by Eric Ambler
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" ) 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" ). 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)