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Epitaph for a Spy Paperback – February 5, 2002
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“An uncommonly good story of international intrigue.”–The Atlantic
“Ambler is the greatest spy novelist of all time.” --San Francisco Chronicle
“Ambler successfully combines excitement, entertainment, and social significance.” --The New York Times Book Review
“A genuine classic.” --The Times (London)
From the Inside Flap
adassy arrives at the Hotel de la Reserve at the end of his Riviera holiday, he is simply looking forward to a few more days of relaxation before returning to Paris. But in St. Gatien, on the eve of World War II, everyone is suspectthe American brother and sister, the expatriate Brits, and the German gentleman traveling under at least one assumed name. When the film he drops off at the chemist reveals photographs he has not taken, Vadassy finds himself the object of intense suspicion. The result is anything but the rest he had been hoping for.
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The plot is thin and unconvincing--there are too many outrageous coincidences and one <i>deus ex machina</i>-like appearance although Vadassy is a very well drawn and sympathetic character. A recurrent Ambler theme is the haphazard and fortuitous manner that a person can become stateless--unmoored and not a citizen of any nation with no official representative to protect him. Vadassy is working in France with papers granted by the police with the proviso that if he leaves he can't return. He has a ten years out of date Yugoslav passport but is not longer welcome there, having been stripped of his citizenship after his father and brother were executed for being social democrats. He was born in Hungary but in a section that was ceded to Yugoslavia when he was an infant, Vadassy has bounced around western Europe. Italy, Germany and Spain are closed to him (Fascism). England was nice (he is multilingual) but his work permit along with those of many other foreigners was withdrawn as the Depression deepened.
The precarious existence of stateless individuals was featured in several of Ambler's novels. The villain Dimitrios in "A Coffin for Dimitrios" traveled through southeastern Europe (Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania) on temporary documents after washing ashore in Athens in a tide of refugees from Turkey; Arthur Abdel Simpson, anti-hero of "The Light of Day" and "Dirty Story" has no nation to call home and even though it is his own doing he is still subjected to the indignity and outrages of any stateless refugee; a key minor character in "Cause for Alarm" is stuck in Italy without papers from a principality in eastern Europe that no longer exists.
Vadassy is on vacation. He is a keen amateur photographer and somehow part of a roll of film that he is having developed has images of the new naval fortifications at Toulon. When the local chemist turns the film in to the police he is arrested and told that unless he can uncover the person (who, he decides, must be one of his fellow guests at the hotel) that took the pictures he will be imprisoned and deported, most likely to Yugoslavia where his life will be forfeit.
Despite the shortcomings of its plot, "Epitaph for a Spy" is recommended for those who like political/espionage thriller. It is also a terrific character study of a man who is almost driven crazy while trying to solve the all but unsolvable.
The author is the daddy of Greene, Le Carre, Furst etc.
Read it, but be patient as it lacks the fireworks of later specimens in the genre.
if you are a film buff try to locate The Mask of Demetrius, one of Ambler's novels filmed with Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet.