Wednesday, May 31, 2006

06.18 Billion Dollar Brain by Len Deighton


Billion Dollar Brain (1966) by Len Deighton
Pbk, Penguin, 255p

Len Deighton is perhaps best known for his Game, Set, Match series of espionage novels. Prior to those, he wrote four spy books of which this is the last. The first book, The Ipcress File was the most sucessful and (like the others) was made into a film with Michael Caine. Billion Dollar Brain, the film, apparently strays wildly off the plotline of the book and is considered the worst of the series.

These first four novels, often called the "Harry Palmer" series due to the name of the main spy in the films. In the books, however, our hero is never actually named but carries a series of aliases. He is kind of a downbeat hero; has been in the service for many years and is always slightly at odds with his superiors.

An old friend of his, Harry Newbegin and his sexy Scandinavian lover, Signe are thought to be smuggling a dangerous virus out of the National Lab by injecting eggs with it. Dempsey (as our man is called in this book) manages to connect with them and learns that they work for a virulently anti-communist organization called "Facts for Freedom" (FFF). A crazy Texas billionaire, General Midwinter, has created this amateur agency and built a giant supercomputer to control it. The billion dollar brain assimilates all the data from the agents in the field and gives them their orders. To what end, I wasn't really sure; I guess to crush the commies ultimately.
Dempsey is ordered by the home office to infiltrate the FFF and does so using his old buddy for access (in addition to having it away with his girlfriend). The crazy story whirls across the globe: Leningrad, Helsinki, Texas, New York, London.

These books are by no means about the tight plotting but rather the style and characters. Deighton writes witty dialogue and makes his characters oversized and (although probably not so at the time) a bit clich├ęd. His descriptions of the cities and spymastering in them were top notch.

By no means Deighton's best novel but this was a lively and fun read.

1 comment:

Buzby said...

Great cover!