Posted by: Lizzie Ross | May 2, 2010

Something light

A Coffin for Dimitrios, Eric Ambler (1939), Vintage Crime, 304 pp.

The 1944 film of this novel is about as perfect as an adaptation can be. Zachary Scott, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet and others are the images and voices in my head when I read this novel of spies, betrayal, intrigue, and greed. I saw the movie before I read the book, and even knowing the ending didn’t spoil the suspense on my first read-through.

The basic story is this. Charles Latimer, a writer of stock mysteries, happens to hear about the death of a master spy, begs an opportunity to view the body (his first, despite his career–signaling an innocent ignorance of the world he’s about to enter), and soon finds himself compelled to find out as much as possible about the dead man. He begins his search in Istanbul, moves through eastern Europe, and ends in Paris.

What he hears about Dimitrios horrifies and fascinates him, and the more he learns, the more danger he puts himself into.

I won’t say any more, in case you don’t know the plot. Just consider this–reviewers note that Ambler influenced Le Carré, Deighton and Ludlum. If you’re a fan of their books, you’ll no doubt enjoy this one as well. Perfect for a medium-length plane trip. Bon voyage!

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