh is heir to.  The bomber crews and the German night-fighter pilots, the ground controllers who vector them to their targets, the anti-aircraft batteries, the civil defense emergency teams, and of course the unwitting and unready, when the bombers get through, are bound together by the laws of gravity, the falling sticks of incendiaries and high explosive, and by the laws of chance.  The guilty and the innocent alike are in the hands of Fate, and none are redeemed.  There is neither reward for virtue, nor punishment for the wicked, or any settling of accounts, in terms of moral balance, the just delivered from evil, the unjust cast into darkness.

To think, however, that BOMBER is nihilistic is to misread the book.  For all the suffering, and occasional cruelty, there are extraordinary moments of heroism, not all of them in vain.  The characters, too, are human, not chessmen or generic convenience or simple cannon fodder, and their sorrows and desires and sins are realized and familiar and lived-in---they make up a recognized fabric, the world we inhabit, as they do.  Not a world as we wish it to be, free of jealous national ambitions, racial hatreds, and the machinery of total war, but the present world, too much with us, dangerous and unforgiving, a legacy of grievances real and imagined, a glass of heartbreak, never emptied.  BOMBER is only a fiction and doesn't pretend to be history, but history itself is cold comfort.