sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2016

A Coffin for Dimitrios

A Coffin for Dimitrios (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2001)
by Eric Ambler
England, 1939

OK, so where were we?  Old-fashioned but super entertaining vintage thrilla (original UK title: The Mask of Dimitrios) in which a chance encounter with the head of the Turkish secret police at a dinner party in Istanbul in 1938 launches overly inquisitive one-time academic turned roman policier scribbler Charles Latimer out on his very own page-turner of an odyssey with stops in Smyrna, Athens, Sofia, Geneva, and the City of Light in search of the back story of a slippery Greek assassin named Dimitrios.  Sort of a true crime Baedeker's if you will--but one in which it doesn't take long for the first pistol to be waved in the desk jockey Latimer's face.  On the plus side, Ambler knows how to bump up the sensation novel aspects of his story with both the attention-grabbing "literary" soundbite ("Hope had come and gone, a fugitive in the scented bosom of illusion" [33]) and a good deal of meta allusion-mongering slyly poking fun at the literati tendencies of the earnest Latimer ("The situation in which a person, imagining fondly that he is in charge of his own destiny, is, in fact, the sport of circumstances beyond his control, is always fascinating.  It is the essential element in most good theatre from the Oedipus of Sophocles to East Lynne" [56]).  Sophocles and Ellen Wood!  On the minus side, my only real complaint and a relatively minor one at that is that the protagonist comes off as a little too wholesome for the unsavory nature of his adventures.  Of course, anybody pondering just how old-fashioned and wholesome things could be here may wonder WTF I'm talking about when you get to all the lowlife bits about Balkan brothels and white slavery, coke and heroin smuggling, political assassinations, pre-WWII genocide and the like.  In short, a juicy genre bonbon for your holiday reading sampler.

Eric Ambler (1909-1998)

12 comentarios:

  1. It's great to see the return of posts here, Richard - I hope you're doing okay. I have a copy of this book and am looking forward it immensely, especially after reading your review. Latimer sounds like a classic Ambler protagonist, a relatively ordinary man who finds himself caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

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    1. Thanks for the warm welcome back, Jacqui! I'm doing OK, thanks, just wasn't all that interested in blogging for a while. I think you're in for a treat with Dimitrios, but it sounds like you already know what to expect from Ambler. Will have to check out your blog for your own reviews of his stuff I might have missed. Cheers!

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  2. Great commentary on this book Richard.

    It sounds like a lot of fun. There is something about Istanbul and stories of this kind.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. The book was a lot of fun to read and even write about, and apart from its exoticism location-wise I really enjoyed its old school vibe--i.e. no ridiculously stupid plot twists or over the top "shocking" explanations of evil characters' motivations like one is likely to find in so many modern thrillers. Cheers!

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  3. Very glad to see you back here. This is some high-quality r&r reading. I hope that when I have a health problem, and I switch entirely to mysteries and science fiction and so on, that the books are all as good as this one.

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    1. Thanks, Tom, that means a lot to me. Yes, definitely the type of book for rest and recuperation/reading rock & roll, etc. Ambler's extensive back catalogue provides reason for optimism as well. Cheers!

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  4. Good to see activity here again. I know a little about losing the will to blog. I haven't read any Ambler in living memory but suspect I did in my early library dog years when I read with complete indiscrimination at a speed completely alien to my current self. I am currently reading The Sound and the Fury with a growing sense of familiarity. Not a book you should forget reading.. Welcome back.

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    1. Thanks for the warm welcome back, Séamus. Naturally, I hope you return to the swing of things soon yourself.

      I finally read that same Faulkner, my first in decades, earlier in the year and thought it was great. Of course, I didn't review it, so you'll have to take my word for it. I now have this neurotic fear that my end of the year Top 10 list will be mostly filled out by books I was too lazy to write about this year. Not a very sociable thing that. Cheers!

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    2. I've still been placing the books I read on a 'to be reviewed' shelf but unless I discover some unused time in the dust under the furniture most will remain unreviewed. I'll have to clear it as it feeds a vague sense of guilt ... I'll just have to include all in a 'books I read this year post/list.

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  5. Vague guilt bad, year in review post good. I should follow your lead. Looking forward to your comeback tour!

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  6. Nothing quite pleases (me) as much as a well done thriller. Slavery, heroin and assassinations may have little to do with Christmas, but a lot to do with a good book well written. Thanks for the title, thanks for reappearing.

    Merry Christmas!

    p.s. I have not one, but two, books for Spanish Lit month which I am saving with excitement. One is entitled Savage Theories by Pola Oloixara, which will be published January 10.

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    1. Belated Merry Christmas to you and yours in turn, Bellezza, and thanks for the welcome back. This Ambler was quite entertaining, to the point I look forward to reading something new by him next year. I wish I could say the same about the Oloixarac book, which I abandoned without finishing a few years back, but perhaps you'll have better luck with it. Cheers!

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