Richard's Reviews > The Dark Frontier

The Dark Frontier by Eric Ambler
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's review
Apr 06, 09

bookshelves: classic, espionage, fiction, thriller
Recommended to Richard by: A character in an Alan Furst novel.
Read in April, 2009

This was a pleasant read for a number of reasons.

First, Eric Ambler is apparently considered by many espionage writers to be the founding father of the field. John le Carré (The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) described him as "the source on which we all draw."

Second, in 1935 he somehow took what little was publicly known about atomic theory and realized that E=Mc^2 indicated that a hypothetical "atomic bomb" would be massively destructive and politically destabilizing. So he decided to take the idea and write a "political thriller" about it. In his 1989 introduction, he wrote "In 1935 I knew, theoretically, that E probably equaled Mc^2, but could not quite accept the numerically awesome consequences of the equation. I mean, c^2, was such a huge and weird multiplier." So the device he conceived of as "a little larger than a Mills grenade" wasn't nearly as destructive as the multi-ton bomb actually manufactured. And, of course, he had to create the science behind his invention out of whole cloth, so it is quite anachronistic.

And third, as an anachronism, a spy thriller from before World War II is a pleasant diversion from the complexities that have emerged since then, not the least of which is the nuclear specter he somewhat predicted.

The fourth and final reason is the book itself: Ambler uses the tired plot device of amnesia in a delightful way -- perhaps it wasn't a cliche when he wrote this, but it still serves to reinforce the relative innocence of his time.

This is a book that can be read in a single long evening, and I heartily recommend it.


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