Thursday, November 1, 2012

X is for XPD

XPD is an espionage novel published in 1981 and set in 1979. The premise is that Hitler and Churchill had a secret meeting in 1940, and there are several groups competing to either expose documents about this meeting or suppress them.

The author of this book, Len Deighton, is a man of many talents and varied interests. In his youth, he completed his National Service as a photographer for the RAF, in the Special Investigations Branch. After his discharge, he studied art. He was an illustrator and an Art Director. After he had published his first novels, he became The Observer's cookery writer. In addition to novels, he also wrote several non-fiction books about military history and cooking.

For some reason, even though I have long been a fan of espionage fiction, Deighton was not an author I had read before this year.  The first book I read this year was the first book he wrote, The Ipcress File. From there I moved on to the Bernard Samson novels; I have read six of nine in that series, plus Winter, which is not an espionage novel, but provides background for some characters in that series. And now I have read XPD.

In XPD, the British Secret Intelligence Service is working against Soviet agents to find the long hidden documents, although both groups want to suppress them. There is a group of former SS officers in Germany who are also trying to manipulate the outcome. Also involved is a group of ex-U.S. military staff who looted a large amount of gold at the end of World War II.

When there are so many characters interacting, there will inevitably be many plot threads that the reader must follow, and Deighton balances them very well. I was a bit worried when some reviews mentioned a convoluted plot. It is that... but not a problem to follow. And I often have problems following complex plots. I did not find the plot implausible. Like a good thriller film, the action moves so quickly that the reader doesn't stop to question the events.

Per this post at the Deighton Dossier blog, re the reissue of XPD in 2009: "XPD is a term coined by Deighton for the novel. It stands for 'expedient demise', sanctioned acts of murder or 'wet jobs' necessary to protect state secrets and security."

One interesting aspect of this book for me was that a large part of the action was set in California, in the Los Angeles area. Living in Southern California, I was familiar with a lot of the areas. And it involved the making of a film about the looting of the gold from a salt mine where it had been stored, which alerts the SIS to the problem of possible exposure; the comments on the building of sets for the World War II time period were intriguing.

XPD was written prior to the Bernard Samson series, and I can see similarities and differences. One of the main protagonists in XPD is a member of the British SIS, just as Bernard Samson is. Most of the Bernard Samson novels are told in first person, whereas XPD is told in third person. Thus, the Bernard Samson series seems more personal to me. While reading XPD, I was very interested in the outcome and entertained throughout, but never really involved in any of the characters.

Links to my reviews of the Bernard Samson series, so far:

Berlin Game (1983)
Mexico Set (1984) and London Match (1985)
Winter (1987) [related but not a part of the series]
Spy Hook (1988)
Spy Line (1989) and Spy Sinker (1990)


The Deighton Dossier is an extensive resource on Len Deighton and his books, with more about his life and book covers he designed.

I am featuring this novel as my selection for the letter X in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme, sponsored by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter X.

4 comments:

  1. Great choice TracyK - I'm a big Deighton fan. SSGB is even better, a counter-factual mystery in which the Grmans succesfully invade Englad suring the second world war. A bit like Robert Harris' FATHERLAND only much better.

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    1. I had heard that SSGB is better than Fatherland, and I have both (unread). Looking forward to reading them.

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  2. I read XPD recently, couldn't help wondering if all the characters are crazy. The Hitler scene in the studio is surreal and omething I would probably remember for a long while.

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    1. I see what you mean. I certainly would not want to live like any of them. Sometimes I do think intelligence agents are all a bit crazy to live the way they do.

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