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Summary

The dead hand of a long-defeated Nazi Third Reich reaches out to Portugal, London and Marrakech in Deighton's second novel, featuring the same anonymous narrator and milieu of The Ipcress File, but finds Dawlish now head of the secret British Intelligence unit, WOOC(P).

The Ipcress File was a debut sensation. Here in the second Secret File, Horse under Water, skin-diving, drug trafficking and blackmail all feature in a curious story in which the dead hand of a long-defeated Hitler-Germany reaches out to Portugal, London and Marrakech, and to all the neo-Nazis of today's Europe.

The detail is frightening but unfaultable; the story as up to date as ever it was. The un-named hero of The Ipcress File the same: Insolent, fallible, capricious - in other words, human. But he must draw on all his abilities, good and bad, when plunged into a story of murder, betrayal and greed every bit as murky as the waters off the coast of Portugal, where the answers lie buried.

©1963 Len Deighton (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Lively, exciting, ingenious" ( Observer)
"Quite marvellous… funny too" (Punch)
"A master of fictional espionage." ( Daily Mail)
"The poet of the spy story." ( Sunday Times)
"Deighton is so far in the front of other writers in the field that they are not even in sight" ( Sunday Times)
"Nobody now seriously doubts that Deighton is the most credible of all the spysmiths" ( The Scotsman)
"I want to raise a cheer to Mr Len Deighton whose unnamed hero in his second brilliant thriller is all too like the rest of us except that he works for MI5" ( Financial Times)
"Mr Deighton is really something special" ( Sunday Times)

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • DT
  • 16-10-14

Second of the Harry Palmer Novels

Is there anything you would change about this book?

There is probably a practical reason for “Horse Under Water” not being filmed, but it may be that the convoluted plot and lack of a clear-cut Cold War stand-off are explanations. The novel also ends with a number of appendices, suggesting that the novel doesn’t accommodate the historical context, dating back to the 1940s, and the aftermath of the plot’s resolution particularly well.

If you’ve listened to books by Len Deighton before, how does this one compare?

One reason why Len Deighton’s 1960s’ spy-novels read so much better than his 1980s’ “Berlin Game” and its sequels, featuring Bernard Samson and his family and colleagues, is the character of the first-person narrator-hero. Whereas Deighton’s later novels rely on the motifs, plots and standard characters of the genre, “Horse Under Water”, “The Ipcress File”, “Funeral in Berlin” and “Billion Dollar Brain” have Harry Palmer, as the first-person narrator is retrospectively called after the film versions came along. John Le Carré found a different and equally successful narrative solution to Deighton. He, too, encompasses the varied angles and multiple deceptions that make up a spy novel, without making any character and certainly not the reader all-knowing. His characters and, especially, their patterns of speech have become rather wearing, though, even as the moral and ethical issues have remained vital, while reading “Horse Under Water” (the second of the Palmer novels) years after reading the others, I was taken, again, by the narrator’s voice and his style.

Deighton’s use of popular culture – consumer products and long-gone shops – also distinguishes his fiction from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, in which products define the hero but have little substance or historical resonance in themselves. Harry is very smart, in his story-telling style as well as his investigations, and, accordingly, “Horse Under Water” can be funny as well as being a thriller, making the quips of James Bond seem quite predictable. Some of the humour derives from Deighton’s ability to juxtapose the often fantastic plot with the absurdity of civil-service bureaucracy.

What about James Lailey’s performance did you like?

It helped that the reader of the audio version uses the accent made so well-known by Michael Cane in the Harry Palmer films.

Did Horse Under Water inspire you to do anything?

Hardly.

Any additional comments?

I look forward to listening to the new versions of the other Harry Palmer novels, but hope that a less well-known Len Deighton novel, "Spy Story", is produced as an audiobook.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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oh dear

imagine listening to a great story read by someone doing a very very bad Michael Caine impression.....

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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The lesser of the Harry Palmer books

Would you try another book written by Len Deighton or narrated by James Lailey?

I have listened to the rest of the Harry Palmer series and left this one, unsure if to take the plunge. I utterly loved the other books so took chance. The narration if absolutely perfect once again.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

Almost nothing really.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I enjoy all the scenes in London a great deal.

Did Horse Under Water inspire you to do anything?

Never to go scuba diving

Any additional comments?

I can understand, as one reviewer said before, why this wasn't made into a film. It doesn't have the same feel as the cold war based books before or after it. It's well written of course with some great banter. The author is a master of conversation. This had too much swinging 60's and not enough spy for my tastes. Entertaining but not classic.

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Not the easiest to follow

Not the easiest to follow as an audiobook which surprised me, as I'd read the book years ago but the reader certainly catches the "Harry" vibe.

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I got confused

What did you like best about Horse Under Water? What did you like least?

It was good spy novel but I lost track near the end

What was one of the most memorable moments of Horse Under Water?

God I can't remember now but Middle part was good near the end I lost track

Was Horse Under Water worth the listening time?

Maybe think thrillers can always be hard