Review: The Mask of Dimitrios (aka A Coffin for Dimitrios) by Eric Ambler


Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Penguin Classics, 2009. Kindle edition (1435 KB). First published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1939. With an Introduction by Mark Mazower. ISBN: 978-0-141-92454-0. ASIN: B002RI9WPM. 244 pages.

I’m submitting this entry to the #1939 book challenge hosted by Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences. Please do check out at his website to see the contributions of other fellow participants.

The Mask of Dimitrios

Charles Latimer, a former lecturer in political economy at a minor English university, has turned into a successful writer of detective stories. He now finds himself in Turkey in order to complete his fifth novel. Following a chance encounter in Istanbul with Colonel Haki, an avid reader of detective fiction, Latimer has the opportunity to visit the Colonel at his office. Once there, Haki tells him the story of a real murderer called Dimitrios Makropoulos and hands him his dossier. The previous night, a fisherman had pulled his body from the Bosphorus. ‘It is believed that he was knifed and thrown overboard from a ship’. Latimer feels fascinated by the story and asks Haki if he can see the body. Colonel Haki assents. The next day, Latimer is determined to reconstruct the biography of Dimitrios by following his steps across Europe. The story of a Greek fig-packager in Smyrna that turned into a thief, a murderer, a pimp, a female trafficker, and a drug dealer. And who ended up being a financier in Paris before finishing his days floating in the Bosphorus.

The Mask of Dimitrios, aka The Coffin of Dimitrios in the US, “was written during the nominal peace that followed the Munich agreement of 1938” and “was, inauspiciously, the Daily Mail Book-Of-The-Month for August 1939”. He (Ambler) recalls how he “thought of the whole shape and plan… in a third-class compartment of the night train from Paris to Marseille – the seat being ‘too hard for sleep’ – and ‘made notes on a scrap of paper’. They consisted of a rough sketch of Europe with a squiggly line drawn across it, and the words, ‘begin Turkey – end Paris – Demetrius? Dimitrios’.” (Existential Ennui)

Eric Ambler (1909-98) was one of the most fascinating British writers of the late 1930s. Though he wrote numerous novels, short stories and screenplays throughout his life, he is better known by the number of novels published between 1937 and 1940, like: Uncommon Danger (1937), Epitaph for a Spy (1938), Cause for Alarm (1938), The Mask of Dimitrios (1939) and Journey into Fear (1940).

The Mask of Dimitrios was made into a film in 1944 directed by Jean Negulesco, screenplay written by Frank Gruber, starring Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson and Peter Lorre.

When it comes to a classic book, and The Mask of Dimitrios certainly is a classic, I’ve always found it difficult to write a review. It’s extremely difficult to add something new or original to all what has already been said about it. Suffice to say that I feel grateful to Rich Westwood for hosting this meme that has allowed me to read a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, but I just didn’t get around to it before. And it certainly has not disappointed me. As a history aficionado, I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere of the times in which the action is set as well as the places chosen to develop the plot. Being a pioneer novel, entails the risk that some elements, over the time, are no longer original. But none of this has diminished an inch my appreciation of this novel which I strongly recommend to all genre enthusiasts. A must read in my view.

My rating: A (I loved it)

The Mask of Dimitrios has been reviewed at The View from the Blue House (Rob), Mysteries in Paradise (Kerrie), Past Offences (Rich), Bitter Tea and Mystery (TracyK), Do You Write Under Your Own Name? (Martin), The Rap Sheet, Existential Ennui, Jeffrey Keeten, Jonathan Spain’s Blog,

Penguin Classics

Eric Ambler

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard 

Eric Ambler Obituary at The Independent 

La máscara de Dimitrios de Eric Ambler

9788490060063

Charles Latimer, un ex profesor de economía política en una pequeña Universidad inglesa, se ha convertido en un escritor de éxito de novelas policíacas. Ahora se encuentra en Turquía con el fin de completar su quinta novela. A raíz de un encuentro casual en Estambul con el coronel Haki, un ávido lector de novelas policíacas, Latimer tiene la oportunidad de visitar el coronel en su oficina. Una vez allí, Haki le cuenta la historia de un verdadero asesino llamado Dimitrios Makropoulos y le entrega su expediente. La noche anterior, un pescador había sacado su cuerpo del Bósforo. “Se cree que fue apuñalado y arrojado por la borda de un barco”. Latimer se siente fascinado por la historia y pide a Haki si puede ver el cuerpo. El Coronel Haki asiente. Al día siguiente, Latimer está decidido a reconstruir la biografía de Dimitrios siguiendo sus pasos a través de Europa. La historia de un griego de Esmirna empaquetador de higos que se convirtió en un ladrón, un asesino, un proxeneta, un traficante de mujeres, y un traficante de drogas. Y que acabó siendo un financiero en París antes de terminar sus días flotando en el Bósforo.

La máscara de Dimitrios, también conocida como El féretro de Dimitrios en los EE.UU., “fue escrita durante la paz nominal que siguió al acuerdo de Munich de 1938″ y “fué elegida de forma poco propicia como el libro del mes por el Daily Mail en agosto de 1939”. (Ambler) recuerda cómo “le dió forma y diseño todo el plan … en un compartimento de tercera clase del tren nocturno de París a Marsella. El asiento era “demasiado duro para poder dormir” y “escribió sus notas en un trozo de papel”. Consistían en un bosquejo de Europa, con una línea garabateada sobre el mapa, y las palabras,”empezar en Turquía – finalizar en París – ¿Demetrius? Dimitrios“. (Existencial Ennui)

Eric Ambler (1909-1998) fue uno de los más fascinantes escritores británicos de finales de 1930. A pesar de que escribió numerosas novelas, cuentos y guiones de cine a lo largo de su vida, es más conocido por la serie de novelas publicadas entre 1937 y 1940, como: Uncommon Danger (1937), Epitaph for a Spy (1938), Cause for Alarm (1938), The Mask of Dimitrios (1939) y Journey into Fear (1940).

La máscara de Dimitrios fue llevada al cine en 1944 dirigida por Jean Negulesco, con guión escrito por Frank Gruber, y protagonizada por Sidney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson y Peter Lorre.

Cuando se trata de un libro clásico, y La máscara de Dimitrios sin duda es un clásico, siempre me pareció difícil escribir una reseña. Es extremadamente difícil añadir algo nuevo y original a todo lo que ya se ha dicho sobre él. Baste decir que me siento agradecido a Rich Westwood por ser el anfitrión de este meme que me ha permitido leer un libro que he estado esperando durante mucho tiempo, pero simplemente no tuve tiempo para hacerlo antes. Y ciertamente no me ha decepcionado. Como aficionado a la historia, en particular me gustó el ambiente de la época en la que la acción se sitúa, así como los lugares elegidos para el desarrollo la trama. Al ser una novela pionera, implica el riesgo de que algunos elementos, a lo largo del tiempo, ya no sean originales. Pero nada de esto ha disminuido un centímetro mi aprecio por esta novela, que recomiendo encarecidamente a todos los entusiastas del género. Una lectura obligada en mi opinión.

Mi calificación: A (Me encantó)

Ver otras reseñas en Prótesis, Entre libros anda el cine

RBA Serie Negra

14 thoughts on “Review: The Mask of Dimitrios (aka A Coffin for Dimitrios) by Eric Ambler

  1. Your enthusiasm makes me want to read this again, Jose Ignacio – I read it a long time ago, and don’t remember much, but I know I liked it. I will pick it up again.

  2. You did a great job of describing this book. One of these days I am going to re-read this book. But I still have many unread Eric Ambler books, so I will get to those first. Thanks for including my review.

  3. Oh I loved this book. And your review makes me realise my to be RE-read pile needs to be raised a little higher!

    On a slightly silly note, it amused me that the translation for Mask is Mascara, just because that’s what we use to accentuate our fluttering eyelashes!

    • Thank you very much for your visit and your comment. According to Wikipedia it’s unclear where the word mascara comes from. It is most frequently thought to be based from the Spanish word máscara meaning ‘mask’ or ‘stain’ and the Italian word maschera meaning ‘mask’. The Oxford English Dictionary also cites an alternative Catalan definition that describes soot or a black smear, or a Portuguese root (the Portuguese word máscara means ‘mask’, but a similar word, mascarra, means dark stain or smut). There is even strong support for a possible source from the Arabic word maskharah or ‘buffoon’. The Hebrew word משקרות (MaSQROTh) as relating to women’s eyes is found in Isaiah 3:16. Latin treatises sometimes used the word mascara when referring to witches.

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