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Uncommon Danger

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  596 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
Kenton's career as a journalist depends on his facility with languages, his knowledge of European politics and his quick judgement. Where his judgement sometimes fails him, however, is in his personal life. When he travels to Nuremberg to investigate a story about a top-level meeting of Nazi officials, he inadvertently finds himself on a train bound for Austria after a bad ...more
Paperback, 237 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by Penguin Classics (first published 1937)
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Tom Mathews
Dec 30, 2015 Tom Mathews rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 15, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it
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
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 w ...more
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 S ...more
Nov 17, 2015 Charles rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 09, 2011 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2014 Ossian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 09, 2014 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 i ...more
Mar 26, 2014 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 th ...more
Fx Smeets
Dec 07, 2014 Fx Smeets rated it really liked it
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 delig ...more
Dec 11, 2011 Forrest rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonathan Briggs
May 03, 2012 Jonathan Briggs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, t ...more
Idril Celebrindal
Jun 27, 2016 Idril Celebrindal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 05, 2015 Divad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing to read this with the thought that Ambler was inventing the genre as he wrote. Set in the 'innocent' days before the Nazi-Soviet pact, Ambler's characterization of Zaleshoff is a reminder of what was, and as Ambler wrote more than once, (paraphrasing) It's easy to like Zaleshoff. Wish there were more books that included him. Leaves us wondering 'what ever became of him'.
Jeff Carpenter
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 peri ...more
Jul 04, 2010 Lobstergirl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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," an ...more
Jan 07, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, witho ...more
Ed Kohinke sr.
Sep 14, 2014 Ed Kohinke sr. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another excellent Eric Ambler story that takes place in the late 1930's but could easily be rewritten to fit many other times. Easy to read and gripping, very hard to put down! Ambler's second novel, I really look forward to reading (and in many cases, re-reading) the rest of his bibliography.
Jul 11, 2010 Louis rated it it was ok
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
Jul 04, 2011 Andrewh rated it liked it
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 narrat ...more
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.
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 w ...more
Richard Wagner
i enjoyed some of this, it's pretty tame though. it had such a retro feel to it, i mean besides it being set in pre WWII europe. i had to do some searching to find out that it was first published in the 30's. ahh, no wonder.
May 18, 2015 Anil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not in the same class as his other books, but still immensely readable. Greene, Le Carre, Alan Furst a worthy predecessor to these authors.
Rogue Reader
Taut and suspenseful, nice to see a journalist winning out over the real spy guys. Unexpected alliances thanks to a beautiful voice.
Ashish Ghimire
Apr 09, 2016 Ashish Ghimire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could not stop reading this book. I don't know why I have been missing out on such fun. I can definitely believe that Ian Fleming was inspired from Eric Ambler.
Sep 03, 2014 Bevan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ambler is at his best in this exciting, suspenseful book. Exciting from beginning to end.
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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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