Saturday, 7 March 2015

The #London Walks Reading List No.6: SS-GB by Len Deighton

OUR NEW SERIES! Throughout March & April 2015 we'll be compiling our definitive London Reading List. 

We've asked London Walks Guides & London Walkers to recommend a favourite book or story, and we've also raided the archives here at The Daily Constitutional to bring a rich and varied selection of London-themed and London-set reading matter.

Whether you live here in London, work here, play here or if you are in the throws of planning a trip to visit us here, these are the books you need to read. As usual, you can give us a shout with your own recommendations – thrillers, literary classics, biographies, anthologies, anything! – at the usual email address, via Twitter or Facebook, or simply leave a comment below.

Daily Constitutional Editor Adam stands up for a great thriller and a great Londoner…

No.6. SS-GB
Len Deighton (1978)

This work combines two of my favourite things: London and alternative history fiction.

As a Londoner Len Deighton always gives the Big Smoke a leading role in his works. Whether it’s in his anti-Bond spy novels told by a nameless narrator (“Harry Palmer” in the movies, The Ipcress File, etc) or his highly personal and utterly fascinating work of non-fiction London Dossier (1967), the capital always features as a character in her own right.

In SS-GB, his “alternative history” novel set in 1941, London is seen as never before – or rather, as never was. And it is a chilling view.

The SS are in residence at Scotland Yard; King George is in the Tower; Churchill has been executed. London is in ruins. And the details in the bomb-blasted backdrop are vivid and startling to any Londoner.

In one scene, our hero, D.I Archer (now in the employ of the SS) takes a short cut into Soho through the wreckage of the Palace Theatre – meanwhile, the Metropole music hall on the Edgware Road is still standing. In perhaps the most delicious detail, Archer drives both ways along the (now strictly one-way) Tottenham Court Road.

These snapshots of an alternative London leap out of a characteristically compelling Deighton narrative, buttressed by his trademark meticulous period research. A great thriller and a most memorable London novel.

I added Ian Fleming's Moonraker to our reading list earlier this week, and a jolly good read it is, too. I notice that Fleming's Bond novels are now published as Penguin Modern Classics. For all the fun of the Bond books, Fleming was, to my eye, rather a clodhopping writer and I can only assume that this "classic" status is a marketing ploy to exploit a devoted following of Bond fans.

Fleming isn't half the thriller writer that Deighton is, and has none of his wit. Deighton may not have gone to the same school as the Prime Minister, and so perhaps lacks acolytes in the world of publishing to put his case forward for "classic edition" statues, but he remains a living London treasure and, to this correspondent, one of the very best thriller writer these islands have yet produced.

(The edition shown is the 1980 Panther paperback.)


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment