Rob Kitchin's Reviews > A Coffin for Dimitrios

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
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May 13, 12

Read in December, 2010

Eric Ambler is considered one of England’s finest spy thriller writers preceding the post-war and cold war chroniclers such as Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Ted Allbeury and others. The Mask of Dimitrios has a remarkably contemporary feel, dealing as it does with geopolitical tensions in the Balkans and transnational criminal networks trading women and drugs, and yet it has a historical richness that places it in the late 1930s in which it is set and written. Ambler writers in an assured and economical manner, leading the reader on a well paced journey across Europe and into encounters with a variety of complex characters. The real strength of the book is its plotting and ambiguities. Latimer is neither hero nor victim, but rather an ordinary citizen that finds himself on an obsessive path that veers into a different world and its morals. Indeed, it is difficult not to conclude that the present master of the ambiguous, everyday spy thriller, Alan Furst, has modelled his writing to an extent on Ambler’s (and if I’d read the book without knowing the author I would have guessed that Furst had written it). There are a couple of plot devices that feel contrived and one of the principal characters, Mr Peters, doesn’t quite feel right (he’s a remarkably sophisticated character in terms of his reading, language skills and conduct, and yet his path through life does make these qualities unlikely). Regardless, Ambler skilfully blends history, intrigue and characters to produce a fine read.
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