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Also by this Author: Remember when Martin Amis was writing about Space Invaders?

There was probably a time when the notion of Len Deighton the Spy Novelist seemed more fanciful than Len Deighton the Chef. I suppose the only fair reading such books can get is when they are new and bought by unbiased readers—or by readers with no awareness of the writer's other work at all. A reader, in other words, still in short pants. That, at least, could explain the existence of a children's picture book by Graham Greene. The Little Horse Bus (1952) is his tale of how kindly London grocer Mr. Potter gets run out of business by a big nasty chain. "It was a horrible shop with a horrible name," Greene reports, adding that its villainous owner is "too ugly to draw." Joined by a sad-sack assistant ("Tim sniffed a lot. He was not hygienic") and his woefully bony horse Brandy, the valiant Mr. Potter soldiers on. He fails, of course—this is a Graham Greene book—yet a happy ending comes after Brandy foils a gang of dastardly thieves. But that's not before they first destroy her hooves with broken glass, causing her to drag horrid bloody hoofprints across the page . . . because, er, it is a Graham Greene book.

Greene published three more picture books, and they were even reprinted in the 1970s. I'd wager they'll get rediscovered again someday. They're pretty good books. Actually, the writers of Casing the Promised Land, Invasion of the Space Invaders, and Fanshawe were all perfectly decent writers already. But they are not the Carr, the Amis, or the Hawthorne we think we know, not the writers that they want us to know. Their scorned vintages hide a curious and different bouquet. But as Annie Proulx advises for examining secondhand cider barrels: "Don't be shy. Put your nose right up to the bunghole."

Words to live by, dear reader.

Deighton: If you think his profiteroles are exciting, check out his books.
photo: Staci Schwartz
Deighton: If you think his profiteroles are exciting, check out his books.

Paul Collins's new book is The Trouble With Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine (Bloomsbury USA).

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