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Background to Danger

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  615 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
Kenton's career as a journalist depended on his facility with languages, his knowledge of European politics, and his quick judgment. Where his judgment sometimes failed him was in his personal life. When he finds himself on a train bound for Austria with insufficient funds after a bad night of gambling, he jumps at the chance to earn a fee to help a refugee smuggle ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published October 9th 2001 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1937)
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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
196th out of 715 books — 849 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
301st out of 460 books — 834 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Tom Mathews
Dec 30, 2015 Tom Mathews rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Tom by: anyone wh loves spy stories.
Eric Ambler is one of my favorite authors with good reason. He is the quintessential thriller writer. Even Ian Fleming called Ambler the inspiration for his James Bond series.
Background to Danger has all the thrills of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. English journalist Kenton finds himself in hot water when he agrees to help a fellow European traveler smuggle some 'securities' out of Germany in the final days before World War II. Before he knows it, Kenton is on the run, hunted by the police for mur
Feb 11, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ann by: Qt - thanks so mcuh for the recommendation, Q!!!!
I'm am surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did! It's not the typical type of story I read. The mysteries I'm used to reading are far more "fluffy" than this. However, the characters in "Background to Danger" were so intriguing and - oddly enough, warm - that I found myself sucked into the characters as much as the mystery.

I've only given this four stars because, really, of my own personal tastes and lack of knowledge on the countries and foreign relationships the story deals with. I'm sure the
Steve Greenleaf
Nov 18, 2012 Steve Greenleaf rated it liked it
Before Graham Greene (and his in his so-called “entertainments"), before Len Deighton, before Robert Ludlum, before John Le Carre, and before Alan Furst, there was Eric Ambler. Ambler is often credited as the father of the contemporary thriller. Perhaps, John Buchan deserves the title, but Ambler is the recognized master. Ambler, who started writing these the 1930s, sets the tone for fast-paced, international intrigue. Many years ago, I read Ambler's A Coffin for Dimitrios, which I enjoyed, so I ...more
Jul 10, 2011 Daniel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2009
I just re-read the back of this book, and I do not recognize any of the plot details described. If what memory I do have serves, then this was one of my least favorite books amongst Ambler's repertoire (the top favorite being the most excellent "Coffin for Dimitrios"). The main issue (again, if I am remembering the right book) was that the whole package did not come together as it does in some of Ambler's other work. The different locales, the over-arching conspiracy, the every-man protagonist ...more
Sep 15, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ambler, Eric. UNCOMMON DANGER. (1937). ****.
In pre-WW-II Europe, Kenton, a free-lance journalist is in Nuremburg investigating a story about a top-level meeting of Nazi officers. He gets his story, then takes the time to join in on an organized card game at his hotel. In spite of knowing better, he plays until he loses his last mark. An acquaintance there offers to lend him 100 marks, and Kenton accepts. He boards a train to Vienna, where he has a friend who might be able to lend him more money
Dec 09, 2011 Martin rated it really liked it
Eric Ambler was a precursor to John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum (says the jacket copy), and this novel is set in eastern Europe during the run-up to World War II, first published in 1937. It's a great story, urbane and literate, told in efficient, elegant prose, with a lot of historical interest due to its era and locale.
Thomas Oberbichler
Great book. I love the spirit of hope and the determination to make a contribution for a better life on this planet—and the story is full of suspense, I like the way Ambler built his characters and love the his playful language.
Definitely a recommendation from me
Dave Morris
At his best, no one can touch Ambler for tense, page-turning thrills. This is not his best. There's too much action with too many characters towards the end, with whole chapters that read like a summary of a shooting script, robbing the story of the close viewpoint and intensely personal conflicts that makes the earlier parts go down so smoothly. Still, Ambler handles all the threats and twists expertly. It's a far cry from a Jack Reacher book, put it that way.

Worth it for the scenes with Mr Hod
Jan 11, 2014 Ossian rated it it was ok
This is one of Eric Ambler's first spy novels, and it's just OK. A silly plot that hasn't aged well. A broke but honorable British journalist risks life and limb in 1937 Europe to restore stolen documents from some bad guys to some good guys. The bad guys are the international oil business, in this case Romanian, while the good guys are, ahem, the Soviet Government.


Oh, it's well enough crafted, with danger and suspense and that film noir feel that is characteristic of Ambler and was perfect
Jürgen Zeller
Jun 04, 2016 Jürgen Zeller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seit ein paar Jahren versuchen einige Verlage etwas in Vergessenheit geratene Autoren wiederzubeleben. Dabei wird der angesammelte Staub von den Buchdeckeln gepustet und die Werke in neuer Aufmachung auf den Markt gebracht. Ein Roman der vor vielen Jahren die Leser zu Begeistern wusste, ist nicht schlechter geworden, nur weil ein paar Jahre ins Land gezogen sind. Eric Ambler gilt sogar als einer der Begründer des Thriller Genres. Sein erstes Buch erschien 1936 und er hat während vierzig Jahren ...more
Jonathan Briggs
May 03, 2012 Jonathan Briggs rated it really liked it
Down-at-the-heels journalist Kenton (if he has a first name, I missed it) is riding the rails through a Central Europe quailing under the ever-tightening fist of Nazi Germany when he meets a squirrelly fellow passenger named Herman Sachs who shares a smelly snausage and offers Kenton a chance to make an easy buck (or pound or mark or euro or whatever): All he's gotta do is stick some papers under his shirt when they cross the next border. Why do noir heroes ALWAYS agree to this??!! Of course, ...more
Dec 11, 2011 Forrest rated it really liked it
This was my second encounter with Ambler, after reading A Coffin for Dimitrios last summer. Although Dimitrios runs deeper and is probably the more accomplished book, this earlier example of Ambler's work is a lot more fun, with plenty of 1930s spy action, a few lovable characters and many touches of tongue-in-cheek humor.

The political backstory -- a carefully plotted struggle involving Romania, Big Oil, the Soviet Union and fascist provocateurs -- is very deeply grounded, with a realism and det
Nov 17, 2015 Charles rated it it was ok
First, the review above is not for "Background to Danger".

"Background" is about a freelance reporter named Kenton who down on his luck agrees against his better judgement (but not financial need) to carry some suspicious papers across an international frontier. The story revolves around the difficulties of eventually delivering the papers.
As with all Ambler's books set in pre-WWII Europe. Its interesting to read the author's explanation of the current world politics when he has no knowledge of t
Jan 07, 2013 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, 2013
There is something that really appeals to me about pre-Cold War spy stories, and in particular these books of Ambler's that take place in the build-up to WWII. There are so many shifting alliances and plays to gain control of some natural resource (here, oil), the motivations that drive the action seem so much less a matter of black and white ideological differences, and, in a sense, the stakes feel a bit lower. That could be a bad thing, but here it makes it easier for the book to be fun, ...more
Jul 04, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Alan Greenspan
A comically, ridiculously convoluted plot involving espionage photos, oil drilling concessions, anti-Semitism (Jew-Communists), war propaganda, Russia, Rumania, Bessarabia, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. The political intrigues are actually not so farfetched, but the action is. Of course, there are countless absurd escapes from certain death. I did enjoy it, despite the two stars, but it's not the best writing. I got distracted by all the sentences beginning with "then" and "suddenly," ...more
Jul 11, 2010 Louis rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I would have given this three stars, but the main character was just so unlikeable. The book should have ended on page 70, with him handing the documents over and taking the money - but no, he had to be a stubborn arse.

It's obvious Ambler hates everyone and everything - I don't think any European nation escapes his scorn. The one likeable character is Russian, but that doesn't make for all the other entirely two-dimensional, evil Russians, Ro(u)manians, Brits, Germans...the list goes on. And on
Eric Ambler was a 'fellow-traveller' as they used to say in the good old days when people had belief systems, and this short novel explores some of the themes of big business being in league with fascism in the pre-WWII era. The story is fairly ludicrous (seedy journalist down on his luck stumbles into a plot in central Europe to install a nazi-compliant government in Romania, in cahoots with London businessman, and then takes part in resolving events with soviet spies) but the fast-paced ...more
Feb 17, 2012 Ensiform rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
In 1937 Austria, a journalist named Kenton is caught up in intrigue when a shady figure convinces him to hide some photographs which turn out to be Russian military secrets. A fairly entertaining spy story, with lots of intrigue, twists and chases. There are a few clunky moments, such as the matter of where Kenton has hidden the photos (they would be easily recovered by the villain, who is stymied) and the classic “villain holding heroes at gunpoint gives away his plan” bit. On the whole, this ...more
Jeff Carpenter
Mar 01, 2014 Jeff Carpenter rated it liked it
Shelves: spy, movie-made-from
This is my first experience reading Ambler's work although I have seen the movie of the same name previously. The movie roughly follows the outline of the plot in the book although it does take some liberties that significantly speeds up the story. Eric Ambler is a founding father of the modern suspense novel, some would say the inventor of it. I personally feel John Buchan deserves some credit in this respect also as he was penning these same types of stories in approximately the same time ...more
Apr 09, 2014 Tom rated it it was amazing
My second read of this book ... always fun to read Ambler, the godfather of espionage, and in one of the time periods so fascinating to me - just before the outbreak of WW2. In this book, with some rather profound quotes about the hyper wealthy and their control of politics and workers, the good guys are a couple of Russian spies intent on recovering some photographs of hypothetical war plans that, if released to the Rumanians, would have driven them quickly into Hitler's arms. The protagonist ...more
Mar 26, 2014 Brian rated it it was ok
Pretty poor prose -- one sentence begins "Suddenly he rose abruptly" -- and a ton of tell without a lot of show. I didn't give a damn for the main character, who had nothing to him, and didn't feel the Maguffin was clearly explained. The stakes of the whole mission were whatever. There were some fairly well done scenes of tension -- a torture scene in particular was troubling, in a good way -- there were also a lot of scenes of needlessly expository dialogue. This was of the school of writing ...more
Fx Smeets
Dec 07, 2014 Fx Smeets rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The plot is not quite as clerverly built as The Mask of Dimitrios. It feels at times as if Ambler rushed the writing: easy dialogues, inconsistencies in character building, laughable plot tricks. If this book was only a spy thriller, it would not be a very good one. But Ambler writes about history and politics. He writes about intelligence between the two world wars. He does so with a depth of sight, a precision in the details and a shrewdness which make the reading of this old spy novel a ...more
Nov 25, 2012 Garry rated it liked it
Early Ambler. The signs of the later brilliance are there, and the novel is full of the atmosphere of foreign intrigue...darkened by the looming advance of WW II, but the plot is a little overly convoluted in relation to the pay-off of the revelations. A must-read for Ambler fans, but not for those who are new to his work or for those with only a casual interest. Intriguing worth looking at and thinking about as a literary precursor to post WW II film noir...the seeds for that dark view of the ...more
After a lengthy hiatus from reading, I thought it best to reaquaint myself to books with something pacy that would have the pages turning themselves with gleeful abandon. A thriller, then. The only issue I have with many of the thrillers I’ve sampled over the years is that the writer is never any good. Yes, they sell loads, but their style hovers at such a surface level what counts for characterisation appears to be the colour of a person’s hair and how many pounds they weigh.

Read my full review
Idril Celebrindal
Jun 27, 2016 Idril Celebrindal rated it really liked it
Another "kept me sane" book. I sat in a car on a 5-lane highway, literally unmoving, from 9:30 pm to 12:30 am while a flaming tractor trailer was cleared away. Heat and noise and bright lights (it was like that scene from The Right Stuff where they test the astronaut candidates on their handling of sensory stressors; I was not Gordo Cooper) nearly prompted me to dive into the fire myself; instead I read while (nominally) driving a car.
Apr 16, 2012 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller, fiction
A solid thriller which was said to have inspired many subsequent authors and filmmakers. Apparently Ambler first came up with the hapless yet decent hero who gets caught up in circumstances beyond their control as an antidote to the prevailing boys own heros in tweed.

Additional spice is given from the fact that the novel was written in 1937 and serves as a window into how a left wing English author saw the world at that time. Well worth reading.
Iheke Ndukwe
I think this book was compelling. If you are looking for complex characters or plots, this is not a book for you. All the characters are one dimensional and the plot operates at a relatively simplistic level however, it is concisely written with the intention of driving the reader to its satisfying ending. I must make clear that nothing written above constitute a damning criticism of the book. This book is great "spy" fiction.
Mar 23, 2009 Josh rated it it was ok
Book 3 of the dudes' bookclub, now officially known as "The League of Ordinary Gentlemen." This is a British spy novel, written in 1937. It's generally very linear, and you know all you need to know by page 100, but what was interesting about it was how poignant it must have been in the months and years following its release. Ultimately non-required reading, but pretty continental and an interesting take on the approaching war.
Apr 27, 2010 Cera rated it it was ok
Huh. This was interesting, but I expected the story to be much more complex than it turned out to be. Is this just because I'm not used to the genre (spy novels), or because it's from the 1930s? Anyway, not a waste of my time, but nothing special. Some of the characters may stick with me, though.
Bruce Beckham
Sep 30, 2014 Bruce Beckham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another enjoyable Eric Ambler mystery/thriller, with a theme of espionage and subterfuge set in central Europe just prior to WW2. This is something of a 'frying pan to fire' roller coaster adventure, perhaps in lieu of any real story development, but nonetheless it held my interest through distinctive characters and the authentic feel of the times.
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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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“They don't talk the same language as us. I don't mean that they don't speak English, but that their minds are different. They're like animals, and because I hate the sight and sound of them, and because you're a Britisher, I'm telling you to get out now while the going's good.” 2 likes
“It was the power of Business, not the deliberations of statesman, that shaped the destinies of nations. The Foreign Ministers of the great powers might make the actual declarations of their Governments' policies; but it was the Big Business men, the bankers and their dependents, the arms manufacturers, the oil companies, the big industrialists, who determined what those policies should be.” 1 likes
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