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A Coffin For Dimitrios (Charles Latimer #1)

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  3,854 ratings  ·  250 reviews
This is where the modern spy story begins. A Coffin for Dimitrios is the equal of any novel of intrigue written in this generation. For sheer reading pleasure, it has never been surpassed. Set in the late 1930s, the story of corruption and international espionage begins in Istanbul and moves through Central Europe to an unforgettable climax in Paris.
Mass Market Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 5th 1990 by Carroll & Graf (first published 1939)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”A man’s features, the bone structure and the tissue which covers it, are the product of a biological process; but his face he creates for himself. It is a statement of his habitual emotional attitude; the attitude which his desires need for their fulfilment and which his fears demand for their protection from prying eyes. He wears it like a devil mask; a device to evoke in others the emotions complementary to his own. If he is afraid, then he must be feared, if he desires, then he must be desir ...more
Bill  Kerwin

When I first heard “ISIL” substituted for “ISIS,” I thought “What the heck does the 'L' stand for?” Somebody told me it stood for “the Levant,” and I immediately thought of A Coffin for Dimitrios,” my favorite novel of international intrigue.

What is “the Levant”? It is the once-fashionable term for the countries of the eastern Mediterranean rim, comprising ancient Canaan and Asia Minor: Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey. Add to this the Levant's primary areas of influence—Cyprus,
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Will Byrnes
This was a fun read. According to the jacket this was the first novel in which an everyman is caught in a web of international intrigue. It is very reminiscent of the 39 Steps. One could see Sydney Greenstreet, for example, in the role of Mister Peters. (Or, as it turns out, one did, and forgot that he had. Oops)

description
Greenstreet as Peters in The Mask of Dimitrios

The protagonist, Mister Latimer, is an economist turned mystery writer who meets a Turkish head of Secret Police in Istanbul. He comes alon
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Helen
If I'd read this in 1939, I'm sure I would have been breathless with astonishment. But I've read John Le Carre and Alan Furst, I know too much about the ugliness of World War II, and in our day and age, we all know about the hypocrisy and duplicity and self-interest of nations.

But Eric Ambler invented this genre, political mystery/thrillers raw with realistic criminals and spies, describing the brilliance, decadence, shabbiness and ambiguity of the secret world.

Enter Charles Latimer. A retired
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Sam Quixote
Set (and written) in the late 1930s, Charles Latimer is an English mystery novelist who learns about the roguish life of Dimitrios after he’s taken to view his corpse in the morgue. Murder, slavery, drugs, gambling, prostitutes – Dimitrios had his fingers in a lot of pies! Latimer becomes obsessed with the man’s life and decides to write a biography of the chap, following in his footsteps as he meets Dimitrios’ former criminal associates to build up a portrait of the complex figure. But Latimer’ ...more
Darwin8u
It is hard not to like Eric Ambler's amateur spies. They aren't reluctant, just lucky and persistent. They seem to have seeded an entire generation of suspense novelists. Reading Ambler I see exactly what inspired le Carre, Furst, Steinhauer, etc. Ambler has a voice and style which are matched by his ability to capture a reader's interest with characters and setting. He is like a magician that spends an elaborate amount of time carefully setting a formal table just so at the very end he can pull ...more
Tosh
You can smell Orson Welles off the pages - or maybe it's Graham Greene? Nevetheless it's the start of the war years in Europe circ. late 1930's and there is the innocent bystander who is drawn into a world that he truly doesn't understand. In other words welcome to the world of Eric Amber.

The classic suspense writer and this is a great classic thriller. And back to Welles, it reminds me of The Third Man - not in plotting, but just the feel of dread in Europe at the time. But wait Third Man takes
...more
Skip
I found this novel to be meandering, and it had too much first person narrative for my liking. A writer is taken to see the remains of Dimitrios, who has a checkered past. The writer then decides to look into his life, and discovers much more than is known by the police who found the body. I did not realize until reading the afterword that this book was written in the 1930s.
Daniel
One night, I went out with a friend, who also reads, and met up with some of his friends, most of whom also read. I sat across from this guy who worked at a local Barnes & Noble with my friend, and this guy and I started talking books. I mentioned that I had just read my first book by Alan Furst, and that I loved how he set an espionage story in Europe on the eve of World War II. I haven't read Furst, he said, but I really like Eric Ambler. Right there, that little literary alarm went off in ...more
Mark Van Aken Williams
Not only is this novel THE masterpiece “thriller,” but it is THE original, departing from the crime fiction traditions of Doyle, Simenon, and Hammett. The dramatic value of adventure comes when the unadventurous man is inserted into the world of commerce and becomes involved in desperate matters through no fault of his own. It is not a world of good and evil. Ambler writes, “They were no more than baroque abstractions. Good business and Bad Business were the elements in the new theology. Dimitri ...more
Bev
So...one of the things I know about myself is that I'm not a big thriller or spy novel fan. There have been exceptions over the years. For instance, I went through a tiny phase of reading James Bond books and I'm very fond of Pierce Brosnan as Bond in film (of course, I'm fond of Pierce Brosnan in just about anything). And I like the less serious Avengers with Steed and Emma Peel (television version, please). I love the Maltese Falcon with Bogart. In fact, you might say that I prefer my thriller ...more
Sean
Classic spy thriller. The professional criminal, Dimitrios, and the circumstances of his mysterious death will enthrall you. One of the best espionage/murder mystery plots I have read.
Nina Jon
Published as The Mask of Dimitrios in the UK


This novel, with its film noir atmosphere, inspired no less than Graham Greene, John le Carre, Alfred Hitchcock and Ian Fleming (who described it as James Bond’s favoured reading material).
It opens with Charles Latimer, a mystery writer, naïvely accepting an assignment to discover who ended the life of criminal mastermind, Dimitrios. In doing so, he gets drawn further and further into the murky, corrupt world of the deceased: a man for whom war offered
...more
Jonathan
A solid archetypal "thriller" from one of the originators of the genre. A little too talkie though, with not quite enough action. Interesting premise, of a mystery author who accidentally meets up with a detective who shows him a body of a well known criminal (Dimitrios). He becomes swept up in the quest to find more info on this "master criminal" and soon things get out of hand.

Written in the 30s, it is a reminder of just how long this ridiculous War on Drugs has been fought and how many trilli
...more
Harold
Classic noir with some great passages by Ambler. I saw the movie on tv many years ago and while I don't really remember it, it's very possible that I subconsciously remembered enough to anticipate the main plot twist...and enough to realize that Sydney Greenstreet was PERFECTLY cast as Peters. I'll have to revisit the movie to know about the rest of the casting.

This book has all the atmospheric ingredients to make it a heady brew of espionage, drug dealing, assumed idententies - you know - ALL
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David Lowther
Written more than seventy years ago, The Mask of Dimitrios remains as fresh as the day it was published. Its probably 120,000 or so words, plenty long enough to recount this gripping tale. Too many novels today ramble on unnecessarily for 200,000 words plus. Ambler was the master of tight prose, precise location description and effective character description. Once you've met someone, you don't forget them.

The story is set in 1938 and the menace and instability of Europe on the verge of catastro
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Pete Jones
I was surprised by this book. Eric Ambler has been described as the thriller writer of depth and originality who paved the way for John Le Carré, Len Dieghton, and Robert Ludlum. Though this is true, though I should have, I didn’t realize that this was written in the late 1930s. Back then “thrillers” were more sophisticated, and less gut-wrenching and breathless. Folks who are a product of the “new education system” and never learned how to diagram a sentence identifying and understanding subord ...more
Rob Kitchin
Eric Ambler is considered one of England’s finest spy thriller writers preceding the post-war and cold war chroniclers such as Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Ted Allbeury and others. The Mask of Dimitrios has a remarkably contemporary feel, dealing as it does with geopolitical tensions in the Balkans and transnational criminal networks trading women and drugs, and yet it has a historical richness that places it in the late 1930s in which it is set and written. Ambler writers in an assured and econ ...more
Nancy Oakes
Charles Latimer, former lecture of political economy, quits the academic world and becomes a writer of crime fiction, with such titles to his credit as "A Bloody Shovel," "I, Said the Fly," and "Murder's Arms." He does all right as a novelist, and decides one day that he needs a change of scene. Off he goes on vacation to Istanbul, where he meets a Turkish secret policeman, a Col. Haki. Haki contrives some reason to speak to Latimer, then invites him to view a corpse which has recently washed up ...more
Mike Jensen
This is the Seinfeld of thrillers. Nothing happens. Nothing happens but a lot of conversation.

The BLACK MASK writers are said to have had a rule. If the story slows down, send somebody through the door with a gun. Something like this happens twice, about at third of the way through and at the very end. It should have happened in every chapter.

Your enjoyment of this book will depend on how fascinated you are by Dimitrios and how interested you are in the protagonist's laborious conversations abou
...more
FiveBooks
Bestselling spy novelist Charles Cumming has chosen to discuss A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Espionage, saying that:

"...Eric Ambler is the grandfather of the serious spy novel. Ambler was the same generation as Graham Greene, and he was, like a lot of educated people at that time, a kind of proto-Marxist, a socialist. He believed that he could use the thriller not only to entertain but also as a political tool, to say something about
...more
Laura
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mal Warwick
First published in 1939, A Coffin for Dimitrios is widely regarded as one of the best spy novels ever written. That reputation is richly deserved. But it would be a mistake to pigeonhole what may be Eric Ambler’s most accomplished work as merely an espionage novel, as it features few of the familiar devices of that genre — which may be why it’s so highly regarded. However, A Coffin for Dimitrios can be best seen as an historical novel that depicts Europe between the two World Wars, and does so m ...more
Francesca
Very good book, I really enjoyed the plot and the characters as well. Written in an easy way to follow.
John
Perhaps by 1934 standards an interesting book, but not today. Twists and turns but few surprises. Everything was spoon fed melodrama.
Carey Combe
My least favourite of his so far - but he writes so evocatively of a vanished time and place he's hard to put down
Nino Frewat
I'm very much enjoying this. Set in a period (right before ww2) and in an area that is familiar and unfamiliar to me (turkey, Greece, eastern Balkans) that interest me and written in a very smooth and relaxed style: no jumping around, no action, no twists and turns, while still holding the reader's commitment.
(edit) Having finished it and having read the introduction, which I wish the publisher would insert it at the end of the book, I'm amazed that Ambler never set foot in the Balkans or minor
...more
London
Mar 10, 2012 London rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of classic espionage tales
Shelves: espionage, pre-ww2
This is a curious book. A pioneer in the espionage novels, casting an unwitting foreign (a Brit in the two Ambler books I've read) in an espionage plot he only slowly realizes he's entangled in, Ambler created a template that's been used over and over again and remains surprisingly contemporary. Yet, I can't imagine this book being published today because it so often violates the "show, don't tell" rule. For extended passages—sometimes entire chapters—the story is told in letters or paraphrased ...more
Monica Carter
Why are the Brits so good at sophisticated, literary thrillers? Whether it's due to their being a bit reserved and thus the patience to unravel a story at a slow and measured pace or due to their rich literary history that just might be woven into their DNA, Brits rise above the typical confines of a genre to offer the most suspenseful and well-crafted espionage thrillers that includes stalwarts such as Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. Although I haven't read all of Ambler's work, A Coffin for Dim ...more
Monthly Book Group
Unfortunately there is nowadays only limited interest in Ambler. Five of his early books are considered to be classic thrillers, and “The Mask of Dimitrios” (1939 - originally named “A Coffin for Dimitrios”) is the best known of these. It was much applauded from the outset, and the film rights earned Ambler 20,000 dollars.

The book is well crafted and well researched, and both the dialogues and the descriptions (which can be savoured more on a second reading) are brilliant. Some of the issues –
...more
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Eric Ambler began his writing career in the early 1930s, and quickly established a reputation as a thriller writer of extraordinary depth and originality. He is often credited as the inventor of the modern political thriller and John Le Carre once described him as 'the source on which we all draw.'

Ambler began his working life at an engineering firm, then as a copywriter at an advertising agency,
...more
More about Eric Ambler...

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“Yet, when these facts are seen side by side with other facts in the case, it is difficult not to become lost in superstitious awe. Their very absurdity seems to prohibit the use of the words 'chance' and 'coincidence.' For the sceptic there remains only one consolation: if there should be such a thing as superhuman Law, it is administered with sub-human inefficiency.” 12 likes
“A person who searched rooms, brandished pistols, dangled promises of half a million franc fees for nameless services and then wrote instructions to Polish spies might reasonably be regarded with suspicion. But suspicion of what?” 3 likes
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