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MikeAlx

Eric Ambler

I read recently that some of Eric Ambler's thrillers are coming back into print after a hiatus. Any Ambler fans here? I've never read him, but he sounds interesting. Apparently he was a big influence on Graham Greene and later thriller writers, having transformed the genre from the jingoistic cliches of Buchan-imitators into something a bit more modern, intelligent, and perhaps cynical (also more left/liberal, with its focus on corrupt corporations and governments as much as evil Johnnie-Foreigners).

I do recall seeing a pretty good old B&W film once based on an Ambler story, but can't for the life of me remember what it was called.
Castorboy

Re: Eric Ambler

MikeAlx wrote:
I do recall seeing a pretty good old B&W film once based on an Ambler story, but can't for the life of me remember what it was called.

According to Wikipedia there are three candidates: Journey into Fear (1943), The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) and The October Man (1947).

I may have read one or two Amblers but I canít recall any of the details. The only one I have on my shelves, and not read yet, is The Ability to Kill and other pieces which comprises short articles mostly on famous murders around the world.
Of his 19 novels The Mask of Dimitrios is the most valued. In 2004 a dust-wrappered copy of the 1939 Hodder and Stoughton first edition cost $15000 because most of the stock burned in a Luftwaffe air raid.
Sandraseahorse

I've been meaning to post on this thread for some time as I won a set of Eric Ambler paperbacks in a Penguins competition last year.  I took two of them on holiday last October expecting to get through them in no time but I struggled a bit.

The first, "Uncommon Danger", I found genuinely exciting in parts but it had a complex plot of double-dealing and double-double-dealing, reminiscent of John Le Carre.  The second, "The Mask of Dimitrios", has an interesting premise - a crime novelist and his police inspector friend view the body in a morgue of an infamous master criminal.  Intrigued by this man, the writer starts to research the criminal's  past and gets involved in a complex conspiracy.  Again, it was exciting in parts but there were lengthy expositions about pre-WW2 Balkan politics which slowed down my reading.

I think the problem was that I was looking for light holiday reads and the books required more concentration than I was prepared to give.

Last week I read "Epitaph for a Spy" and realised that this was the Ambler I should have taken on holiday.  It had a straight forward plot  and is almost Agatha-Christie like in its "find the criminal in the small community" theme.  A language teacher on holiday in the south of France pursues his hobby of photography but is arrested as a Nazi spy when he takes his prints to be developed locally as they show photos of naval installations.  He is able to produce an insurance certificate to prove that the camera he has in his possession is the same make but has a different series number to his - he has picked up the camera belonging to a guest at the hotel by mistake.  The police release him so that he can do some amateur sleuthing among his fellow guests.  Highly unlikely premise but very entertaining.  As Vadassy, the teacher, befriends the guests and several of them pour out their tragic back stories, I almost expected Poirot to pop up.

One thing I learnt from James Fenton's  introduction to this novel is that Ambler used to work for an advertising agency and handled the account for Exlax laxative chocolate!
Sandraseahorse

I took two more Eric Ambler thrillers on holiday this year and thoroughly enjoyed them after struggling with two other of his books last year.  I don't know if I was in a different frame of mind or if the books were better choices.

"Journey Into Fear" was a cracking read and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone new to Ambler.  Mr. Graham (we never learn his first name) is a pleasant, if somewhat bland, businessman involved in ballistics.  He has high-level talks with the Turkish government shortly after the outbreak of WWII and on his last night in Istanbul is taken to a nightclub by his business contact Kopeikin.  There Graham has a lengthy chat and mild flirtation with Josette, a Hungarian dancer.  

When he returns to his hotel, an intruder fires three shots at him and Graham is slightly injured.  Kopeikin takes Graham to the police chief and concerned that Graham is the target for assassination, it is arranged for Graham to leave Turkey quietly on a cargo boat.

The boat has just 10 passengers, one of whom is Josette.  Ambler conveys well the claustrophobic setting of the boat and the uncertainty Graham faces as he tries to decide which of the passengers he can trust.  It is almost an English Golden Age detective novel with the closed community setting.  I don't wish to give more away of the plot but I found it gripping with quite a few twists.

In his introduction, Professor Norman Stone says Graham's entanglement with Josette is the weakest part of the book as he is no James Bond.  But I feel this is missing the point; a theme in many of Amber's book is of the ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances.  This is also a theme of many of Hitchcock's films and I noted that Ambler married Hitchcock's secretary.  The "will-they-won't-they" thread adds a frisson to the story, especially as the reader isn't sure if Josette is really supportive of Graham or working for the other side.

"Cause for Alarm" was also a great read.  Nicky Marlowe, an amiable young engineer, (Ambler himself qualified and worked as an engineer) struggles to find a job after being made redundant during the 30s depression.  He takes a post in Italy selling armaments made by a British firm to Mussolini's Fascist government.  He immediately comes under pressure from contacts to act as a spy giving inside information and also has an offer to act as a double agent, giving false information.  

Although Marlowe tries to resist these pressures and insists he is just a straight businessman, he faces increasing physical threats and finds he is inadvertently being compromised.

The description of how Marlowe and a colleague attempt to escape from Italy is exciting and I would recommend the book as an escapist thriller.


I'm now trying to find the Orson Wells version of "Journey into Fear" which I recorded ages ago.

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