Len Deighton, Violent Ward


“The poet of the spy novel” (to quote the phrase of the late Julian Symons) gives us a fresh entertainment – a satire on the backdrop of California during the Rodney King affair that focuses on an attorney whose world is nearly collapsing. British crime and crime writer H R F Keating rated this one of Deighton’s very best – a thriller that is a satirical novel of its time.

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Len Deighton is the modern master of cool anti-Establishment thrillers. He started with The Ipcress File in 1962 and had a sequence of best-selling spy thrillers. A trilogy of thrillers, including Funeral in Berlin was filmed with Michael Caine as the secret agent. Deighton also had the talent to publish non-fiction including the London Dossier, and several well received war histories (Fighter, Blitzkrieg) and a literary tour de force with the fictional account of a bombing raid on Germany. His occasional short stories also show he has other material to offer the read than the powerplays of the Cold War. Indeed, those that have read Len’s work as literature rather than the product of a formulaic genre (such as Anthony Price, Julian Symons and H R F Keating) have expressed the view that his Cold War books developed the iconography of espionage into a critique of the state of Britain. It is not surprising therefore that Violent Ward is a beautifully written thriller about the state of California, where Deighton has lived for over twenty years.

Our hero is not a secret agent or a detective, but a lawyer. Mickey Murphy is the kind of character that you might find in a Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen mystery; you know is is the hero but he gets in all kinds of scraps and doggy dealings that you are not sure if he is a comic or tragic figure. His law practice is being taken over by a multi-millionaire, who is also married to Murphy’s high school sweetheart. His ex is threatening to jump out of the office window, while is son his dating a Nazi and his German secretary hardly speaks English. Then guns come into it, folks get threatened and the police surmise that Mickey is a felon. He is innocent of course. This is story telling par excellence. Some reviews give it a high five, while other miss the fun and the surreal take reality that is ‘the violent ward’. Violent Ward was issued in 1993 and is one of only 130 numbered and signed copies in a special binding with an appreciation by H R F Keating. In a television documentary on Deighton Harry Keating recalled that this book was one of Len Deighton’s best and should be seen as a first-rate novel.

5.00 out of 5

1 review for Len Deighton, Violent Ward

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Simon McLeish blog review on June 4, 2012 :

    “One of Robert Heinlein’s best known short stories, …And He Built A Crooked House, begins with a whimsical description of the lunacy of America. This novel, with its tagline “If America is a lunatic asylum then California is the Violent Ward”, brings that idea up to date, with a much bleaker view of Lost Angeles set during the Rodney King trial: the amiable eccentricity of Heinlein’s early fifties suburbia is long gone.

    Mickey Murphy is a shady lawyer, whose clients, though they include a well known film actor, tend to be on the edges of the underworld. He reluctantly becomes involved in something rather more serious than shady dealing, and this comes to a head against the background of increasing tension on the streets – a nice use of the “pathetic fallacy”.

    Deighton is a vintage writer covering familiar ground – the cynical, tough narrator involved in something he doesn’t approve of, who knows a lot more about what is going on than he reveals to the reader is found in many of his novels. Given the LA setting, Violent Ward sometimes reads as though it could be the backstory of an ambiguous character who later turns up in one of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels. A similar background, more or less centred on the film industry, has appeared before in Deighton’s work, in XPD and Close-Up, but this is a more straightforward novel than either. It is more successful than XPD in particular because it leaves out the various elements that combine to make that novel one of Deighton’s least believable. On balance, Violent Ward joins City of Gold to be Deighton’s best work of the nineties, a more fitting end to his career than the comparatively lacklustre final Bernard Samson trilogy”. Review in Simon McLeish’s bookblog at simonsbookblog.blogspot.co.uk

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