Picks and Pans Review: XPD

UPDATED 06/01/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/01/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Len Deighton

Here is an exception to the rule that one can safely ignore novels whose dust jacket artwork includes a swastika. Deighton, who wrote The Ipcress File, hangs this tale on the idea that Winston Churchill, on a desperate visit to Briare in embattled France on June 11,1940, met with Hitler to offer peace terms that included handing over British naval bases to the Nazis. (Churchill made such a trip but it was to confer with the leaders of the dying French Republic.) At the end of the war the minutes of the fictional meeting are stolen along with a cache of Nazi treasures. Searching for them 35 years later are a Hollywood filmmaker, British Intelligence, a ring of German bankers, the CIA and the KGB. This is the sort of labyrinthine plot into which Robert Ludlum's thrillers wander, never to be heard from again. Deighton keeps things clear, partly by detailed characterizations. The CIA man, for instance, speaks mostly in biblical quotations; the Britisher is the estranged husband of his boss's daughter. The pace is menacingly subdued, the violence only sporadic—XPD stands for "expedient demise"—and a twist at the end will make you say "I knew that all along" when you really hadn't the foggiest notion. (Knopf, $12.95)

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