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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding human drama., October 15, 1999
This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
A humble but enterprising Indian clerk with the dream of owning a bus company accidentally finds out about an abandoned terrorist weapons cache. He carefully and painstakingly sets up their sale through a businessman in Singapore. In the sale process, an American couple on vacation get drawn into the affair, and end up on the firing line between Sumatran factions.
Ambler's characters are all beautifully drawn. They are presented, too, with a finely honed sense of humor, and deep understanding of human nature. The carefully constructed plot never ceases to turn, and each new episode is a fresh surprize and delight.
I particularly enjoyed the character of Girija Krishnan, who so loved the buses. And General Iskaq, with his pondering of just how to best shock and annoy the British and American consuls. And the Tan family politics. Etc., etc., etc.
This book was great fun, and beautifully well written.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eric Ambler-A Master of Time and Context, September 7, 2004
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
Eric Ambler made his reputation writing thrillers set in the years immediately before and after the Second World War. He understood the true nature of facism and communism and Ambler placed his stories right in the center of the struggle between good and evil. Fortunately for us, Eric Ambler was able to move beyond the Second World War. During the 1950's, Ambler turned his gaze and considerable talents to the topic of decolonization. Through his stories, Ambler was able to keep current with the big stories and issues of the day.

A Passage of Arms was first published in 1959. Southesast Asia was going through difficult times. The French had been kicked out of Indochina and the Americans were just coming in. In Indonesia, tensions were growing between the Communists and Muslem nationalists. The English had just beaten back a Communist insurgency in Malaysia. This is the turbulent world encountered by two would-be American arms dealers who take a break from their cruise around the world.

At its essence, 'A Passage of Arms' is a business tale. We follow the passage of a cache of weapons as they travel from the jungles of Malaysia to the port city of Singapore. There are numerous side trips to Hong Kong, Manila and Indonesia. This novel offers great insights into the murky world of arms dealing.

Although, while not as sexy as some of his World War Two thrillers, in a 'Passage to Arms', Eric Ambler is at the top of his game. There is a reason why a novel written in 1959 is being reissued in 2004.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, September 20, 2006
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
And by opposing end them.

In many respects, Eric Ambler was to the modern British suspense novel what Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were to the American detective novel. Ambler transformed the suspense novel from a simplistic black and white world of perfect good guys versus nefarious bad guys into a far more realistic world where sometimes the difference between good and evil is not all that great. In a series of books written before World War II Ambler would typically take an unassuming, unsuspecting civilian and immerse him in a world of mystery and intrigue in pre-war Europe. In those books the `hero' would find himself facing danger at the hands of the German or Italian villains.

Once the war ended Ambler's plots reflected a change in the world's political situation. The typical Ambler protagonist now found themselves at odd with other totalitarian forces such as the Soviet bloc such as in his "Judgment at Deltchev". In addition, Ambler broadened his geographic horizons and set some of his books in post-war Asia. In these instances the plot usually found itself centered on the intrigue that settled around the newly emerging nations of Asia as the old Europe ended its lingering colonial presence. "Passage at Arms" takes the reader on a "mystery tour" of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Written in 1959, "Passage at Arms" is a fine example of Ambler's work.

The unassuming naif in this case is Greg Nilsen. Greg is a quintessential American tourist circa 1960. He is a solidly middle class businessman, the owner of a small manufacturing concern, who has managed to save up enough time and money to go on a lengthy cruise (on a cargo ship) with his wife Dorothy. Through a curious series of events, set up admirably by Ambler, Greg volunteers to act as a front man for the transportation and sale of a shipment of arms from Malaysia to Indonesia via the free trade zone of Singapore. As one expects in any Ambler book things do not quite go according to plan.

The book can be broken down into three distinct parts. In the opening third of the book, Ambler sets the scene. He introduces us to most of the characters (apart from the Nilsen's), introduces the reader to the book's locales, and traces the provenance of the arms that form the basis of the plot. In the second third, we see how Greg Nilsen is baited into taking part in the transaction. Finally, the last third of the book takes Nilsen to a rebel camp in Indonesia where he hopes to receive his payment. It is here that the plot boils over and events race to a typically (for Ambler) provocative conclusion.

Two of Ambler's strong points are his ability to set a scene and the strength of his characterizations. For example, Ambler's portrayal of the Indian plantation clerk, Girija Krishnan, living in Malaysia is excellent. Krishnan is the person who `finds' the arms in question. For Krishnan, the ability to sell the arms will facilitate his dream of buying a bus and starting a transport company. Ambler's character portrayals all `rang true' to me.

I have now read and reviewed ten (10) of Ambler's books so it was no surprise to me that I enjoyed Passage at Arms. Ambler's work has held up remarkably well in my opinion and the story lines still seem fresh even though these books were all written between 50 and 70 years ago. I have very much enjoyed reading Ambler and have no hesitation in recommending Passage at Arms to any reader. Fans of Deighton, Furst, or LeCarre would, I think, be delighted with his books. L. Fleisig
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Story from Eric Ambler, February 14, 2004
I thoroughly enjoyed Passage of Arms. This is the fifth novel that I have read by Eric Ambler and I now understand why Len Deighton, Graham Greene, and John LeCarre give so much credit to Ambler for creating the modern espionage novel.

Passage of Arms begins in the port city Kuala Pangkalan in Malaya, moves to Singapore, and then to Sumatra. It is the late 1950s and arms smuggling is a dangerous, high risk business, especially when amateurs become involved. The plot is both interesting and unpredictable. The exotic setting, Southeast Asia in the 1950s, is more threatening than inviting. But perhaps what I actually recall most about Passage of Arms is a unique, intriguing character, Girija Krishnana, a delightfully clever and ambitious clerk of Indian heritage.

Girija Krishnan is not the lead character, but he is nonetheless absolutely essential to the storyline in Passage to Arms. His obsessive desire to purchase a passenger bus results in unpredictable, explosive events. I will long remember the entrepreneurial Girija Krishnan.

Passage of Arms is a great way to become acquainted with this master of espionage and suspense.

Some other Ambler recommendations: Journey into Fear is the story of a Mr. Graham, a highly capable naval ordnance engineer, that becomes unexpectedly the target for assassination by German agents. Graham is no James Bond, and his desperate efforts to escape prove largely ineffective and amateurish.

Arthur Abdel Simpson, as the protagonist in The Light of Day, is disagreeable, dishonest, and disreputable. He blames others for his failings, he cheats his clients, and he has served a short sentence for distributing pornographic material. Somehow, as Arthur becomes ensnared in one of his own schemes, I found myself increasingly concerned and sympathetic for his plight.

Possibly Eric Ambler's most complex character is Michael Howell in The Levanter. He is a wily businessman intent on sheltering his family's third generation business in Syria from ongoing nationalization efforts by the Baathist Party. Much of the story is told in a first person narrative by Howell. The reader must decide how much of Howell's account is trustworthy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ambler's Best, December 9, 2012
By 
J. L. Parker (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
I've read almost all of Eric Ambler's novels, and this is my favorite. The plotting is deft and intricate, with a three-level nested storyline showing how one smuggled shipment of arms affects a variety of people with no other connection to one other. The characters in each -- the enterprising Indian foreman who discovers and sells the weapons, the Chinese brothers who arrange their shipment, and the American couple used as straw buyers -- are drawn so distinctly that you almost forget about the other parts of the book when reading a particular section. The only criticism I can think of is that the finale is a bit drawn out and doesn't provide any particularly interesting resolution; the best parts of the book are the characters and the intricate scheming they engage in. Ambler has some good secondary characters here too -- the dissolute Chinese brother, the apparently lesbian ship's passenger who tags along with the Americans, and the Singaporean police superintendent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, detailed, nuanced., April 11, 2011
By 
Michael G. "mikefromrochester" (Rochester, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
Most Eric Ambler books feature an unlikely protagonist caught up in a danger laden international situation. Passage of Arms can lay claim to two such protagonists.

The first is Girija Krishnan, a humble Bengali clerk on a Malayan rubber plantation. Through luck and cunning, he comes into sole possession of a hidden cache of mint condition weapons smuggled into the country from Communist China.

The second unlikely protagonist is Greg Nilsen, an American tourist traveling in the Far East with his wife. A victim of his own guilelessness, Greg finds himself functioning as a middleman in the arms trade as the aforementioned weapons cache wends its way into the hands of Indonesian Islamic insurgents.

Passage of Arms is a darkly funny novel of international intrigue. Ambler does a wonderful job of describing various Far Eastern locales and the interesting people inhabiting them. Moreover, the ambiguous, byzantine nature of the region's geopolitics circa 1959 comes through loud and clear.
Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After much deliberation I think this is Ambler's best, July 6, 2009
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
More than other thrillers by the master Eric Ambler, PASSAGE OF ARMS shows how deeply we misunderstand other cultures. Here are an Indian clerk in Malay, a international family of Chinese crooks, a Communist warlord, and a reasonably-successful American everyman and his wife on vacation, all acting each according to his very-small partial view of the situation without having any idea of the others' motives, let alone the big picture.

One of the other reviewers complained of the story's "simplicity". In what way is it simpler than say A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS? What it has is INEVITABILITY. Like many of Ambler's novels. The characters, and the vivid narration, are always more important than the plots anyway in Ambler, especially now that it's history. Like, well, Hitchcock. Or the movies made from Ramond Chandler's novels.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The book's hero is a gullible American who thinks he can make some easy money just by signing some papers but then the ..., July 22, 2014
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Somehow Ambler wrote a novel in 1959 that fits into today's headlines of revolutions and ethnic violence. The book's hero is a gullible American who thinks he can make some easy money just by signing some papers but then the whole plan collapses when fighting begins in Indonesia. It might not be the Amble novel I enjoyed most but some of the characters were extremely - and frighteningly - real.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Solid read, July 7, 2014
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Paperback)
Good solid read, paints a great picture of SE Asia at the time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A dreamer with a plan...., June 16, 2014
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This review is from: Passage of Arms (Hardcover)
The passage of time has not diminished this classic foreign intrigue....I simply love this novel, in fact I love all of Ambler's tight, well-structured, and tense novels...Check out his Coffin for Demetrious, Cause for Alarm, and The Light of Day, all classic intrigue with well-developed characters, interesting locales with historical notations, and an underlying tug of danger....

The novel follows the passage of an arms cache discovered and hidden by a man that dreams of starting a transportation service in a backward country that has none...His patient intelligence is challenged as he negotiates the world of arms dealers that would provide him with the funds necessary to realize his dream...enough said, just read this novel and discover one of the original masters of literary intrigue and suspense...I envy you, you have a wealth of Ambler yet to enjoy.
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Passage of Arms
Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler (Paperback - July 13, 2004)
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