Eric Ambler (1909 – 1998)

26006Eric Clifford Ambler OBE (born June 28, 1909, London, England—died October 22, 1998, London), was an influential English writer who essentially invented the modern spy novel. Born in London England, Ambler also used the pseudonym Eliot Reed for books co-written with Charles Rodda. His family were entertainers, putting on a type of puppet show, with which he helped. Later he studied engineering at London University and served an apprenticeship with an engineering company before working in advertising. His family background proved dominant, and Ambler soon moved to writing plays and other works. He moved to Paris for a few years, where he married Louise Crombie, and later married Joan Harrison, a writer and producer.

When World War II broke out, Ambler entered the army as a common soldier, serving briefly in the Royal Artillery. He was soon re-assigned to photographic units, where his talents could be better utilized. He ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel and assistant director of the army film unit.

After the war, he continued in the civilian film industry as a screen-writer. He did not resume writing under his own name until 1951, thus breaking his writings into two distinct periods. Five of his six early works are regarded as classic thrillers. He won many awards for writing.

His best known works are probably The Mask of Dimitrios, which became a classic film noir in 1944, and The Light of Day, filmed in 1964 as Topkapi, and subsequently lampooned in The Pink Panther. He was also a successful screenwriter who, in his later years, lived in Los Angeles. Amongst other classic movies based on his works are Journey Into Fear (starring Orson Welles) and The October Man. Later he lived in Switzerland for sixteen years before returning to England. He published his autobiography in 1981, Here Lies Eric Ambler. (Source: Golden Age of Detection Wiki and Wikipedia)

The Essential Ambler: Uncommon Danger (1937); Epitaph for a Spy (1938) (filmed as Hotel Reserve 1944); Cause for Alarm (1938);  The Mask of Dimitrios (1939), US title: A Coffin for Dimitrios; Journey into Fear (1940); Passage of Arms (1959); The Light of Day (1962); and A Kind of Anger (1964).

Two very different reviews on The Mask of Dimitrios: Mike Grost on The Mask of Dimitrios and Martin Edwards on The Mask of Dimitrios.

Further reading: Eric Ambler Web Site, Eric Ambler – guest blog by Peter Lewis at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ and Eric Ambler Obituary The Independent.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Hodder & Stoughton (UK), 1940)

Journey into Fear is a 1940 spy thriller novel by Eric Ambler. Film adaptations were released in 1943 and 1975. As common in Ambler’s books, the protagonist is not a professional spy, and is clearly out of his depth. Indeed, the chief Nazi treats him with open contempt, which for much of the book seems amply justified. Yet ultimately the German professional pays dearly for underestimating this amateur – another plot element which was to be repeated in later Ambler books. The book came to be regarded as a classic among spy thrillers, setting out what became some of the genre’s basic conventions and immensely influencing later works including the James Bond series. (Source: Wikipedia)

It is 1940 and Mr Graham, a quietly-spoken engineer and arms expert, has just finished high-level talks with the Turkish government. And now somebody wants him dead. The previous night three shots were fired at him as he stepped into his hotel room, so, terrified, he escapes in secret on a passenger steamer from Istanbul. As he journeys home – alongside, among others, an entrancing French dancer, an unkempt trader, a mysterious German doctor and a small, brutal man in a crumpled suit – he enters a nightmarish world where friend and foe are indistinguishable. Graham can try to run, but he may not be able to hide for much longer … (Source: Penguin Modern Classics)

Journey Into Fear has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, and The View from the Blue House.

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

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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

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

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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


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

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