Review: The Light of Day (1962) by Eric Ambler


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

First Vintage Crime / Black Lizard Edition, Reprint edition 2011. Originally published in 1962 and renewed in 1990 by Eric Ambler. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 3566 KB. Print Length: 228 pages. ASIN: B005PRJOXW. eISBN: 978 0 307 95001 7.

9780307950017 The story is told in first person by Arthur Abdel Simpson. ‘The Abdel is because my mother was Egyptian. In fact, I was born in Cairo. But my father was a British officer, a regular, and I myself am British to the core. Even my background is typically British.’ In fact he was educated in England, though he actually has an Egyptian passport. When we find him for the first time, Arthur is at Athens airport looking for an easy target. He considers himself a journalist, but actually he makes a living as a small-time crook. He works trying to identify tourists who are not familiar with the city and in need of a private driver, to offer them his services. Later on, when they lower their guard, he looks for an opportunity to rob them. ‘In my experience, most people are extraordinarily careless about the way they look after traveler’s checks. Just because their counter-signature is required before a check can be cashed, they assumed that only they can negotiate it. Yet anyone with eyes in his head can copy the original signature’. But this time, things don’t turn out as planned. His target, a man named Harper, catches him red-handed when Arthur is trying to steal him. The situation takes an unexpected turn. Now, Arthur becomes the victim. Blackmailed, he has to submit to the dictates of Harper. And he is forced to drive a luxury car from Athens to Istanbul, under the promise that Harper will return him the confession he has just signed. Arthur, distrustful, searches the car, just in case there’s something hidden to be smuggled, but he finds nothing. However upon his arrival at the Turkish border, the Turkish police realises that his passport has expired. And, as from that point, everything becomes increasingly complicated for Arthur.     

The Light of Day is a novel difficult to define. It has been often considered an example of a ‘caper story’, an expression for which I don’t have an equivalent in Spanish, perhaps an humoristic police novel. After having finished reading this book, I have no doubt that Eric Ambler was a highly skilled storyteller who was gifted with an exceptional talent. The reading of this book has been a true pleasure. Throughout the story the narrator also introduces some data from his school years in a British public school. Although I have to confess that I came across this book by pure chance since I had not planned its reading in the short term. But, it was the announcement of a Conference at London’s British Library here, what encouraged me to download it and read it immediately. By Ambler, I had only read before The Mask of Dimitrios, see my review here, but my interest on spy fiction has increased recently and I’m sure that I will read more Ambler’s novels. Incidentally, the character of Arthur Abdel Simpson, Ambler’s antihero, has been quite a discovery for me and, in my view, worthy of forming part in the annals of universal literature. Arthur Abdel Simpson returns in another novel by Eric Ambler, Dirty Story (1967), subtitled, A Further Account of the Life and Adventures of Arthur Abdel Simpson. I’m positive it will be also an extremely funny reading. By the way, I’ll suggest the reading of the reviews that are mentioned below, to encourage you to read this book.

I could not resist the temptation to copy here the opening paragraph: ‘It came down to this: If I had not been arrested by the Turkish police, I would have been arrested by the Greek police. I had no choice but to do as this man Harper told me. He was entirely responsible for what happened to me.’ And certainly, our anti-hero doesn’t  believe that he’s the one responsible of his own acts. Anything that can happen to him, will always be the fault of others.

Highly recommended.

The book won an Edgar and became beloved by many professional crime authors including Donald E. Westlake and Marcia Muller. Westlake seemed to put a little Arthur Abdel Simpson in Dortmunder; certainly he (and Richard Stark’s Parker) would have also admired the detailed recounting of the final heist. Indeed, I have heard that the Topkapi Palace Museum needed to change their security arrangements after looking over The Light Of Day. (Do The Math)

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

The film Topkapi (1964) directed by Jules Dassin and starirng Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley, Gilles Ségal and Akim Tamiroff. is loosely based on Eric Ambler’s novel The Light of Day, (1962), the screenplay was adapted by Monja Danischewsky.

Eric Ambler is often said to have invented the modern suspense novel. Beginning in 1936, he wrote a series of novels that introduced ordinary protagonists thrust into political intrigues they were ill prepared to deal with. These novels were touted for their realism, and Ambler established himself as a thriller writer of depth and originality. In the process he paved the way for such writers as John Le Carre, Len Deighton, and Robert Ludlum. He was awarded four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger from The Crime Writers Association, named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers Association, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. In addition to his novels, Ambler wrote a number of screenplays, including A Night to Remember and The Cruel Sea, which won him an Academy Award nomination. (Source: Penguin Random House)

The Light of Day has been reviewed at The Rap Sheet, Bitter Tea and Mystery, Mystery File, and JacquiWine’s Journal, among others. 

Penguin Random House 

Eric Ambler website

The New York Times Obituary

La luz del día de Eric Ambler

La historia está contada en primera persona por Arthur Abdel Simpson. “El Abdel es porque mi madre era egipcia. De hecho, naci en El Cairo. Pero mi padre era un oficial británico, un profesional, y yo mismo soy británico hasta la médula. Incluso mi formación es típicamente británica”. De hecho, él fue educado en Inglaterra, a pesar de que en realidad tiene un pasaporte egipcio. Cuando lo encontramos, por primera vez, Arthur se encuentra en el aeropuerto de Atenas en busca de un objetivo fácil. Él se considera un periodista, pero en realidad se gana la vida como un ladrón de poca monta. Él trabaja tratando de identificar turistas que no esten familiarizados con la ciudad y con necesidad de un conductor privado, para ofrecerles sus servicios. Más tarde, cuando bajen la guardia, busca una oportunidad para robarles. “En mi experiencia, la mayoría de las personas son extraordinariamente descuidadas sobre la forma en que cuidan sus cheques de viaje. El hecho de que se requiere su segunda firma antes de poder cobrar un cheque, les hace suponer que sólo ellos pueden negociarlo. Sin embargo, cualquier persona con ojos en la cara puede copiar la firma original.” Pero esta vez, las cosas no resultan como estaba previsto. Su objetivo, un hombre llamado Harper, lo sorprende in fraganti cuando Arthur está tratando de robarle. La situación toma un giro inesperado. Ahora, Arthur se convierte en la víctima. Chantajeado, tiene que someterse a los dictados de Harper. Y se ve obligado a conducir un coche de lujo de Atenas a Estambul, bajo la promesa de que Harper le devolverá la confesión que acaba de firmar. Arthur, desconfiado, busca en el coche, por si acaso hay algo escondido de contrabando, pero no encuentra nada. Sin embargo, a su llegada a la frontera con Turquía, la policía turca se da cuenta de que su pasaporte ha caducado. Y, a partir de ese momento, todo se vuelve cada vez más complicado para Arthur.

La luz del día es una novela difícil de definir. A menudo ha sido considerada un ejemplo de “caper story”’, una expresión para la que no encuentro equivalente en español, tal vez el de novela policíaca humorística. Después de haber terminado de leer este libro, no tengo ninguna duda de que Eric Ambler era un narrador altamente calificado que estaba dotado con un talento excepcional. La lectura de este libro ha sido un verdadero placer. A lo largo de la historia el narrador introduce también algunos datos de sus años escolares en una escuela privada británica. Aunque tengo que confesar que me encontré con este libro por pura casualidad ya que no tenía prevista su lectura a corto plazo. Sin embargo, fue el anuncio de una conferencia en la Biblioteca Británica de Londres aquí, lo que me animó a descargarla y leerla inmediatamente. De Ambler, sólo había leído antes La máscara de Dimitrios, ver mi reseña aquí, pero mi interés por las novelas de espionaje ha aumentado recientemente y estoy seguro de que voy a leer más novelas de Ambler. Por cierto, el personaje de Arthur Abdel Simpson, antihéroe de Ambler, ha sido todo un descubrimiento para mí y, en mi opinión, es digno de formar parte de los anales de la literatura universal. Arthur Abdel Simpson regresa en una segunda novela de Eric Ambler, Una historia sucia (1967), que lleva por subtítulo Nuevos relatos de la vida y aventuras de Arthur Abdel Simpson. Estoy seguro de que será también una lectura muy divertida. Por cierto, voy a sugerir la lectura de las reseñas que se mencionan más arriba en inglés, para animarles a leer este libro.

No pude resistir la tentación de copiar aquí el párrafo inicial: “Todo se reduce a esto: Si no hubiera sido detenido por la policía turca, habría sido detenido por la policía griega. No tuve más remedio que hacer lo que este hombre, Harper, me dijo. Él era el único responsable de lo que me pasó.” Y, desde luego, nuestro anti-héroe no cree que él es el único responsable de sus propios actos. Cualquier cosa que pueda pasarle, siempre será culpa de los demás.

Muy recomendable.

Este libro fue galardonado con un Edgar y llegó a ser muy apreciado por muchos autores profesionales de novela negra, incluyendo a Donald E. Westlake y Marcia Muller. Westlake parece que puso algo de Arthur Abdel Simpson en Dortmunder; Ciertamente él (y Parker, de Richard Stark) habrían admirado también el pormenorizado relato del atraco final. De hecho, he oído que el museo del palacio Topkapi tuvo que cambiar sus medidas de seguridad después de analizar La luz del día. (Mi traducción libre)

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

La película de Topkapi (1964) dirigida por Jules Dassin y protagonizada por Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley, Gilles Segal y AkimTamiroff. está basada libremente en la novela de Eric Ambler La luz del día, (1962), el guión fue adaptado por Monja Danischewsky. 

Eric Ambler está considerado el inventor de la novela de espionaje moderna, cuya contribución fundamental consistió en elevar el thriller a la categoría de literatura noble. Sus personajes humanizados, su buena prosa, una inteligente intriga y su británico sentido del humor le conceden un estilo de escritura inimitable y único. (Fuente: RBA Serie Negra)

Serie Negra

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14 thoughts on “Review: The Light of Day (1962) by Eric Ambler

  1. So glad you enjoyed this one, Jose. It’s a delight. I think I’m going to have to get my hands on a copy of Dirty Story, sounds like an essential companion to The Light of Day.

  2. I almost never read crime fiction, but this one sounds fantastic! I try to think of journalists as people with high standards for truth, but a journalist crook turns everything on it’s head! I’m going to see if my library has this book. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for linking to my post, Jose. This was a fun book and Arthur Simpson is a great character. I am going to have to look for a copy of Dirty Story also. The next Ambler I plan to read is Background to Danger, partly because it was adapted to film.

    1. Despite the excellent performance of Peter Ustinov, my idea of Arthur Simpson is quite different. Besides the film doesn’t follow the book to the end and there’s no mention of Simpson’s education. To me the book is much better than the film.

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