Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Cause for Alarm” as Want to Read:
Cause for Alarm
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Cause for Alarm

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  631 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Nicky Marlow needs a job. He’s engaged to be married and the employment market is pretty slim in Britain in 1937. So when his fiancé points out the Spartacus Machine Tool notice, he jumps at the chance. After all, he speaks Italian and he figures he’ll be able to endure Milan for a year, long enough to save some money. Soon after he arrives, however, he learns the sinister ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 19th 2011 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1938)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Cause for Alarm, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Cause for Alarm

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,596)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Three and half stars rounded down.

Eric Ambler was one of the granddaddies of the spy novel. Both Graham Greene (no slouch in this department) and Alfred Hitchcock sing his praises on the cover of this edition. His Journey Into Fear is one of the best books I’ve read in this genre. So how was this one?

This book was written in 1938 and Ambler wears his leftist leanings quite comfortably on his sleeve. Two of the major characters are thinly disguised Soviet agents and the whole Commie solidarity th
K.D. Absolutely
May 24, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Cause for Alarm has all the ingredients of a typical WWII British espionage novel. Think John le Carre, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer, etc. There are plenty of those British writers who specialize on spy novels during that time in Europe and I could have easily given this at least a 3-star rating. Not only because I like spy novels but also because they are about World War II in Europe. I am a sucker for anything about Hitler, Fascism, Nazi, etc.

But I am giving this only a 2-sta
Apr 03, 2015 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics

"Cause for Alarm" is a novel by Eric Ambler first published in 1938. Set in Italy in the same year, the book is one of Ambler's classic spy thrillers. For a person who isn't a big fan of spy thrillers classic or otherwise I sure end up reading a lot of them. This one I enjoyed. I looked up Eric Ambler and found that he was a British author of spy novels who used the pseudonym Eliot Reed for books co-written with Charles Rodda. I wonder why he did that and I also wonder why Charles Rodda didn't g
Apr 12, 2015 orsodimondo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inglese, spy-story
Era davvero da tanto che non leggevo un romanzo di Eric Ambler.

A suo tempo mi deliziò con Epitaffio per una spia, Topkapi-La luce del giorno, La maschera di Dimitrios, il cui film aveva la carta geografica a tutto schermo attraversata dalla locomotiva (molto prima dell’aeroplanino di Indiana Jones) – e quell’altro film, sul furto al Topkapi, con Melina Mercouri e Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell e l’Akim Tamiroff che ha partecipato a diversi splendidi film di Orson Welles
Elizabeth (Alaska)
What fascinated me most about this was it's publication date of 1938. The Axis of Germany and Italy had recently been established - the villain of this piece was one German in particular, and also the general fascist movement in Italy. The protagonist is an ordinary Englishman, an engineer. Not surprisingly, characterization is not the primary draw, though not just awful either. The prose is perhaps not quite literary quality, but more than acceptable. The plot and its development good.

This is
Kimmo Sinivuori
Mar 11, 2015 Kimmo Sinivuori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"My dear Mr. Marlow, you already are a spy."

Eric Ambler's Cause for Alarm is one of the best suspense novels I have read. It tells the story of an Englishman Nick Marlow who gets involved in a high stake game of espionage in Fascist Italy just before the Second World War. Marlow is an engineer who is made redundant from a London factory and due to the great depression finds it impossible to land a new job in England. Out of desperation he accepts a job as a Milan based sales representative of a
Roger Pettit
I love reading espionage fiction. One of my favourite writers of the form is Eric Ambler, whose novels started to appear in the 1930s. His work has an air of realism about it that seems to me to be missing from the more gung-ho stories of his predecessors such as Sapper, John Buchan and Dornford Yates. In fact, Ambler started a trend for engaging, historically and politically aware, credible spy fiction that has since given us such wonderful writers as John Le Carre, Len Deighton, Charles McCarr ...more
Aug 02, 2014 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Machine engineer Nicky Marlow finds himself out of a job and, in a time of recession, can't find another . . . until the Spartacus company hires him to take over their Milan office following the tragic hit-and-run death of their previous manager there. Before the rather naive Nicky properly knows what's going on, he's up to his ears in international skulduggery, with his life very much at risk . . .

As soon as I started reading this I recognized it, and recalled thoroughly enjoying it; I must hav
Dec 21, 2009 Corey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Ambler. Reading him is like living in a great Hitchcock film for a few days. To my way of thinking, for spy novels, Ambler and Charles McCarry are better than LeCarre.

Here's a great passage from Cause for Alarm:
“The gods, like most other practical jokers, have a habit of repeating themselves too often. Man has, so to speak, learned to expect the pail of water on his head. He may try to sidestep, but when, as always, he gets wet, he is more concerned about his new hat than the ironies of
Keith Currie
Apr 28, 2015 Keith Currie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Italy in 1938, Nicky Marlow is a young engineer selling British shell making machinery to the Italians. Fascist and Nazi secret services take an interest in his activities, as well as a Soviet spy, Zaleshoff.

This is another terrific adventure story from Eric Ambler, as the hapless but honest Marlow finds himself (in common with most of Ambler's heroes) deep over his head in a murky world of intrigue, betrayal and murder.
False Millennium
Nicky Marlow needs a job. He’s engaged to be married and the employment market is pretty slim in Britain in 1937. So when his fiancé points out the Spartacus Machine Tool notice, he jumps at the chance. After all, he speaks Italian and he figures he’ll be able to endure Milan for a year, long enough to save some money. Soon after he arrives, however, he learns the sinister truth of his predecessor’s death and finds himself courted by two agents with dangerously different agendas. In the process, ...more
Jul 02, 2015 Maryann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001
Nick Marlow is a young engineer in London who has lost his job due to cutbacks. WWII is on the horizon and he is engaged and desperate to not lose his fiancee and his dignity, so he takes a job in Italy temporarily. While he's there to just do his job, the shady details of his predecessor's death bring certain characters and events into his life that he cannot avoid, no matter how much he wants to.

This is a fun story to read. Espionage and international political dynamics are not usually someth
May 21, 2015 Varun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir, spy-thriller
Eric Ambler was one of the earliest exponents of spy fiction,who has influenced a large number of future spy writers like John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth and it is easy to understand why.Ambler has a certain knack for poetic language,with plenty of brilliantly written passages.The mystery here too is very good,we are subtly revealed all the details one by one unlike modern day exposition heavy thrillers.The violence too is fairly minimum as this was more of a cat and mouse affair between Mar ...more
This was an excellent spy novel with interesting characters and plot. Eric Ambler is a talented writer and his words just flow off the page into what I found to be a real page-turner. The novel has a classic 'noir' feeling and is very entertaining. If you like spy novels, then I am sure you would enjoy this one.
Procyon Lotor
Particolare e plausibile spy-story ambientata a Milano sul finire degli anni '30 con triplogiochisti e autorit corrotte.. Situazione classica ambleriana dove un Signor Simplicio, nonostante l'acutissima fidanzata che da lontano - senza troppi elementi a far confusione - capisce tutto assai meglio di lui che c' in mezzo, finisce incastrato in uno schema. Notevole la ricostruzione degli ambienti e metodi dell'OVRA ed in genere del cot fassista. Ambler aveva evidentemente fonti serie a disposizione ...more
Bruce Beckham
Usually I only manage a handful of pages before I fall asleep, and I have found this series of 1930s espionage novels ideal bedtime reading.

There are generally few characters, a simple plot, and undemanding prose - so I can pick up where I dropped off the previous night, with little back-tracking.

I've been enjoying the insight these stories provide into pre-war Europe, at a time when movement across frontiers was still possible, if risky at times.

Ambler employs a recurring plot, in which a civil
May 21, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read and enjoyed Ambler before, read this cause it's on the "1001 Books" list. Ambler wrote many of his spy novels in an odd time, I think, the immediate pre-war period, so there was plenty of history happening but no one could of predicted what would come next. As with many very influential writers, his stuff, while effective on its own terms, has been done so many different ways since, both transcendent (Alan Furst, Philip Kerr) and not so much (Ludlum and 1000 others) that it's hard to judge ...more
Even though the book was written before the WWII broke out, it is dripping with it, and one would never guess that it was written later. The setting of the prewar years and Italy is what makes this novel an intriguing read, as these are uncommon scenarios in a WWII story. That is really what drew me in. Like Ambler's A Coffin For Dimitrios the protagonist is a regular guy who gets progressively caught up in dangerous affairs well beyond his experience. Unfortunately the writing contains some mom ...more
Nicholas Vaughan
Mar 13, 2016 Nicholas Vaughan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this story. Ambler is becoming a favourite of mine. This was the second novel of his after the Mask of Dimitrios. What next?
Feb 24, 2016 Asa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John Defrog
Jan 12, 2016 John Defrog rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my second time reading Ambler, who is generally credited with bringing realism to spy novels in the 1930s. The premise: in 1937, British engineer Nicky Marlow accepts a job in fascist Italy at a Brit-owned manufacturing firm specializing in machines for shell production. Marlow soon finds himself being courted by mysterious men with secret (and opposing) agendas – and at least one of whom may be responsible for the death of Marlow’s predecessor. Similar to the hero in Ambler’s Epitaph Fo ...more
Dec 19, 2015 Roseb612 rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books, thrillery
Velmi zajímavé především z pohledu data vydání - vyšlo to v roce 1938, tudíž ještě před dějinami, které následovaly, ale přitom kniha působí jako psaná už s vědomím následujícího. Především řada postřehů o ose Berlin - Roma je zajímavá. Hlavní hrdina Nicky mě docela dost vytáčel - byl to naivní chlápek, které se rozhodl bezmezně věřit někomu, koho vůbec neznal (navíc tu hraje i fakt, že sovětský špión u nás příliš sympatií nepobere). Zvláštní je kapitola s profesorem Beronellim - jakoby do knihy ...more
Nov 26, 2011 Marc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's the late 1930s (1938?), and English narrator Marlow has just lost his job as a factory production manager. Eager for employment (he is engaged to be married), he applies for and accepts an unlikely position: to serve as the Milan representative of an English armaments manufacturer. Having just entered into the Axis alliance with Nazi Germany, Italy is a hotbed of espionage, and Marlow, because of his access to Italian weapons factories, immediately attracts the attentions of various spies a ...more
Nov 14, 2008 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ambler, Eric. CAUSE FOR ALARM. (1938). ****. About twenty pages into this thriller from Ambler, I realized that I had read it before – but it must have been so long ago that my recall was about two pages behind the written word. It is a typical Ambler thriller: Someone who is not a spy or an operative of any kind is caught up in a web of intrigue through which he must navigate to come out the end in one piece. In this case, our hero is Nick Marlow, an engineer who is out of work because his empl ...more
Ici, je m'en souviens, je relus ma prose. Quelle idiotie ! Un lamentable effort pour sourire à travers des larmes imaginaires.

A l'instant suprême, ses petits yeux inquiets avaient dû s'emplir d'épouvante.

Le programme de ma soirée était déjà arrêté : dîner tranquille, cinéma, puis un repos bien gagné. Maintenant, j'étais un fugitif traqué par la police secrète italienne, un voyageur sans billet qui se cachait dans les lavabos et qui allait sauter d'un express en marche.

Il descendit derrière moi.
Jan 13, 2009 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess when you write as many books as Eric Ambler did, you tend to fall into a pattern. Cause For Alarm is definitely formulaic, which is both good and bad. It has the usual realistic and beautifully rendered locations, and the typical cast of nysterious characters; these are good things. I do wish that the usual naive English protagonist would eventually wise up, or at least realize what he is getting into. But if he can't do that, could he please spare us the all-too-frequent outbursts of i ...more
Apr 06, 2011 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Spy Novel Fans
Given that this book was written in 1938, it is a thrilling story that has weathered the years very well.

Nick Marlow, the hero of Cause for Alarm is an engineer who thinks of himself as an apolitical doer. He takes a sales job in Mussolini's Fascist Italy, and immediately becomes embroiled in all sorts of problems. His clerk is a spy for Italy's fascist government. He is pursued by a buffoonish General Vagas to supply information about the armament factories he visits trying to sell his machine
Dec 12, 2014 zespri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first Eric Ambler spy novel I have read, but enjoyed it so will be looking out for more.

This book was written in 1938, which makes it even more interesting, as was written pre-war, but the rumblings come through loud and clear.

Marlow is an interesting character, who stumbles into a situation which is way above his head, and the ensuing escape and resolution make for a great yarn.

Dec 26, 2009 Ugh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this: the first two thirds are the story of a well-meaning but largely unsuspecting and naive man allowing himself to be drawn well over his head into a dangerous situation, and his interactions with the other characters are excellent entertainment. The final third is a bit more generic thriller territory, hence the three stars instead of four, but I think I'll be reading some more Ambler in the not-too-distant future...

Favourite quote: " and me, Marlow, we're still in with the o
Nov 05, 2015 Divad rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amazing aspect of these early Ambler books is that he was inventing the genre as he wrote. I read this before Background to Danger/Uncommon Danger, and got to skimming the last third. After finishing that book, I went back and finished this... it lags a bit in the middle, but still quite readable.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 53 54 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Blood of Victory (Night Soldiers, #7)
  • The Green Hat
  • The Birds Fall Down
  • Blind Man with a Pistol (Harlem Cycle, #8)
  • Cutter and Bone
  • The Defection of A.J. Lewinter
  • The Last Supper (Paul Christopher #5)
  • Fantômas (Fantômas, #1)
  • Stettin Station (John Russell, #3)
  • Alberta and Jacob
  • The House of Doctor Dee
  • The Confidential Agent
  • The Canary Murder Case (A Philo Vance Mystery #2)
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 about Eric Ambler...

Share This Book

“Ballet is merely a new rationalization of society's instinctive movement towards self-destruction. A dance of death for the Gadarene swine.” 0 likes
More quotes…