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Harry Palmer Books In Order

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Publication Order of Harry Palmer Books

The Ipcress File (1962)Description / Buy at Amazon
Horse Under Water (1962)Description / Buy at Amazon
Funeral in Berlin (1964)Description / Buy at Amazon
Billion-Dollar Brain (1966)Description / Buy at Amazon
An Expensive Place to Die (1967)Description / Buy at Amazon
Spy Story (1974)Description / Buy at Amazon
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy / Catch a Falling Spy (1976)Description / Buy at Amazon

Leonard Cyril Deighton is a British novelist and a military historian. He is also a graphic artists and has authored a number of cookery books as well. He is better known as Len Deighton and is quite famous in spy fiction circles for his masterpiece series – The Harry Palmer series. He says that his interest in writing spy stories was inspired by a scene he witnessed as a young boy of 11 years. It was the arrest of Anna Wolkoff, a Russian who was living in Britain but was actually spying for the Nazis. She was working with a clerk in the American Embassy, selling secrets to Germans.

The series’ main character is a British Intelligence agent. In all of the novels in the series, his name is really never mentioned. Very little is known about him – and that which is really known is from inference from the series itself. Aliases are frequently used and we guess it goes with being a member of the espionage profession. At one time in one of the novels, he is greeted by another character, ”Hello Harry” to which he later says that his name is not Harry though in his line of work, it is hard to remember if ever it had been. So the name Harry Palmer really is not the official name of the series. It became its unofficial name after the novels were adapted into films and the lead protagonist spy was given the name Harry Palmer.

From the novels, it is known that this lead character is from Burnley, Lancashire. He also attended college but it is not stated which college he attended or what he studied. He used to serve in the in the intelligence field in the Army for a long time before he is relieved of his duties there and he’s hired by a bureau which is referred to as W.O.O.C.(P). His physical appearance is described as a 6’ tall man with blue eyes, brown hair and dark complexion. He also wears glasses, the horn-rimmed type.

He is a bit disconnected from the rest of the world really and there is not much that can be said about his relationships with other people. He doesn’t seem to try to maintain any existing relationships except with his secretary Jean. He is not well off either – he lives in some back street flat and sometimes out of seedy hotels. His utility services providers keep reminding him that bills need to be paid. His character is oddly unsettling and shrouded in mystery- there is something about him that you cannot quite figure. He is a complicated person, to say the least.

The Ipcress File

This is the first book in the Harry Palmer series and it was written in first person. It was published in the year 1962 and it was well received. The critically acclaimed book was made into a film 3 years later. The film adaptation was directed by Sidney Furie and produced by Harry Saltzman. The lead role was played by Michael Caine who together with the producer came up with the idea of giving this anonymous character a dull name – Harry Palmer. The plot of this masterpiece is twinned around mind control and cold-war brainwashing. The title itself is an acronym. Ipcress stands for Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS.

In this first installment, a number of scientists mysteriously disappear in Berlin and the series’ top spy has to push his limits as he tries to get to the bottom of the case. A seemingly simple case escalates rapidly as he delves deeper into the very heart of a master conspiracy. He even finds himself struggling to come out of this murk alive. His job takes him from Lebanon to the South Pacific Islands. When a man is killed and he becomes the main suspect, it takes all of his will and resolve to survive and solve the case. But who was the mastermind of this dark ring of conspiracy?

Horse under Water

This is the second book in Len Deighton’s spy series novels. It is also the only book that was not adapted into a film. It is set in Portugal, in a small fishing village. The plot revolves around an assignment in Portugal that the main character is sent to handle by his boss, Dawlish. It involves retrieving items from a ship that went down in the wake of the World War II. While the initial description of the items to be retrieved is forged currency that’s supposed to finance a revolution in Portugal, the story changes later on. It becomes heroine – but is it really? Naturally, things are never what they seem to be.

Throw into this mystery the discovery of cutting edge technology that would revolutionize warfare. Like its predecessor, this second book is sensational with multiple twists in the plot and an engaging writing style that is the work of a genius.

The first edition of this second book was considerably shorter than the edition that followed. The second edition went into more detail particularly concerning the top spy’s diving course.

Funeral in Berlin

This is the third book of the series and the unnamed protagonist is sent to Berlin to make possible a defection ploy. There are different players in this seemingly easy deal. As always, things are not what they seem to be – he finds himself in a deadly game characterized by ruthless tactics and maneuvers. It is a game in which the various governments involved are drawn into the deadly moves of espionage, cold war style. Everyone seems to get what they want until betrayal is started in the camp and people get killed.

The last book in this series is Billion Dollar Brain which was also adapted into film. When Len Deighton published two further books with an unnamed lead spy protagonist, many people just assumed that they were continuations of the series. However, it cannot be said with certainty whether this is true or not. There are some discrepancies that both support this notion and also some that are not in its favor.

Overall, Deighton weaves great stories and this mystery that surrounds his central character adds a bit of a puzzle effect to the entire series. The chapter headings have hidden meanings too. Though they reflect a running theme, some of their meanings are hidden in crossword puzzles – a reflection of the unnamed spy’s habit of playing around with crossword puzzles.

Book Series In Order » Characters » Harry Palmer

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