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128 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It is not who fired the shot, July 22, 2005
This review is from: A Coffin for Dimitrios (Paperback)
but who paid for the bullet."

Compact, amusingly cynical little sentences such as the above bubble up throughout Eric Ambler's "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and, in fact, throughout most of Ambler's books. That is just one reason why Ambler's books are so enjoyable and have held up so well over time.

For those not familiar with his work, Ambler was to the modern British spy novel what Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were to the American detective novel. Ambler transformed the spy 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.

Typically, Ambler would take an unassuming, unsuspecting spectator and immerse him in a world of mystery and intrigue in pre-World War II Europe. The result was a series of highly entertaining and satisfying books that many believe set the stage for the likes of le Carre, Deighton, and, most recently, Alan Furst. A Coffin for Dimitrios was one of Ambler's best known works. (It was made into a movie starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.) It is a very entertaining read.

The plot is relatively easy to follow. Charles Lattimer is a British University professor who retired from academia once he discovered that writing mass market detective stories was far more lucrative. While on holiday in Istanbul he makes the acquaintance of a Turkish police inspector who is an admirer of Lattimer's work. Lattimer is invited to the policeman's office where he is provided with ideas for a book the police officer is writing. While there he is invited to join the officer in viewing the body of a master criminal, Dimitrios, who has just been fished out of the Bosporus. Lattimer, fascinated by sketchy but lurid details of Dimitrios criminal career, decides to trace Dimitrios steps in the hopes that he will obtain new material for future detective stories. Lattimer travels from Turkey to Greece, Bulgaria, Switzerland and France in search of background information. Of course, anyone seeking such information in the corridors of the criminal underworld immediately becomes the object of attention, some of it quite dangerous. The story of Dimitrios' life is peeled away like an onion. Bits of information are revealed at each stop. Lattimer discovers that Dimitrios' actions sometimes had a sinister political connection. As the novel reaches its climax the final bits of information needed to complete the puzzle that is Dimitrios are revealed.

A Coffin For Dimitrios made for an excellent read. Some readers may find it a bit quaint. Some may find Ambler's prose a bit old-fashioned. But when one considers that Ambler's books were written close to 70 years ago I don't think it particularly fair to harp overly much on a writing or prose-style that doesn't quite match that of a le Carre or Deighton. A Coffin for Dimitrios and most of the rest of Ambler's works have been re-issued in new paperback editions by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Press. They are in print and readily available. I don't hesitate to recommend A Coffin for Dimitrios or any of Ambler's works. They are perfect for leisure reading whether at the beach or elsewhere. Last, if you have enjoyed the works of John le Carre, Deighton, Ian Fleming, or Alan Furst, it is worth a trip to Ambler to see one of their literary ancestors in action.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 10, 2008 10:30:22 AM PST
I first learned of Eric Ambler in one of Alan Furst's book. A good discovery.

Posted on Jan 29, 2010 1:04:50 PM PST
Very nice review -- quite helpful!

pat

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2010 8:05:19 PM PST
Thanks much Pat.
I see you are a Christie fan and this genre generally and given that I think Ambler would be fit right in.
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