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Epitaph for a Spy

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,261 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
When Josef Vadassy arrives at the Hotel de la Reserve at the end of his Riviera holiday, he is simply looking forward to a few more days of relaxation before returning to Paris. But in St. Gatien, on the eve of World War II, everyone is suspect–the American brother and sister, the expatriate Brits, and the German gentleman traveling under at least one assumed name. When th ...more
Paperback, 263 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1938)
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The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
105th out of 705 books — 839 voters
The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyOf Mice and Men by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Best Books of the Decade: 1930s
194th out of 456 books — 786 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Bill  Kerwin
Mar 29, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it liked it
Shelves: spies-intrigue

I love genre fiction written by a master, one who can command its memes and not be controlled by them, who can shift—with apparent effortlessness—in and out of subgenres, provoking yet fulfilling our expectations with such assurance that he can craft an exciting entertainment and still have room left over for a few of the higher pleasures of literary fiction.

Eric Ambler is a master of the genre of international intrigue, and Epitaph for a Spy(1938)--even with its flaws—is this sort entertainment
Mar 18, 2012 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 10, 2016 Marita rated it liked it
Not a bad novel, but one that is perhaps past its read-by date.
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
Apr 07, 2016 Sketchbook rated it did not like it
Early Ambler : a spy whodunit. Accidentally switched cameras (today, it's suitcases) and an innocent must try to figure which guest in his hotel has his camera by error. Ambler is "doing" Agatha Christie -- with a W2 spy - and it flops. I like Ambler, but he seems to be fumbling here for a story. Christie, even with preposterous "plots," constantly engages with a potful of vivid characters who keep you howling or squirming. Ambler's 10 or so "suspects" are a droning lot -- and I shouted Enfin! ...more
Feb 25, 2013 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
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
Sep 20, 2008 Bob rated it liked it
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
Jul 20, 2013 Comrade_Bazarov rated it it was amazing
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
Maggie Craig
Aug 31, 2015 Maggie Craig rated it really liked it
If I could, I would give this 4 and a half stars. I'm working my way through Eric Ambler's 1930s thrillers, which I love. I've taken half a star off here because Epitaph for a Spy hasn't thrilled me quite as much as The Mask of Dimitrios or Journey into Fear. Partially I think this is because the main protagonist, Josef Vadassy, comes across as something of a twit. To be fair, Vadassy thinks this of himself.

There's also just a little bit of rambling in this book. It becomes almost a classic cou
Aug 31, 2013 Marilou rated it really liked it
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!
Carl Yirka
Nov 07, 2011 Carl Yirka rated it really liked it
Shelves: thriller
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
Oct 21, 2013 Tony rated it really liked it
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
An easy to read spy thriller written in 1938. The book was exciting, but I think it could have been more challenging. The plot was too simple and there was quite a few unrealistic events. What I really liked though was the characters. Ambler is excellent at personifying his characters withour it getting too exaggerated, but they still get enough characteristics to easily remember who is who.
May 16, 2014 William rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 27, 2013 Margaret1358 Joyce rated it really liked it
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
May 19, 2009 Robert rated it really liked it
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
Feb 12, 2013 Betty rated it really liked it
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
May 18, 2016 Durdles rated it it was amazing
Wrong man in the wrong place. An Alfred Hitchcock set-up as virtually stateless, Hungarian-born, Paris-based English teacher and amateur photographer, Josef Vadassy is enjoying a few days holiday on the Cote d'azure just as Europe, on the brink of World War II, is awash with spies. Fetching his holiday snaps from the local pharmacie he is summarily arrested and accused of possessing photographs of local French military establishments. Aghast at this and the realisation that he will likely be dep ...more
Steve Greenleaf
Reading what for me is the latest installment from Eric Ambler (originally published in 1938), I can’t help thinking of a Hitchcock movie. Not any particular one—perhaps The Many Who Knew Too Much with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day or North by Northwest with Cary Grant would be exemplars—where ordinary persons become entangled with espionage. In this case, a person loosed from the protections of citizenship by the shifting sands of European nationhood suffers a problem, a big problem, when someone ...more
Peter N.
Jun 14, 2014 Peter N. rated it really liked it
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
Oct 26, 2013 Nick rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 03, 2009 Stuart rated it liked it
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.
May 07, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 16, 2012 Jake rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 26, 2012 Michele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mark Mctague
Aug 03, 2016 Mark Mctague rated it really liked it
Having read many of Ambler's books as a teenager, I thought they might have lost their appeal or been eclipsed by other writers like John le Carre, but I realized that his writing had lost none of its pacing or intrigue. In fact, I was reminded of why critics have said that everyone since Ambler has owed him a debt of gratitude for making the espionage thriller, like Chandler and Hammett did for the detective novel, into darned good reading, if not great literature. If this genre is your cup of ...more
Sam Bissell
Dec 28, 2015 Sam Bissell rated it really liked it
I'm on a tear through Eric Ambler's espionage works and am seriously impressed with everything he wrote. EPITAPH FOR A SPY is told from the perspective of a man arrested by French police for suspicion of taking photographs of a military installation during the war, presumably World War II. While he lingers at a retreat along with a dozen other possible suspects, he is left with the task of determining which guest is the actual spy, in order to clear his own name. With only 3 1/2 days to figure o ...more
Bruce Beckham
Sep 18, 2014 Bruce Beckham rated it liked it
This book is part of Ambler's informal 'amateur sleuth' series, and resembles an Agatha Christie whodunit, set in a hotel on France's Cote D'Azur. The protagonist - a stateless immigrant - finds himself press-ganged by the authorities to unmask a spy among the cast of residents.

I am enjoying the collection, but Ambler is no Agatha, and in this case the development of the various suspects felt somewhat superficial and random. I once heard Melvin Bragg comment that he imagined it would be simple t
May 09, 2008 Rae rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
A teacher on vacation is mistaken for a spy and is then forced into espionage by French authorities. A very psychological read.
Aug 22, 2012 John rated it really liked it
economical and insightful writing; gripping in a cerebral laid-back way.
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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 about Eric Ambler...

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“Reality is always so obstructive.” 13 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.” 9 likes
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