Epitaph for a Spy
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Epitaph for a Spy

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  1,387 ratings  ·  70 reviews
In a French village near the Riviera, on the eve of World War II, mild-mannered teacher Josef Vadassy stops to pick up his vacation photos. Before he can admire the fruits of his favorite hobby, he is promptly arrested for espionage.
Paperback, 263 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Vintage (first published 1938)
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Community Reviews

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Dfordoom
Eric Ambler’s 1938 novel Epitaph for a Spy is a perfect example of his distinctive approach to spy fiction. Ambler’s heroes were not professional spies but ordinary people caught up in the dangerous web of espionage. They do not thereby metamorphose into brave and noble heroes. They remain ordinary people, struggling desperately to survive, blundering through as best they can.

Josef Vadassy is a man without a nationality. Born in a part of Hungary that became part of Yugoslavia after the redrawin...more
Bob
Sep 20, 2008 Bob rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hard-core spy thriller buffs
Recommended to Bob by: bookmarks magazine
Shelves: spys
It was the first Eric Ambler book I have read. I like historical and spy stories and this was both. The main character, Vadassy, gets mixed up in the hunt for a spy while staying at a resort in southern France just prior to World War II. The character is unique in that he is a man without a country, a teacher of foreign languages, who happens to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and finds himself accused of espionage because of he is a foreigner. Ambler's prose can be dry at time...more
Sean
This is the second Eric Ambler book I have read after A Coffin for Dimitrios. Although not as classic as Dimitrios, it still is a pretty entertaining spy story. The plot follows an ordinary Hungarian man on vacation at a beach resort in the south of France. From the opening sentence the reader is instantly drawn into the story as the protagonist announcing that he was placed under arrest by the French police. The police confiscate his camera film and discover that there are 10 photographs contai...more
Hannah
Really taut spy thriller. Well it's not just a spy thriller, there's an awful lot of emotion/relationship dynamics stuff in there. Loved all the camera mentions too, being a vintage 35mm fan.

For practically the whole book I felt like I was reading it with a knot in my stomach. It was that gripping and threatening, you could really see how that situation could happen to the unexpecting Josef. Very realistic basis for quite a wild plot.

But the ending was a tiny bit disappointing. Just didn't reac...more
Comrade_Bazarov
a modified closed circle mystery, this novel was published in 1938, when menacing clouds were gathering across the horizon of history. the book is permeated by a sense of doom and gloominess. josef vadassy is an ordinary hungarian refugee on a vacation when he is unknowingly thrust into a web of high stakes spy games. set at a quiet hotel in an idyllic french village, the book is very tightly plotted and is a page turner in the true sense. ambler is known for his groundbreaking works in the inte...more
Marilou
I didn't stop once I picked up this book. I liked all the characters, at least I enjoyed watching them relate to each other. I felt as if I was in an Agatha Christie novel, Evil Under the Sun. The main character's voice felt like my own. He was full of doubt, self recrimination, but he grew, matured as the days passed. Very interesting. Good read!
Ed
More of an English country house mystery transplanted to the French Riviera--a crime must be solved, espionage in this case; one of the twelve guests at the hotel is the criminal and there is a time limit, in this case our protagonist Josef Vadassy has to get on the train to Paris Sunday evening to make the start of the new semester at the language school where he teaches.

The plot is thin and unconvincing--there are too many outrageous coincidences and one deus ex machina-like appearance althou...more
Carl Yirka
Having authored A Coffin for Dimitrios, and The Light of Day, Eric Ambler is known as one of the father’s of the thriller. Since I have read A Coffin for Dimitrios, and seen Topkapi, the film version of The Light and Day, I decided to read one of Ambler’s less well-known books, Epitaph for a Spy.

Epitaph for a Spy is an excellent thriller, set on a small stage but similar in atmosphere to Alan Furst’s wonderful novels of Europe in the 1930s, which I also recommend. The story takes place on the ev...more
William
Eric Ambler is another fine writer of another era who is not read nearly so much as he should be these days. Journey into Fear and The Mask of Demetrios are better known, possibly because films were made, but I think this is his best book. Genuinely original, and a departure for the author, because although it has the trappings of a spy story, it's really more a mystery.
Margaret1358 Joyce
Written earlier - '37 - than others of Ambler's spy stories, this tale is deliciously whimsical (but not without some heavier brush strokes for the looming darkness in Germany). It is a fast read, less complex than the later narratives. The setting - a resort in the south of France - is described so well that one can almost feel the breezes off the Mediterranean and taste the salt in the air. The protagonist, an Ambler signature style unassuming fellow, is a 32-year old language teacher who find...more
Robert
I had actually forgotten about reading this book just a few years ago until I recently watched the movie version. [The book was much better and, with the right director, it could easily have been the other way around. Maybe they had problems with the budget.:]

Eric Ambler is one of my favorite authors and I'm really not able to put my finger on why that's the case. His themes have a lot in common with Graham Greene, but there is something about him that is a bit more likeable. His style is almost...more
Betty
Feb 12, 2013 Betty rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: spy
I am an Ambler fan, but I was not over the moon with this one, though I liked it fine. I think Ambler got better in the later books (this one was his third). When it was published in 1938 in England, according to American critic Howard Haycraft, it was notable for pushing the action out of the hands of diplomats and professionals to catching up a common man into the intrigue. It was a bit like an Agatha Christie with a cast of ten potential bad guys and an amateur sleuth, but better because of t...more
Peter N.
enjoyed this thriller, though not as much as "Coffin for Demetrios" or "Journey Into Fear" (it has more in common with the latter: an "innocent" thrust into a wilderness of lurking dangers and espionage often having to dangle by his own wits)-

One point not stressed by others: it's quite interesting to see how Ambler, on the cusp of WWII develops characters that come to embody the "major powers" poised (or not) for war. A young American brother-and-sister; as innocent as they appear? A British co...more
Nick
A classic of the spy genre, and only a little dated. Good fun, with a breathless conclusion that will set your heart racing as you race across the rooftops in pursuit of the spy and nemesis. The novel neatly captures the simultaneous statelessness and shifting allegiances of the citizens of Europe just before WW II. It reads like a black and white movie from the early days of the spy films of the era. It's a quick and delicious read.
Stuart
A cross between Agatha Christie and Hitchcock, this is a classic detective thriller. An innocent bystander is caught up in a spy-ring and, against his will, becomes a pawn in a political game of cat and mouse. Very enjoyable and a reminder of a time when dinner when always a black-tie event. You can almost taste the gin and tonics and smell the cigars.
Jim
Enjoyable spy novel from the 1930s set in a resort in the south of France. The author successfully creates a shy academic with no detective ability as the central character who, due to a mix-up, must assist the police in ferreting out the spy. This character's struggles add both humor and a feeling of on-going nightmare to the novel.
Jake
An engaging, fun read. I love the Hitchcock-esque tale of a person who unwittingly gets pulled into a conspiracy. Eric Ambler has the right alchemy of drama, intrigue and humor mixed together in this one. It will not be my last read of his.
Michele
An excellent story. An engaging and sympathetic protagonist for whom I felt deeply when he was being treated more like a pawn than a person. Beautifully written by Ambler. Will definitely be hunting for more of his stories at the library.
Rae
May 09, 2008 Rae rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: mystery
A teacher on vacation is mistaken for a spy and is then forced into espionage by French authorities. A very psychological read.
John
economical and insightful writing; gripping in a cerebral laid-back way.
Tony
EPITAPH FOR A SPY. (1952). Eric Ambler. ****.
If you haven’t read any of Ambler’s novels, I’d recommend that you start with this one. He manages to clearly tell his story and develop a heightened sense of danger without leaving the reader at a loss. The story is simple. A man, Josef Vadassy, is on a vacation in the south of France. He is ultimately on his way back to Paris where he teaches a variety of languages at a school there. He has a confusing background: born in Yugoslavia, he moved to Ger...more
Kenyon Harbison
I picked this up because Alan Furst, whose spy novels I have been enjoying (I have three reviews posted) stated that he was a great admirer of Ambler.

I can see why. Ambler, like Furst, does not write conventional spy thrillers. (Of course, this book was written in the 1930's, so that's part of it.) Epitaph for a Spy follows a very unlikely "spy," Joseph Vadassey, who is a country-less ex-Hungarian conscripted by a devious French commisariat into helping locate a spy at a hotel on the French coas...more
Mark
(Belated addition of my Thanksgiving plane reading.) Ambler invented the modern spy novel, and this is his first major work, goes the party line, but as a spy hunt it's basically an Agatha Christie murder mystery -- the hermetic setting and closed-set subject list, which each suspect characterized by a set of jolly quirks, and each one carrying a secret that makes him or her behave suspiciously. In the context of the mystery novel genre, making the detective a socially awkward amateur (there's a...more
Louis
What can I say? I was seduced by the cover - despite a certainty that I would dislike all spy novels, I bought five of these (...there was a special...) and now let's see how it goes.


OK - well it wasn't as bad as I feared. There were plot holes, moments of monumentally bad writing, and things that just seemed too easy (find who has a camera? An expensive yacht sails up and everyone gets their camera out. Someone broke into my room, who has an alibi? Conveniently everyone was on the beach watchin...more
Alex
Seems unique in the spy thriller genre, in that it's treated as more of a light-hearted fool's journey. It's interesting to read this after reading The Light of Day, written twenty-something years later, in which the theme of people with uncertain citizenship status is revisited with more bitterness.
Jeffrey Franklin Barken
A nice fast read thriller, Many characters, but the protaganist Vadassy, is a bit too innocent. the way the action is staged, (everything takes place at a hotel where many mysterious and sinister characters are staying)I think it would have made a better play...
Monique
Dated book of the spy henre where a man vacationing in a resort in the 1930's is mistakenly accused of committing a murder. In a twist, the police frees him and orders him to find out who the real spy is from all the guests at the resort.

The language is elegant, reflecting a time when manners were important, there is none of the fast-paced action that characterizes current spy novels. A good intro to what will become a major genre.
Leonie
It's becoming a pet peeve of mine how almost every book written during WWII (in this case just before) has at least one review complaining about how it doesn't have enough period detail. Period detail laid on is the biggest giveaway of inauthenticity. Anyway, I liked the atmosphere of this book. It's always nice in genre fiction when the author goes for the "How would this play out if this was real life and not a genre novel?" route, and here we have a hero placed in the role of detective who ju...more
Alberto
Just a regular whodunit. I read some other title by Ambler, Levanter, The and found it way more interesting.
Jane Massy
Beautifully captures fear of the innocent vulnerable in a world where anxiety pervades how everyone sees the 'other' different persons
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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...
A Coffin for Dimitrios Journey Into Fear Cause for Alarm The Light of Day Background to Danger

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“Reality is always so obstructive.” 9 likes
“Good' did not triumph. 'Evil' did not triumph. The two resolved, destroyed each other and created new 'evils', new 'goods' which slew each other in their turn.” 7 likes
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