Saturday 17 December 2011

Horse Under Water (Secret File No. 2) by Len Deighton: True First Edition (Crossword Endpapers), Jonathan Cape, 1963; a Lewes Bookshop Bargain

On to the second of my latest (brief) run of posts on Len Deighton's Secret File novels, which star the nameless spy more commonly known as Harry Palmer. And after reviewing the unnamed spy's first outing (not to mention Deighton's debut), The Ipcress File – with additional thoughts on the book from Kingsley Amis (and some great comments now, too) – today I'm taking a look at the author and his star's second espionage thriller: Horse Under Water.

Published by Jonathan Cape in 1963, Horse Under Water sees Deighton's unnamed agent taking a navy diving course so as to assist in the investigation of a sunken German U-boat, in which is discovered heroin (hence the "horse" in the title). Rob Mallows's excellent Deighton Dossier website has further information on the novel – one of two "unnamed spy" books not to have been turned into a film (the fifth novel, An Expensive Place to Die, wasn't filmed either) – and tons of other Deighton-related material as well – as does the spin-off Deighton Dossier blog (from which Rob kindly linked my Ipcress File post). The dustjacket was designed once again by Raymond Hawkey, and for me it's a toss-up as to which is better – the jackets for The Ipcress File, Horse Under Water or, indeed, for Secret File No. 3, Funeral in Berlin (1964), which to my mind is just as good as the first two.

As explored in the comments in the previous post, Deighton left his original publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, after he became dissatisfied with their conservative print run on The Ipcress File, moving instead to Jonathan Cape (to whom he'd originally shown The Ipcress File), where he would remain until the late-1970s. However, so successful was Deighton becoming that even Cape had to act fast to keep up with demand for Horse Under Water, despite its larger print run. A second printing was required a couple of months after the first... and here we encounter a certain amount of confusion in book collecting circles...

As with The Ipcress File, where many chapters are prefaced by astrological predictions for Aquarius, there's a playful theme weaving through Horse Under Water, too: crosswords. Each numbered chapter has a prefatory "clue", with a corresponding list of numbers and "solutions" at the start of the book:

Furthermore, the endpapers of the novel are designed as a crossword puzzle, with the grid on the left hand paper and the clues largely on the right (repeated on both front and back ends):

And here we reach the source of the confusion: the crossword endpapers seemingly only appeared in the first impression of the first edition; for later impressions the ends were simply printed plain black. But many sellers on sites like AbeBooks – and indeed in bricks-and-mortar bookshops – neglect to mention this, and so there are a lot of copies of Horse Under Water out there being sold as true first editions when they are, in fact, no such thing. Some sellers even go so far as to suggest that the plain black endpaper edition is the true first, not the crossword endpaper edition; and since black endpapered copies don't appear to bear the legend "second impression" on the copyright page, it could be argued those sellers have a point.

Except for one thing: the true first impression of Horse Under Water also came with a loosely inserted blank crossword puzzle. Readers were invited to fill in the puzzle and send it in to win a £50 book token prize (a considerable sum back then, as Rob Mallows points out on his dedicated Horse Under Water page). But the clues for the crossword were – you guessed it – on the endpapers. So it seems clear that the crossword endpaper printing must be the true first of Horse Under Water. (Thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Mallows for the pic of the crossword insert.)

Of course, the upshot of readers sending their inserted crosswords off is that very few copies now have the insert still inside, and those that do fetch a premium as a result (you'd be lucky to find one for much less than £200). Mine, you'll be unsurprised to learn, does not have the insert included, but it does at least, as you can see, have the crossword endpapers. I bought it fairly recently (for a very reasonable price) in Lewes' Bow Windows Bookshop; their stock of first editions doesn't change that much, but I just happened to pop in there and there it was, propped up on the table. Its dustjacket is a little grubby, but at least the endpaper crossword isn't filled in – something that had happened to another copy I saw at a book fair a while back. (At a more recent book fair I saw another copy of Horse Under Water, advertised as a true first, and including the insert, but actually with plain black endpapers. See what I mean about confusion?)

UPDATE 1: A further wrinkle has emerged as regards the first edition. Len Deighton's biographer, Edward Milward-Oliver, emailed me shortly after I posted the above, letting me know that 500 copies of Horse Under Water were sent out prior to publication to reviewers and trade buyers... with plain black endpapers. This was done, Edward reports, "so as not to pre-empt the crossword competition which ran from publication day Monday October 21 to Thursday October 31, 1963". Therefore, it seems that at least some of the black-endpapered copies actually preceded the first impression...

Anyway, so this post isn't entirely devoted to tedious matters to do with book collecting, let's turn in closing to our old friend Donald McCormick, and his 1977 survey, Who's Who in Spy Fiction. To assist in the writing of his book, McCormick communicated via letters with many of his subjects, Len Deighton among them. Consequently, there are some intriguing insights in Deighton's entry, and direct quotes from Deighton himself, such as: "Writers like me have quite a lot in common with spies. I like to be able to listen to conversations without people turning round to look at me." Horse Under Water gets a good few lines to itself, which are worth quoting, I think:

Here was an author who was fascinated by war and the gadgetry and hardware that go with modern warfare. He sought authentic background for his second story: "My hero has to dive to a sunken submarine. So that I could get background stuff the Admiralty gave me access to HMS Vernon, the frogman training establishment." Somebody must have thought he was too interested in these matters, because the Naval Security authorities asked to see the manuscript of Horse Under Water.

UPDATE 2: In his email to me, Edward Milward-Oliver also mentioned that the jacket of the first edition of Horse Under Water differs from the proof jacket, which was more cluttered and featured a photograph of Len Deighton at HMS Vernon on the front flap. Edward attached a scan of the proof jacket to his email, so with many thanks to Mr. Milward-Oliver, here it is, with photos of my first for comparison:

And that's all from Deighton's unnamed spy novels for the moment... but not all from Deighton. Because I have a Len Deighton bonus post lined up next, on a collection of travel writing boasting contributions from some of the 1960s' leading journalistic lights...

Thursday 15 December 2011

Book Review: The Ipcress File by Len Deighton (Secret File No. 1, Hodder & Stoughton First Edition, 1962); plus Kingsley Amis on Deighton

We're into the final furlong now as regards my series of posts on spy fiction series – at least, for this year; I'll be continuing the series in 2012 – before we reach whatever navel-gazing end-of-year posts I can be arsed to sling together to see 2011 off (plus one last Violent World of Parker cross-post, a sequel to this one on Donald E. Westlake's farewell to science fiction). And we're finishing (for now) with a flourish, with two novels by one of the biggest names in the spy fiction field: Len Deighton. I've blogged about Deighton a few times before, but it's to his best-known series that I'm returning this time, a series featuring an anonymous secret agent who is more widely known, thanks to his Michael Caine-starring film adaptations, as Harry Palmer. And we'll begin... at the beginning...

The Ipcress File was first published in hardback in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton in 1962, and is Deighton's debut novel as well as the first to star his nameless spy. The copy seen here, however, isn't the true first, i.e. a first impression. First impressions of the book – which had a relatively small initial print run of, I believe, 2,500 – go for anything from £600 to over £1,000. Mine is the second impression, published in the same year as the true first (which was published in November of 1962), but identifiable as a second printing by the copyright line and the fact that it carries a couple of reviews on the dustjacket front flap, which are absent on the first impression:

Even so, second impressions can still fetch over £300 – and even third or later impressions (the edition went through at least eight printings that I know of) can go for anywhere from £30 to £200 – so, considering I won my copy on eBay for a fiver, I'm not complaining. (My copy also included an aged newspaper clipping advertising, rather incongruously, college courses, which had left a brown stain on the pages it had been inserted between.) The iconic dustjacket was designed by Deighton's friend Raymond Hawkey – who I've also blogged about repeatedly – here establishing an instantly recognisable artfully-arranged-and-photographed-props approach which would serve him well over the coming decades.

As to the novel itself, it's an entertaining read... but I must admit I did struggle with it. I think the story's about defecting scientists... or possibly double agents... or perhaps nuclear weapons... and herein lies the problem (well, my problem): pretty much all the way through I literally had no idea what the hell was going on.

The story is narrated by our nameless spy in a seductively laidback, down-to-earth fashion, far removed from the more serious stylings of Deighton's contemporary, John le Carré, or Ian Fleming's more glamorous Bond novels. There's a playfulness to the text, signified by astrological predictions for Aquarius at the start of many chapters and an appendix at the back of the book. Deighton is good on atmosphere and location, especially London's Soho district (an area I know well myself), its gambling joints and coffee shops. There are some riveting action sequences and moments of high tension: the novel reaches fever pitch following a nuclear test, when our narrator is deported to the East and subjected to weeks of interrogation, brainwashing and torture, coming close to questioning his sanity.

But as enjoyable as all this is (even the torture), it doesn't counter the fact that The Ipcress File is terribly confusing. Part of my problem with the book, I'm sure, was my own innate denseness – even at the story's close I was still none the bloody wiser – but that doesn't, I don't think, account for all of it. Authors withholding information in spy or suspense novels is a given, but Deighton withholds virtually everything, so that even the shape of the mystery is difficult to discern.

I'm not the only reader to have professed bewilderment, either: in an addendum to his essay "A New James Bond" in What Became of Jane Austen?, Kingsley Amis – whose opinion I greatly respect – admits that he had "tough sledding with The Ipcress File... The endless twists and turns of the plot, the systematic withholding of clues and even of settings in time and place..."

Amis's overall assessment of The Ipcress File is fairly scathing, and I certainly don't agree with his entire judgment – I did, as I say, enjoy the novel, in spite of my bemusement. (And indeed even Amis did eventually come round to Deighton's charms, telling Philip Larkin in a letter dated June 18, 1985, "Actually Deighton's quite good if you stop worrying about what's going on"; thanks to Jeremy Duns for that additional insight.) But his sign-off to the addendum is amusingly caustic, and worth repeating. Amis writes: "The whole thing is supposedly told to the Minister of Defence, who at an early stage makes what I thought was a reasonable request for enlightenment over some detail. The hero answers with his usual humility [here Amis quotes the following passage]: 

'It's going to be very difficult for me if I have to answer questions as I go along,' I said. 'If it's all the same to you, Minister, I'd prefer you to make a note of the questions, and ask me afterwards.'

'My dear chap, not another word, I promise.'

And throughout the entire explanation he never again interrupted.

"I know why," reports Amis: "He was asleep."

One final note before we move on: while the narrator of The Ipcress File is never named, his eventual christening as Harry Palmer is presaged in the novel. Early on, for some reason someone hails him as "Harry", to which our narrator responds, "Now my name isn't Harry, but in this business it's hard to remember whether it ever had been". Maybe it had, maybe it hadn't; but one thing's for sure: for many people, it soon would be...

And with that, it's on to the second Deighton novel... which, surprisingly enough, is also Deighton's – and his nameless spy's – second outing: Horse Under Water.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

"Don't Call Us, We'll Call You": Donald E. Westlake's Farewell to Science Fiction (from The Best of Xero)

(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)

Well, after all the excitement on Existential Ennui yesterday – not only a post on a scarce signed edition of an Adam Hall/Quiller spy novel, but also news of the return of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm spy novels (broken first on this very blog, I might add – and do read the comments on that post if you haven't already) – it's back down to earth with a bump. Or rather, out into space with a jolt, as I return to the science fiction stories penned by crime novelist – and perennial Existential Ennui preoccupation – Donald E. Westlake.

I actually have Violent World of Parker reader Sandra Bond to thank for this latest post – or, more accurately, couple of posts: there's a lot to cover here, so it'll be better if I split it into two missives. Sandra emailed me after I'd finished my second run of reviews of Westlake's SF stories to draw my attention to the book you can see above. Published by Tachyon Publications in 2004, The Best of Xero is a collection of essays, reviews and letters collated from the long-defunct American science fiction fanzine Xero, which ran for ten issues from 1960–1962. It's a fascinating document of a pre-internet era, when fans – and professionals – communicated via fanzines rather than through blogs or message boards, and features pieces by the likes of James Blish, Roger Ebert, Frederick Pohl and Harlan Ellison.

But what, you may be wondering, has all this to do with Westlake? Well, midway through Xero's run, Westlake wrote an incendiary essay for the fanzine, entitled "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You". In the piece, Westlake burns his bridges with science fiction in spectacular fashion, laying into what he perceives as the dreadful editing endemic in the SF story magazines of the time, the terrible taste of those magazines' editors – Analog's John W. Campbell ("an egomaniac"), The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction's Robert P. Mills ("a journeyman incompetent"), etc. – and the pathetic state of the science fiction field in general.

But Westlake reserves his most scathing opprobrium for himself (kind of...). After noting that, "Today, I am a full-time mystery writer, working on my fifth mystery novel", and that the science fiction field "can't support" or even "interest" him, he writes: 

It's time for credentials, before going into this thing any deeper. If I'm going to talk as a professional writer who isn't doing anything in science fiction and who claims that he might have done something worthwhile if it were worth his while to do so, I ought to show my identity card. Therefore:

Science Fiction. I have sold thirteen stories, two of which have not yet been published and none of which are any damn good. I have sold to Universe, Original, Future, Super, Analog, Amazing, If, and Galaxy. A fourteenth story was sold to Fantastic Universe, which proceeded to drop dead before they could publish it. Both John Campbell and Cele Goldsmith have asked me to write sequels to novelettes of mine they had bought (I haven't written either, and won't). In a desk drawer I have twenty-odd thousand words of a science fiction novel, which is good, but which I'm not going to finish because it isn't worth my while.

I'm assuming the novel Westlake refers to is Anarchaos, which did eventually see print (albeit under a pseudonym), while some of the stories he talks about are ones I covered at length in my two runs of posts on Westlake's SF. I always had a question at the back of my mind whilst writing those posts: why did Westlake stop writing SF (or largely stop; years later he did pen some additional SF stories for Playboy)? Though none of Westlake's early SF stories – at least the ones I've read, which is roughly two-thirds of them – could be considered classics, either of the genre or compared to the best of his own work, it was always evident that the writer knew SF well and had, at some point, loved SF. Here, finally, in "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You", is the answer. After detailing his even-by-this-stage considerable achievements in the mystery field, Westlake continues:

I am not sitting around bragging. I'm simply trying to make something clear: I can write. I can write well. I am capable of first-class work. But the only thing I've ever written in science fiction that I am at all proud of is a novel I'll never finish because there is economically, stylistically, and philosophically no place for it.

Do you know what I'm talking about? I cannot sell good science fiction.

Westlake goes on to cite a specific example, whereby he and Randall Garrett – who was staying with Westlake for a while – were both writing stories aimed at John W. Campbell's Analog, and entertaining themselves by including private jokes for each other's benefit (something Westlake would continue to do with other writer friends). Westlake's wheeze in his story was to include an Air Force Colonel in the latter stages of the tale, "the spitting image of John Campbell, betting Randy that Campbell would never notice it". Having taken delivery of the story, Campbell requested a revision: "He wanted me to make the Colonel the lead character. I did it. Eighteen thousand words. Four hundred and fifty dollars."

Westlake doesn't name the story, but as Sandra Bond pointed out to me, it's clearly "Look Before You Leap", a tale I reviewed in September. I noted at the time that I found its militaristic leanings and upbeat ending curious, and here is the explanation for that: Westlake rewrote it, making Colonel Brice more prominent, at the request of John W. Campbell.

"Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" is remarkably strong stuff, written out of sheer frustration at the state of the American science fiction publishing landscape in the early 1960s. But as fascinating as it is, perhaps of even greater interest are the responses to Westlake's article, from regular Xero readers and from some of the targets of Westlake's scorn. And in my next Violent World of Parker cross-post, I'll be delving into those responses, as well as looking at Westlake's final say on the controversy he caused.

Back here on Existential Ennui, however, it's back to the spy fiction series we go. And for my final run of posts on spy series – for this year; there's more to follow in the new year – I'll be turning (or even, returning) to one of the most iconoclastic series of spy novels ever created, starring an anonymous secret agent narrator who subsequently gained a very familiar name via his cinematic outings...

Tuesday 13 December 2011

BREAKING NEWS! Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm Spy Novels Series Returns to Print in 2013, from Titan Books!

So then, as teased at the end of the previous post (on Adam Hall/Quiller) – and indeed also hinted at last month – I have some very exciting news today. Beginning in 2013, Titan Books will be bringing back into print American author Donald Hamilton's series of espionage novels starring super spy Matt Helm!

For those unfamiliar with the Matt Helm novels, from 1960 to 1993 Donald Hamilton penned twenty-seven adventures – plus one further, unpublished work – starring Helm, a former World War II secret agent who's brought out of retirement in his debut outing, Death of a Citizen. Hailed by spy novelist Jeremy Duns (among many others) as one of the best espionage series ever published, the novels are renowned for their gritty, grounded take on the spy genre. The books were phenomenally successful in their day, shifting twenty million copies worldwide and begetting four movies (starring Dean Martin) and a TV show, but sadly slipped out of print for years. Not for much longer, however: because in 2013, my former employers, Titan Books, will begin reissuing the series, starting with the very first novel!

Commenting on the news, Titan Books' Publisher, Nick Landau, said: "These novels were among the best spy thrillers ever published. We're thrilled to partner with the estate of Donald Hamilton, enabling us to bring them back into print and show readers what they've been missing all these years."

Terrific stuff, and no mistake. Doubtless there'll be further details from Titan – home too, lest we forget, to the Hard Case Crime imprint – on their plans for the Matt Helm series down the line, so keep 'em peeled for updates – and in the meantime perhaps go have a read of my three previous Hamilton/Helm posts, which can be found here, here, and here. And I'll be back before too long with that promised Violent World of Parker cross-post...

The Striker Portfolio (Quiller #3) by Adam Hall: Signed Bookplate First Edition (Heinemann, 1969)

For this second of two posts on intriguingly collectible editions of Quiller spy novels by Adam Hall – a.k.a. Elleston Trevor – I have a first edition which has a direct connection to another Quiller first I blogged about in September...

This is the British hardback first edition of The Striker Portfolio, the third Quiller mission, published by Heinemann in 1969 (dustjacket design/cover photos uncredited, I'm afraid; again, perhaps the Quiller Yahoo Group can shed some light there). I blogged about this particular novel – which sees Quiller trying to find out why thirty-six Striker aircraft have crashed within a year – during my initial run of Adam Hall/Quiller posts back in July, in a 1970 Book Club edition. Which begs the obvious question, why on earth am I now blogging about the book again – albeit in a different edition – especially when I stated in that original post that the Heinemann first wasn't terribly scarce and that therefore I was perfectly happy with that Book Club copy? And it's true, the Heinemann first is readily available... but this particular copy is a bit more special than merely being a first edition. For if we take a look on the front endpaper...

We can see that it has an Adam Hall bookplate affixed, signed by Elleston Trevor as Hall. It's dated April 1969, and addressed from Domaine de Chateauneuf, near Nice, where Trevor was living at that juncture. But what's more, it's inscribed to a Kathleen Hutchings... who, in a strange quirk of fate, is precisely the same person the signed Adam Hall bookplate first edition of the second Quiller novel, The 9th Directive, I blogged about in September was dedicated to. What are the odds? The two books came from completely different dealers (although both from Amazon Marketplace), are in markedly different condition – fine in the case of The Striker Portfolio, only about good in the case of The 9th Directive – and are dated by Hall two years apart, and yet have both ended up in my greasy paws.

Mind you, considering the scarcity of signed copies of Adam Hall novels – as I mentioned in that 9th Directive Post, while there are a good forty-plus copies of various signed Elleston Trevor books on AbeBooks, signed Adam Hall/Quiller novels number in the low single figures – I guess it's not so surprising that I've ended up with two books dedicated to the same person. Whoever Kathleen Hutchings was, then, she belonged to a very select and lucky band, and, considering the two books I own are dated a couple of years apart, evidently she had a years-long association with Trevor. And as spy novelist and Hall/Quiller aficionado Jeremy Duns wondered when I tweeted about this copy of The Striker Portfolio – to my knowledge the only signed edition of the book in existence – does that mean there are other dedicated-to-Kathleen-Hutchings Quiller first editions out there somewhere...?

Anyway, that's all from Adam Hall for the moment (although as ever, I'll be returning to him down the line)... but that's not all from the spy fiction series. Because while I had planned to veer away from the espionage novels briefly for a Violent World of Parker cross-post, I've just received confirmation of a very exciting piece of news regarding another spy novelist – an author I blogged about just last month in a run of posts on his best known creation, Matt Helm. So check back in with Existential Ennui later today for an exclusive announcement about Donald Hamilton...

Monday 12 December 2011

The Scorpion Signal (Quiller #9) by Adam Hall: Prebind or Uncorrected Proof? (Collins, 1979)

So then, did we all enjoy Paul Simpson's guest post on Big Finish's Sherlock Holmes audio plays? Jolly good. All being well, Paul will be back in the new year with another guest post, and I'll also hopefully have a further guest essay from another friend and former colleague of mine, on a "suppressed" work for adults by one of Britain's most beloved children's authors.

Back in the here and now, though, I'd just like to say a quick thank you to Ethan Iverson, whose brilliant Do the Math blog linked Existential Ennui at the end of last week, in the process sending a stampede of no-doubt bewildered traffic my way. I was already familiar with Do the Math, having used Ethan's terrific overview of Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's canon – which includes quotes from Westlake himself – to navigate Westlake's work when I first got into that writer's novels a couple of years back, so it's a real pleasure to receive props from Mr. Iverson, and for my part I can heartily recommend spending a few hours exploring his extensive archives.

Anyway: to business. And I'm afraid the year is rather getting away from me: I'm not going to be able to complete my series of posts on spy fiction series before 2011 draws to a close, so that series will have to continue in the new year. But I should be able to squeeze in a couple more spy novelists – and a couple of Violent World of Parker cross-posts – before I inflict a barrage of end-of-year missives on you, both of them writers who've featured on Existential Ennui before. Beginning with the first of two novels by Adam Hall, an alias of Elleston Trevor:

This is The Scorpion Signal, Hall/Trevor's ninth novel to feature his secret agent protagonist Quiller. I blogged about the Quiller series in a run of posts in July; in this instalment, Quiller must retrieve an old ally from the clutches of the KGB. But what's interesting about this particular copy of the novel is that it's not, for a change, the British first edition – or at least not what we'd normally identify as a first edition. For one thing, although it has a dustjacket (unclipped, but also uncredited – I can't tell you who illustrated it; possibly Chris Foss, who illustrated the jacket of 1973's The Tango Briefing... perhaps the denizens of the Quiller Yahoo Group can lend some assistance here...?), once you remove the jacket, instead of being cased the book inside has been bound in a thin blue paper cover, with nothing at all printed on it:

However, the copyright line inside the book states that it is the 1979 Collins first edition:

So what is it? The eBay seller I bought it from called it a "prebind", a term which usually denotes a library edition of a novel. I'm not sure that's an accurate description, though. I think it's more likely it's an uncorrected proof, i.e. an advance readers' or reviewers' copy – see this post on a Patricia Highsmith proof and this one on a Dennis Lehane one – in which case it predates the British first edition. But while there are plenty of copies of the proper British first on AbeBooks at present, ranging in price from a fiver to over twenty quid, I can't see any other copies of this proof (or prebind, or whatever the hell it is), making it something of a collectible curio.

But not, perhaps, as collectible as the second Adam Hall novel I'll be showcasing – a very special first edition which has a connection to another Hall/Quiller first I blogged about in September...