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1st edition cover - photography by Raymond Hawkey

Horse Under Water (1963, ISBN 0-399-10419-4) is the second of Len Deighton's spy novels featuring an anonymous British agent protagonist (named Harry Palmer in the film adaptions). It was followed by Funeral in Berlin.



The novel is set in 1960, mostly in a small fishing village in Portugal, which was then a dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar. The style of The IPCRESS File — multiple plots twists, Gauloises cigarettes, grimy, soot-stained British winter — is retained. Horse Under Water is the only one of the series which was not adapted to film. A 1968 film adaptation was planned, but following the poor reception of Billion Dollar Brain it was abandoned.

In common with several of Deighton's other early novels, the chapter headings have a "feature". In Horse Under Water these are crossword puzzle clues, reflecting the protagonist's habit of endlessly writing and replacing words in crossword puzzles.

The first edition of Horse Under Water published by Jonathan Cape was shorter than the later Penguin edition, which included a detailed description of the anonymous British agent's diving course, and also introduced characters later seen in the book, such as Chief Petty Officer Edwardes.


The plot centres on retrieving items from a Type XXI U-boat sunk off the Portuguese coast in the last days of World War II. Initially, the items are forged British and American currency, for financing a revolution in Portugal on the cheap. Later, it switches to heroin (the "Horse" of the title), and eventually it is revealed that the true interest is in the "Weiss list" — a list of Britons prepared to help the Third Reich set up a puppet government in Britain, should Germany prevail. Thrown into the mix is secret "ice melting" technology, which could be vital to the missile submarines then beginning to hide under the Arctic sea ice.


The secret weather buoys generally used by the wartime Kriegsmarine were not as sophisticated as the one described in the novel. They were not submersible and, at the end of their expected battery life of two months, they were supposed to self-destruct with an explosive charge.[1]


  1. ^ Miller, David (2002): U-Boats: The Illustrated History of the Raiders of the Deep. Brassey's Inc, Dulles, VA.


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