Spy Story (novel): Wikis


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Spy Story  
1st edition cover
Author Len Deighton
Country UK
Language English
Genre(s) Spy novel
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date 1974
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 2 vol.
ISBN 0224009710
OCLC Number 3207715
Dewey Decimal 823/.9/14
LC Classification PZ4.D324 Sp PR6054.E37
Preceded by Close-Up (1972)
Followed by Yesterday's Spy (1975)

Spy Story is a 1974 spy novel by Len Deighton, which features minor characters from his earlier novels The IPCRESS File, Funeral in Berlin, Horse Under Water, and Billion Dollar Brain.

In common with several of his other early novels, the chapter headings have a "feature". In Spy Story these take the form of excerpts from the fictional Studies Centre's rules.



As in the earlier "Unnamed hero" novels, we never learn the protagonist's real name, only that he is living under the name Pat Armstrong. Armstrong works for the Studies Center in London, where various tactical wargame scenarios are played out with computer assistance, using the latest intelligence data on Soviet electronic warfare capabilities.

We also learn in passing that Armstrong is in his late 30s[1] (thus suggesting he is not the same protagonist that appears in The IPCRESS File and its sequels), and that he formerly worked for an unnamed intelligence organization which may well be the WOOC(P) of the earlier books - Dawlish, the head of WOOC(P) in the earlier novels, appears as a character, where it is revealed that he was Armstrong's superior. An additional character from earlier novels is Soviet KGB Colonel Oleg Stok.


The story opens with Armstrong and his colleague Ferdy Foxwell returning from a six-week mission aboard a nuclear submarine during which they gathered data on Soviet communications and electronic warfare techniques in the Arctic Ocean. Upon returning to London, Armstrong's car breaks down on his way home and he decides to use the phone in his old flat, for which he still has the key. He is surprised and disturbed to discover that the flat has been refurnished including photographs which he owns - but with an unknown individual replacing him in the images - and clothes identical to his own. He also discovers a door hidden in the back of the wardrobe leading into the adjoining flat, which has been fitted out as some kind of medical facility. Upon leaving the flat he is confronted by Special Branch officers who have a former member of the Studies Center verify who he is before releasing him.

While they have been away on their six-week mission, the Studies Center has acquired a new boss, the abrasive American Charles Shlegel, a former Marine Corps Colonel. Foxwell and he do not get on at all well, and less so when he makes Armstrong his Personal Assistant.

Shortly after his return, Armstrong is about to leave his flat when it is ransacked by KGB Colonel Oleg Stok and two assistants, who even blow open a safe left by the previous occupant. They offer no explanation for this, leaving Armstrong yet more puzzled.

At a party at Ferdy Foxwell's palatial London house, Armstrong learns that Foxwell is close to MP Ben Tolliver, and has even been passing him classified information. Foxwell shows him a photo of Rear-Admiral Remoziva of the Soviet Northern Fleet, who Armstrong immediately recognises as the person who had been inserted into the photographs at his old flat. Also at the party is Dawlish, the head of the intelligence organisation WOOC(P) of earlier books. We learn that Armstrong worked for Dawlish before deciding to quit intelligence work altogether. Dawlish tries to recruit him, but Armstrong turns him down.

Tolliver has a suspicious car accident returning home from Foxwell's party. Armstrong traces the woman who was reported to be with him to a small French restaurant, where he discovers photos of Remoziva and a Soviet Admiral's uniform being made. He returns to the restaurant later to discover it deserted. Breaking in, he discovers all traces of what he had earlier seen have been removed along with all paperwork.

Leaving the restaurant, he is met by a high-ranking police officer who escorts him to Battersea, from where a helicopter takes him to Heathrow Airport, from where in turn he is flown north in a small single-engine aircraft. It takes him to a remote location in the West of Scotland, where he finds Toliver and his co-conspirators. It appears that they have been running their own unauthorised intelligence operation to arrange the defection of Admiral Remoziva, who will die within a year if he does not receive treatment for his kidney condition. The plan is to meet the Admiral on the Arctic ice, and leave a corpse in his place. They had planned to keep him at Armstrong's former flat, and use the adjoining medical facility to treat his condition. Armstrong receives a message from an unidentified member of the clique advising him to leave, which he does. After a nightmare journey through a snow storm, he reaches a road, where he finds Dawlish and Schlegel waiting. They tell him that the defection is still to go ahead, though using a USN submarine instead of a British one.

Out on the Arctic ice, they make the arranged rendezvous with Remoziva's helicopter, but it turns out to contain Colonel Stok. After a brief struggle the helicopter takes off with one of Stok's men holding on to Foxwell. Armstrong grabs Foxwell's legs and is also hauled aloft. He fires at the man holding Foxwell and they both fall to the ice. He manages to lift Foxwell and staggers off to where their submarine has surfaced, but by the time he reaches it Foxwell has died.

At the end of the book it is revealed that the scheme's real intent was to discredit Remoziva and, by association, his siblings; his sister was playing a crucial part in talks to unify Germany and is forced to step down, causing the talks to collapse.

The Studies Centre

Len Deighton's fascination with military history and computers are combined in Ferdy Foxwell's Studies Centre. The Centre possesses an IBM 360 series mainframe, which is used in contract to the Ministry of Defence and its officers for studying likely military scenarios for the Cold War becoming a Hot War.

Ferdy is an expert games player, and usually wins out against the officers sent to play against him - a noteworthy win involves simulating the ability of Soviet amphibians to land on ice on the Bering Strait in winter time, which extends their range and allows them to act as a deterrent to warships, which US Navy officers did not expect.

Ferdy and his programmers are also somewhat whimsical, inserting user defined error codes into the IBM's FORTRAN compiler. An example given is "I may be a stupid computer, but even I know that I can't run a program without a stop code" or similar for various program halts. In this way, Deighton prefigured the use of user-friendly debugging messages for computers.

The Studies Centre does not only run real-world military strategy simulations - it also produces simulations of historical battles, for the entertainment of military professionals. One simulation discussed is a re-run of the Battle of Britain, where a number of different variables are entered. Apparently the Germans would have won, if the following techniques had been enacted:

  • Fitting of drop tanks to the Luftwaffe Bf-109E-4 fighters.
  • Completing the destruction of the Seaports by air raid
  • Completing the attacks on the Airfields of sout-east England

Other simulations include one of the Battle of Waterloo, results in victory for Napoleon, if he decides to attack by night rather than by day. The Battle of Trafalgar is also simulated, and if the vector of Nelson's ships is off by a few degrees, results in a massacre.

Ferdy's interest in producing defeats, and his success in both historical and real-world situations produces, after only a few years, in much suspicion from his colleagues and from the Ministry. Both Patrick Armstrong and the Colonel have been called in by the Minister to investigate possible breaches in security, as Ferdy's passionate activity could be the work of the KGB for the purposes of breaking military morale, as well as learning tactical secrets useful in a possible war in the future with the Soviets.


A film adaptation starring Michael Petrovitch as Pat Armstrong was released in 1976, directed by Lindsay Shonteff.


  1. ^ Deighton, Len (1974). Spy Story. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. p. 127. ISBN 0151848386.  he turned for a better view of me,"... late thirties, spectacles, clean shaven, dark hair, about six foot ..."

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