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The Siege of The Villa Lipp Mass Market Paperback – August 12, 1978
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"Ambler is incapable of writing a dull paragraph..." --The Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I have now read this book three times, the last two times about ten years apart. Once again, the book didn't work very well for me. There's too much "social science" theory in the dialogue to make the book really appealing. Krom, to me, is a buffoon, and not a very entertaining one. Connell and Henson aren't much more interesting. Firman is the life of the party, and the contrast with the other characters just makes the others less interesting.
If the same ending had been wrapped around a plot to steal and protect espionage secrets, this would have been a far more moving book. International tax-dodging just did not get my blood stirring. I guess it is so ordinary today, that we hardly think about it. It's like reading a thriller about doing the weekly shopping at the supermarket.
Finally, the book isn't continuously interesting. How Krom gets onto Firman, Firman's background, and the developments of the unexpected events are all excellent. The rest is pretty boring.
As much as I love Eric Ambler, I'd have to say that this was his least successful book among those that were intended to be serious fiction (excluding by that reference, the parody involved in The Dark Frontier, his first novel).
Morally, Mr. Ambler does a nice job of showing that the "honest academics" are just as prone to use inappropriate means to reach their ends as the "able criminal" is. A thoughtful reader will come away reexamining herself or himself about when one must be careful not to abuse others in nonphysical ways.
Be able in seeking a constructive path that benefits all.
Co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage
The highly improbable plot revolves around a gentlemanly criminal who calls himself Paul Firman. Firman's lengthy career of crime began at the end of WWII and was still going strong in the 1970s, the time in which the events of The Siege of the Villa Lipp take place. With the help of various partners, associates and hirelings, Firman has accumulated great wealth by swindling blackmarketeers out of their ill gotten gains, extorting money from wealthy tax evaders who keep undeclared money in Swiss banks, and on occasion turning tax cheats over to the IRS for the reward money. In other words, he's a scam artist functioning at a very high level on the economic food chain.
In order to avoid exposure, Firman reluctantly agrees to be interviewed by a trio of academic criminologists over a period of several days at an isolated villa on the French Riviera. Most of the narrative consists of Firman describing his various scams, past and present, and how he has managed to operate undetected all these many years.
There's a lot wrong with this book. First of all, the crimes being described are based on arcane rules of taxation, currency exchange and banking practice. That alone is enough to guarantee the glazing over of most reader's eyes. But wait. There's more. Not one of the major characters is in the least bit sympathetic or likeable. Everyone involved in this ill conceived tale is either a pompous academic or a pretentious, duplicitous crook. Consequently, the reader has no reason to care what happens to any of them.
Most Eric Ambler books are fast paced and compelling. This book is uninteresting and proved to be a chore to complete. I'd really be interested in knowing how and why The Siege of the Villa Lipp came to be published. It is so inferior to Ambler's usual work, one wonders if he hastily threw it together to meet some contractual obligation.
Needless to say, I do not recommend reading this terribly disappointing novel.
Ambler has written about twelve books, all available in used form, and all concerning espionage. "Send no more roses" makes the reader a willing confidant and one is able to compare the action of the hero with what he might do in similiar circumstances.
A very enjoyable experience: you'll want to read "A Coffin for Demetris" and some of his other novels too.