Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Epitaph for a Spy” as Want to Read:
Epitaph for a Spy
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Epitaph for a Spy

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  3,703 ratings  ·  200 reviews
When Josef Vadassy arrives at the Hotel de la Reserve at the end of his Riviera holiday, he is simply looking forward to a few more days of relaxation before returning to Paris. But in St. Gatien, on the eve of World War II, everyone is suspect–the American brother and sister, the expatriate Brits, and the German gentleman traveling under at least one assumed name. When th ...more
Paperback, 263 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (first published 1938)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Epitaph for a Spy, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Sarah That was my take on it. They were obscene because they were always laughing and acted like fools but they were cunning and she was a concert pianist. …moreThat was my take on it. They were obscene because they were always laughing and acted like fools but they were cunning and she was a concert pianist. They "returned" Heinberger against his will, Koche was fleeing to Prague, and Roux was the spy. No one was what they seemed - except maybe the young Americans! (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,703 ratings  ·  200 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Epitaph for a Spy
Bill Kerwin
Nov 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spies-intrigue

I love genre fiction written by a master, one who can command its memes and not be controlled by them, who can shift—with apparent effortlessness—in and out of subgenres, provoking yet fulfilling our expectations with such assurance that he can craft an exciting entertainment and still have room left over for a few of the higher pleasures of literary fiction. Eric Ambler is a master of the genre of international intrigue, and Epitaph for a Spy(1938)--even with its flaws—is this sort of entertain
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Eric Ambler’s 1938 novel Epitaph for a Spy is a perfect example of his distinctive approach to spy fiction. Ambler’s heroes were not professional spies but ordinary people caught up in the dangerous web of espionage. They do not thereby metamorphose into brave and noble heroes. They remain ordinary people, struggling desperately to survive, blundering through as best they can.

Josef Vadassy is a man without a nationality. Born in a part of Hungary that became part of Yugoslavia after the redrawin
Blaine DeSantis
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love older spy novels. And if you love Film Noir movies, or Alfred Hitchcock films, than Eric Ambler is the author for you! Hitchcock is quoted as calling him a "phenomenon" and reading this book you can see why. Written in 1937 the book takes place prior to WW2 and introduces us to a Hungarian name Vadassy who is taking a brief rest on the southern coast of France before traveling to Paris, where he is a foreign language teacher. Once he arrives at his hotel the fun, intrigue and mystery begi ...more
Didn't quite live up to the promising synopsis. I did enjoy the period and the setting with an isolated French hotel filled with shady characters whose purpose wasn't revealed until the end. For this reader though the ending wasn't as satisfying as I'd expect from the author, a little rushed and incomplete. ...more
This is the second Eric Ambler book I have read after A Coffin for Dimitrios. Although not as classic as Dimitrios, it still is a pretty entertaining spy story. The plot follows an ordinary Hungarian man on vacation at a beach resort in the south of France. From the opening sentence the reader is instantly drawn into the story as the protagonist announcing that he was placed under arrest by the French police. The police confiscate his camera film and discover that there are 10 photographs contai ...more
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
Really taut spy thriller. Well it's not just a spy thriller, there's an awful lot of emotion/relationship dynamics stuff in there. Loved all the camera mentions too, being a vintage 35mm fan.

For practically the whole book I felt like I was reading it with a knot in my stomach. It was that gripping and threatening, you could really see how that situation could happen to the unexpecting Josef. Very realistic basis for quite a wild plot.

But the ending was a tiny bit disappointing. Just didn't reac
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Laura
Shelves: bbc, 2019, audiobooks
19 MAY 2019 - a lunchtime listen-to recommended by Laura. Thank you!

Listen here -

24 MAY 2019 - a very good lunchtime listen-to. Thank you, Laura.
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-fiction
3.75 stars

Acclaimed by Graham Greene as "our greatest thriller writer" in The Lives of the Novelists (Profile Books 2011, p. 450), Eric Ambler has long been familiar to me since my visits at some good bookshops in Bangkok during my college years some 50 years ago. However, it was merely a sort of book cover shopping rather than a serious attempt leading to read his works, that is, I have never read him till I came across this paperback at the Booklover Bookshop one day last June and decided to h
Daniel Polansky
In a pre-war resort town, a stateless Hungarian is forced into service by French secret intelligence. Me and everyone else agree that Ambler is the best spy novelist who ever wrote spy novels; he makes John LeCarre look like Tom Clancy. Not only are the actual mechanics of the plot sharp and believable, but they are framed by a genuine understanding of injustice, both the Machiavellian cruelties of great states and our own internal prejudice.
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this old-school spy mystery by the respected British writer Eric Ambler.

Like some of Ambler’s other novels, Epitaph for a Spy features a relatively ordinary if somewhat naïve man who, through no real fault of his own, finds himself caught up in a mysterious network of intrigue and illegal activities. The man in question here is Josef Vadassy, a languages teacher and Hungarian refugee of uncertain status, who gets into trouble while taking pictures during his holiday in the Sout
Feb 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
I didn't stop once I picked up this book. I liked all the characters, at least I enjoyed watching them relate to each other. I felt as if I was in an Agatha Christie novel, Evil Under the Sun. The main character's voice felt like my own. He was full of doubt, self recrimination, but he grew, matured as the days passed. Very interesting. Good read! ...more
From BBC Radio 4:
As clouds of war gather over Europe, Josef Vadassy, a Hungarian refugee and language teacher, is enjoying his first break in years at a small hotel on the French Riviera. But when he takes his holiday photographs to be developed at the local chemists, sensitive images of the local military facility are discovered on his roll of film. Vadassy is accused of being an enemy agent and of espionage. To prove his innocence, he must become a sleuth to discover the identity of the real s
John McCaffrey
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm late to the Eric Ambler party, but so glad I made it! This is the fourth book of his I have read, the others being 'A Coffin for Dimitrios', 'Light of Day,' 'Journey into Fear", and while these are more popular, and might even be a cut above 'Epitaph for a Spy' in terms of construct and plotting, I still rate this a top thriller. Ambler's power is the patience of his prose, the way he teases out a mystery, sharing only the most essential elements to generate realism, mining Flaubert in this ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it

I have a fondness for this sub-genre of spy novels - the type in which an innocent person gets caught up in some way with espionage and tries to muddle things out while unsure whom to trust. Ambler is one of the creators (if not the creator) of this sub-genre & the excellence of his books is witnessed by the number of authors who have followed in his footsteps.

This novel, though published in the 1950s, is set during the 1930s. Thus tensions are high in Europe & an accusation of espionage is
Paul Cornelius
Suspense aplenty fills the pages of Epitaph for a Spy. In fact, it's the most solidly constructed suspense I've yet read in Ambler's novels. The story itself is a fusion of the classical detective tale and Ambler's own inspired spy thriller format. As he says in his footnote at the end, he tries to bring an element of realism to this story of a stateless language teacher, Josef Vadassy, caught up in a case of espionage while on vacation along the French Riviera. The book also introduces Ambler's ...more
Sep 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: hard-core spy thriller buffs
Recommended to Bob by: bookmarks magazine
Shelves: spys
It was the first Eric Ambler book I have read. I like historical and spy stories and this was both. The main character, Vadassy, gets mixed up in the hunt for a spy while staying at a resort in southern France just prior to World War II. The character is unique in that he is a man without a country, a teacher of foreign languages, who happens to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and finds himself accused of espionage because of he is a foreigner. Ambler's prose can be dry at time ...more
Sally Ewan
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
May I just say, it is hard getting old. More later.....

This was a great spy book. It was like watching an old B&W French movie, where everything was rather mysterious and exotic and you weren't sure what was going on. And the main character was a hapless man caught in a web of intrigue from which he could not escape. So he was forced to go along with the authorities, put his life on hold, and try his best to uncover the spy even though he was a regular guy with no spy-uncovering skills.

Back to t
John Waterworth
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A little gem of a book. A spy story, though not of the average kind. It's a sort of a whodunnit, with all the suspects trapped in the same small hotel a la Agatha Christie and co.. But much more than that. It's also a human drama. The narrator is a stateless individual who is an innocent victim of events and certainly no hero. He muddles through in confusion, makes mistakes, is full of fears, doubts and self-recriminations. A thoroughly likeable chap that the reader easily sympathizes with. It I ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
a modified closed circle mystery, this novel was published in 1938, when menacing clouds were gathering across the horizon of history. the book is permeated by a sense of doom and gloominess. josef vadassy is an ordinary hungarian refugee on a vacation when he is unknowingly thrust into a web of high stakes spy games. set at a quiet hotel in an idyllic french village, the book is very tightly plotted and is a page turner in the true sense. ambler is known for his groundbreaking works in the inte ...more
Ben Delaney
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Cracking little book this, a great one to get you back in to the mindset of spy novels having been away from them for a while!
Foster Winter
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first Eric Ambler book I've read and now, seeing how prolific he was, I was long overdue for the enjoyment.

I particularly appreciated that the writing style let me feel as if the protagonist could have been me. A bit trapped, not a brilliant problem-solver, but doing his damnedest to figure things out. At one point, there is a description detailing his attempt at sleeping, and how agitated he becomes over the situation. Hmmm - been there, done that!

In this small hotel-on-the beach se
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
3.5 to 4 stars. I enjoy spy novels and this was a new author to me. I enjoyed parts of the story; the beginning was the best part. It kind of meandered along for awhile and then the end was a quick wrap up. Listened to this on audio and it was difficult at times with all of the accents to keep track of which characters were which.
Aug 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I liked the first half more then the second.
Carl Yirka
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thriller
Having authored A Coffin for Dimitrios, and The Light of Day, Eric Ambler is known as one of the father’s of the thriller. Since I have read A Coffin for Dimitrios, and seen Topkapi, the film version of The Light and Day, I decided to read one of Ambler’s less well-known books, Epitaph for a Spy.

Epitaph for a Spy is an excellent thriller, set on a small stage but similar in atmosphere to Alan Furst’s wonderful novels of Europe in the 1930s, which I also recommend. The story takes place on the ev
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic spy story.
Igor Lipovčić
Maggie Craig
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
If I could, I would give this 4 and a half stars. I'm working my way through Eric Ambler's 1930s thrillers, which I love. I've taken half a star off here because Epitaph for a Spy hasn't thrilled me quite as much as The Mask of Dimitrios or Journey into Fear. Partially I think this is because the main protagonist, Josef Vadassy, comes across as something of a twit. To be fair, Vadassy thinks this of himself.

There's also just a little bit of rambling in this book. It becomes almost a classic cou
Oscar Despard
Aug 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Epitaph for a Spy' was an utterly engaging story. Josef Vadassy was a truly human, relatable protagonist. He seemed to reflect my own thoughts on everything he did; he never seemed foolish, but was also never ingenious in his plans. He acted as I think I would have done in similar circumstances. His status as a refugee was never overplayed, but his plight invited sympathy for him, and his worry of being deported more so than being imprisoned was an affecting insight into his situation. Above al ...more
John Gribbin
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I have started reading Eric Ambler on the recommendation of a friend. He really is the precursor to the "naturalistic" kind of spy story made famous by Len Deighton and John le Carre, and although a little dated well worth following up. In fact, being a little dated helps in this story, written in the run up to World War Two, which gives a glimpse of the problems faced by political refugees of the time, with lessons very relevant to today and a reminder of the fundamental reasons behind the esta ...more
May 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
I had actually forgotten about reading this book just a few years ago until I recently watched the movie version. [The book was much better and, with the right director, it could easily have been the other way around. Maybe they had problems with the budget.:]

Eric Ambler is one of my favorite authors and I'm really not able to put my finger on why that's the case. His themes have a lot in common with Graham Greene, but there is something about him that is a bit more likeable. His style is almost
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
SSG: Spy/Spec-Ops...: Where are you with your Eric Ambler reading? 3 14 Oct 08, 2019 07:00PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Above Suspicion
  • The Ipcress File (Secret File, #1)
  • The Heat of the Day
  • Ashenden
  • The Great Impersonation
  • Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth
  • The Quiller Memorandum
  • The Case of the Gilded Fly (Gervase Fen, #1)
  • Room at the Top
  • Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger
  • Kingdom of Shadows (Night Soldiers, #6)
  • Blood's a Rover (Underworld USA, #3)
  • Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)
  • The Hustler
  • Berlin Game (Bernard Samson, #1)
  • Midnight in Europe (Night Soldiers, #13)
  • Regálame París
  • Girl, 20
See similar books…
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,

News & Interviews

Looking for a fictional meet-cute in the new year? We've got some steamy novels for you to snuggle up with, including Casey McQuiston's...
40 likes · 7 comments
“Reality is always so obstructive.” 18 likes
“Good' did not triumph. 'Evil' did not triumph. The two resolved, destroyed each other and created new 'evils', new 'goods' which slew each other in their turn.” 11 likes
More quotes…