Thursday, 20 September 2012

Billion Dollar Brain - Len Deighton


I've never really considered Deighton's spy novels because they are eternally linked with Michael Caine and I've not been much of a Caine fan (Get Carter excepted) since the movie of Funeral in Berlin bored me rigid as a film-fanatical ten year-old.  But I discovered Deighton's WW2 novels two years ago and couldn't resist this vintage edition when I found it outside my favourite book shop.

Deighton's work has certainly worn better than that of Ian Fleming.  Fleming was never much of a writer (I have revisited his work in the last couple of years); nor was Deighton in the early years - but Deighton has a much better sense of story, pace and tension, and a slightly better grasp of characterisation.  If nothing else, his fictions are more democratic.  Not everybody is public school or rich.  Not all the women are sex-crazed.

The 'brain' itself - a computer so big, it has to be stored inside a mountain - is so absurdly outdated that it simply doesn't matter.  Deighton gets away with it because he has taken the trouble to research his concept.  The Cold War has also gone; again, it doesn't matter because we trust Deighton when he tells us how important it seemed at the time.

I love the settings - from seedy Soho to Finland - all described in detail with the stamp of personal knowledge.  Even if it turns out Deighton just made the whole thing up, his writing style convinces us it's true.  It's not a mystery story but the twist at the end about the femme fatale was a cracker.

Period piece, yes - but none the worse for that.  Actually, I suspect Billion Dollar Brain is more enjoyable as a period piece than it was as a slightly futuristic thriller.

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