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The Mask of Dimitrios

(Charles Latimer #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  8,253 ratings  ·  644 reviews
A chance encounter with a Turkish colonel leads Charles Latimer, the author of a handful of successful mysteries, into a world of sinister political and criminal maneuvers. At first merely curious to reconstruct the career of the notorious Dimitrios, whose body has been identified in an Istanbul morgue, Latimer soon finds himself caught up in a shadowy web of assassination ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 9th 2001 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1939)
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Warren From what I can make out the title was "The Mask of..." everywhere except in the US, where it was changed to "A Coffin for..." So you're right. …moreFrom what I can make out the title was "The Mask of..." everywhere except in the US, where it was changed to "A Coffin for..." So you're right. (less)
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Bill Kerwin
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing

When I first heard “ISIL” substituted for “ISIS,” I thought “What the heck does the 'L' stand for?” Somebody told me it stood for “the Levant,” and I immediately thought of The Mask of Dimitrios,” my favorite novel of international intrigue.

What is “the Levant”? It is the once-fashionable term for the countries of the eastern Mediterranean rim, comprising ancient Canaan and Asia Minor: Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey. Add to this the Levant's primary areas of influence—Cyprus,G
Jeffrey Keeten
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies
”A man’s features, the bone structure and the tissue which covers it, are the product of a biological process; but his face he creates for himself. It is a statement of his habitual emotional attitude; the attitude which his desires need for their fulfilment and which his fears demand for their protection from prying eyes. He wears it like a devil mask; a device to evoke in others the emotions complementary to his own. If he is afraid, then he must be feared, if he desires, then he must be desir ...more
Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was a fun read. According to the jacket this was the first novel in which an everyman is caught in a web of international intrigue. It is very reminiscent of the 39 Steps. One could see Sydney Greenstreet, for example, in the role of Mister Peters. (Or, as it turns out, one did, and forgot that he had. Oops)

Greenstreet as Peters in The Mask of Dimitrios

The protagonist, Mister Latimer, is an economist turned mystery writer who meets a Turkish head of Secret Police in Istanbul. He comes alo
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british
A Better Hope

Anthony Hope, John Buchan, Erskine Childers, and Eric Ambler stole my youth, or at least its imagination. They taught me two important things: that rumours were probably true; and that the world was culturally English (or wanted to be). The first piqued my boyhood interest in conspiracy; the second provided reassurance that conspiracy would be thwarted by virtue. Both these things turned out to be false. But I have no regrets about believing either.

No one seduced me more effectively
Richard Derus
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: borrowed, returned
Excellent between-the-wars spy story that sets the bar for later entries into the genre. The tale has also given numerous parts of itself to other writers. A solid bit of Charade, that delightful 1963 Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn spies-in-Paris story, came from this 1939 tale.

But the main thing about reading the book, the primary pleasure unavailable to viewers of the 1944 film The Mask of Dimitrios, is that the movie timeframe makes the story more or less a highlight reel. It also seemed a bit off
So surprising for me to find this early spy novel to be among the best for tapping into the heart of the “Game” that nations have plied against nations to stay ahead. I read that Ambler finished this work at the perilous time when the Nazis were invading Czechoslovakia in 1939. The lead character Charles Latimer is a novelist who like Ambler himself, gets inspired about international intrigue from the multicultural society he experienced in Istanbul. As a teenager I made the trip he took by boat ...more
Steven Godin
Sometimes digging around in the past is just a bad idea, and for British crime writer Charles Latimer he certainly ends up way out of his league, after befriending an inspector from the Turkish police while staying in Istanbul he learns that master criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos has just been fished out the water, killed by an apparent knife to the back. Latimer takes an interest in this mysterious Dimitrios and decides to try and delve into his history to write a true crime novel rather one of ...more
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastically gripping journey into an ordinary man's obsession with the life of a detestable criminal.

After the apparent death of wanted criminal Dimitrios Makropolous in Turkey, mystery writer Charles Latimer is drawn into an "experiment in detection" despite his better judgement. He begins tracing Dimitrios's mysterious past, traveling across Europe to uncover any information he can about his life and past exploits. Each criminal affair Latimer uncovers becomes a fascinating episode, with b
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
“But it was useless to try to explain him in terms of Good and Evil. They were no more than baroque abstractions. Good Business and Bad Business were the elements of the new theology.”
― Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios


It is hard not to like Eric Ambler's amateur spies. They aren't reluctant, rather lucky and persistent. They seem to have seeded an entire generation of suspense novelists. Reading Ambler I see exactly what inspired le Carre, Furst, Steinhauer, etc. Ambler has a voice and styl
Tristram Shandy
“In a dying civilization, political prestige is the reward not of the shrewdest diagnostician, but of the man with the best bedside manner. It is the decoration conferred on mediocrity by ignorance.”

If you like your crime fiction a bit different from the eternal parlour games staged by writers like Agatha Christie, try reading The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler, and you will experience a virtuoso mixture of a novel of detection and a portrait of Europe in the first half of the 19th century, a
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anything that is published by Penguin Modern Classics is instantly alluring in my mind and, given I’d heard positive things about Eric Ambler, I was keen to sample his work. I’d heard that 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1939) (aka 'A Coffin for Dimitrios') was one of his very best.

Charles Latimer, an English crime novelist, is in Istanbul where he meets Colonel Haki of the Turkish secret police. Haki tells Latimer about Dimitrios Makropolous, a murderer, drug dealer, assassin and general rogue, whose
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"[Dimitrios] had the appearance of being tame, but when you looked into his brown eyes you saw that he had none of the feelings that make ordinary men soft, that he was always dangerous."
Published prior to World War II (but aware of some of the tensions), this is a more cerebral spy novel featuring a crime writer who ends up investigating a murder. The novel starts with Latimer in Turkey, talking about his crime writing, and learning about a current police case. He sees the corpse of Dimitrios,
Sam Quixote
Set (and written) in the late 1930s, Charles Latimer is an English mystery novelist who learns about the roguish life of Dimitrios after he’s taken to view his corpse in the morgue. Murder, slavery, drugs, gambling, prostitutes – Dimitrios had his fingers in a lot of pies! Latimer becomes obsessed with the man’s life and decides to write a biography of the chap, following in his footsteps as he meets Dimitrios’ former criminal associates to build up a portrait of the complex figure. But Latimer’ ...more
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: espionage
If I'd read this in 1939, I'm sure I would have been breathless with astonishment. But I've read John Le Carre and Alan Furst, I know too much about the ugliness of World War II, and in our day and age, we all know about the hypocrisy and duplicity and self-interest of nations.

But Eric Ambler invented this genre, political mystery/thrillers raw with realistic criminals and spies, describing the brilliance, decadence, shabbiness and ambiguity of the secret world.

Enter Charles Latimer. A retired
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Good:
So much tension! This is very well written and had me second guessing everyone. The settings are gorgeous, illustrating the magic and paranoia of interbellum Europe. And Mr Peters is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever read.

The Bad:
(view spoiler) The protagonist was also a bit dull, obviously written to appeal to the target audience of
Shirin Tondkar
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
The first Eric Ambler book I read was a good experience. Charles Latimer is an English spy thriller writer because of his curiosity, struggled in the middle of a Spy Thriller himself try to chase an old criminal known as Dimitrios. Don't be so curious to make trouble.

''Don't try!''.
Patrick Sherriff
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-and-such
An excellent crime thriller from the 1930s. Better than Agatha Christie. My full review is here: ...more
Dec 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2008
One night, I went out with a friend, who also reads, and met up with some of his friends, most of whom also read. I sat across from this guy who worked at a local Barnes & Noble with my friend, and this guy and I started talking books. I mentioned that I had just read my first book by Alan Furst, and that I loved how he set an espionage story in Europe on the eve of World War II. I haven't read Furst, he said, but I really like Eric Ambler. Right there, that little literary alarm went off in my ...more
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime
'I am sorry,' said Latimer uncomfortably. 'The real reason why I want this information from you is so peculiar that I hesitated to give it.'

An excellent crime novel that well deserves its classic status.

Latimer is a mystery writer on holiday. He's supposed to be writing his next book--especially now that he doesn't have his Oxford salary to depend upon--but instead, he's treading water. He finds himself introduced to a Colonel Haki who has a mysteriously high and dangerous position with the
Nancy Oakes
Jul 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spy-fiction
Charles Latimer, former lecture of political economy, quits the academic world and becomes a writer of crime fiction, with such titles to his credit as "A Bloody Shovel," "I, Said the Fly," and "Murder's Arms." He does all right as a novelist, and decides one day that he needs a change of scene. Off he goes on vacation to Istanbul, where he meets a Turkish secret policeman, a Col. Haki. Haki contrives some reason to speak to Latimer, then invites him to view a corpse which has recently washed up ...more
Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
You can smell Orson Welles off the pages - or maybe it's Graham Greene? Nevetheless it's the start of the war years in Europe circ. late 1930's and there is the innocent bystander who is drawn into a world that he truly doesn't understand. In other words welcome to the world of Eric Amber.

The classic suspense writer and this is a great classic thriller. And back to Welles, it reminds me of The Third Man - not in plotting, but just the feel of dread in Europe at the time. But wait Third Man takes
Went into this mystery/thriller with certain expectations. I did enjoy the period and the setting of the novel but I did have an inkling early on how the mystery/thriller component would turn out. There weren't a lot of surprises in store.

My favourite characters were the shady Peters and Colonel Haki whose presence was quite minute unfortunately. Charles Latimer was a likeable enough main character but his presence was often overshadowed by the other characters.
Mark Van Aken Williams
May 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Not only is this novel THE masterpiece “thriller,” but it is THE original, departing from the crime fiction traditions of Doyle, Simenon, and Hammett. The dramatic value of adventure comes when the unadventurous man is inserted into the world of commerce and becomes involved in desperate matters through no fault of his own. It is not a world of good and evil. Ambler writes, “They were no more than baroque abstractions. Good business and Bad Business were the elements in the new theology. Dimitri ...more
Lyn Elliott
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, thrillers
A good read. It's held up amazingly well, and though the locations deadly power games played by Dimitrios have shifted in today's world, you can't help recognise techniques for fomenting discord.
The central plot device (naive mystery writer sets out to satisfy curiosity) seems pretty shaky to me, and some of the tools used to advance the narrative are clunky (the letters that Latimer writes to the Turkish policeman to bring him up to date, for instance). I'm surprised I hadn't read it before, gl
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, thriller
Charles Latimer is a full-time writer of what we might now called 'cosies', detective novels set in English country houses and the like, with lurid titles such as A Bloody Shovel, Murder's Arms and No Doornail This. Having given up a post in academia to dedicate himself to his new métier he is travelling around Europe contemplating a new plot when he unexpectedly meets up with a fan in Istanbul.

It turns out Colonel Haki is a police inspector, who happens to mention that a body has just been retr
Jun 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, thriller of the things I know about myself is that I'm not a big thriller or spy novel fan. There have been exceptions over the years. For instance, I went through a tiny phase of reading James Bond books and I'm very fond of Pierce Brosnan as Bond in film (of course, I'm fond of Pierce Brosnan in just about anything). And I like the less serious Avengers with Steed and Emma Peel (television version, please). I love the Maltese Falcon with Bogart. In fact, you might say that I prefer my thriller ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller
I found this novel to be meandering, and it had too much first person narrative for my liking. A writer is taken to see the remains of Dimitrios, who has a checkered past. The writer then decides to look into his life, and discovers much more than is known by the police who found the body. I did not realize until reading the afterword that this book was written in the 1930s.
Robert Kettering
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I give this one five stars because I've heard that it was the first of its kind (international espionage thriller) and because it was one of those books I hated to end. Eric Ambler was a first-writer...P.S. I prefer the title given to it in the UK, "Mask of Dimitrios", which I think was the also title of the Hollywood movie. ...more
Shobhit Sharad
Most of the crime/mystery books that I've read usually have a background of England. This book was an interesting tour of many countries, including Turkey and Greece and France. Eric Ambler very skilfully painted the pictures for the different countries, all the places and people are vividly clear and distinguishable in my mind.

Many detective authors try and make their stories sound realistic by saying things in their book like "If this was a book it would have been easy, but this is real life
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Bestselling spy novelist Charles Cumming has chosen to discuss A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Espionage, saying that:

"...Eric Ambler is the grandfather of the serious spy novel. Ambler was the same generation as Graham Greene, and he was, like a lot of educated people at that time, a kind of proto-Marxist, a socialist. He believed that he could use the thriller not only to entertain but also as a political tool, to say something abo
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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 Carré 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,

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