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Cause for Alarm

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,072 ratings  ·  103 reviews
The classic 1930s thrillers of Eric Ambler took the crudely patriotic certainties of John Buchan and gave them a salutary shake. Nick Marlow, the hero of Cause for Alarm is an engineer who likes to think of himself as a plain man, above politics; when he takes a sales job in Mussolini's Fascist Italy, it never occurs to him as relevant that his predecessor was killed by a ...more
Paperback, 271 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by Penguin Classics (first published 1938)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Three and half stars rounded down.

Eric Ambler was one of the granddaddies of the spy novel. Both Graham Greene (no slouch in this department) and Alfred Hitchcock sing his praises on the cover of this edition. His Journey Into Fear is one of the best books I’ve read in this genre. So how was this one?

This book was written in 1938 and Ambler wears his leftist leanings quite comfortably on his sleeve. Two of the major characters are thinly disguised Soviet agents and the whole Commie solidarity th
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Cause for Alarm has all the ingredients of a typical WWII British espionage novel. Think John le Carre, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer, etc. There are plenty of those British writers who specialize on spy novels during that time in Europe and I could have easily given this at least a 3-star rating. Not only because I like spy novels but also because they are about World War II in Europe. I am a sucker for anything about Hitler, Fascism, Nazi, etc.

But I am giving this only a 2-sta
Set prior to WW11 Nick Marlow is an Engineer who is suddenly made redundant. He wants to get married and to achieve that aim he takes a position in Italy. Unfortunately things at the Italian branch of the firm are not as they seem and Nick soon finds himself out of his depth.

Not my favourite Eric Ambler by any means. Found the protagonist Nick Marlow to initially be a bit "thick" and he did whine at times. It wasn't until the last third of the novel that the story started to motor along and gai
One of the reasons why I took to the Night Soldier books by Alan Furst is because I was ready for his every man versus the fascists escape reads by reading Eric Ambler. Like others I tend to agree that Cause for Alarm could be better and in particular there is so much detail building to a not so much ending.

Cause for Alarm is a version on the 39 Steps/North by Northwest spy plot. An unsuspecting person, in this case a British depression era, out of work engineer, takes a job that sends him into
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Cause for Alarm" is a novel by Eric Ambler first published in 1938. Set in Italy in the same year, the book is one of Ambler's classic spy thrillers. For a person who isn't a big fan of spy thrillers, classic or otherwise, I sure end up reading a lot of them. This one I enjoyed. I looked up Eric Ambler and found that he was a British author of spy novels who used the pseudonym Eliot Reed for books co-written with Charles Rodda. I wonder why he did that, and I also wonder why Charles Rodda didn' ...more
Kimmo Sinivuori
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"My dear Mr. Marlow, you already are a spy."

Eric Ambler's Cause for Alarm is one of the best suspense novels I have read. It tells the story of an Englishman Nick Marlow who gets involved in a high stake game of espionage in Fascist Italy just before the Second World War. Marlow is an engineer who is made redundant from a London factory and due to the great depression finds it impossible to land a new job in England. Out of desperation he accepts a job as a Milan based sales representative of a
Elizabeth (Alaska)
What fascinated me most about this was it's publication date of 1938. The Axis of Germany and Italy had recently been established - the villain of this piece was one German in particular, and also the general fascist movement in Italy. The protagonist is an ordinary Englishman, an engineer. Not surprisingly, characterization is not the primary draw, though not just awful either. The prose is perhaps not quite literary quality, but more than acceptable. The plot and its development good.

This is
John McCaffrey
Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ambler always delights me in his tried and true formula for spinning the spy thriller. In Cause for Alarm, he trots out again his successful theme of the average guy swept into something profoundly not-average. This time the guy in question is a recently unemployed engineer, Marlow, who accepts a position in Italy for a firm that builds machines that make bullets. Thrust into a job he knows little about, in a country sliding toward Fascism, he soon realizes his predecessor was not only selling s ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
Enjoyable espionage story of a young Engineer in need of a job who takes a posting to Milan in the shoes of someone whose death was suspicious, and finds himself out of his depth in a world of corruption and intrigue as the European powers jockey for position in the run up to World War II. May suffer from a lack of violence and gunfire for modern tastes, but the tension is maintained efficiently - being stuck between Fascism and Communism - and Ambler is notable as the bridge that connects the g ...more
Scott Head
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Partial spoilers present:

Ambler is the father of the literary spy novel. That much is long settled by the testimony of masters with well-known names like Graham Greene, John LeCarre, and Alan Furst. Sadly, his body of work in the espionage and political thriller genre spans only five books, and depending on how you count up later novels, maybe a few more. The rest seem more like political dramas set post WWII. "Cause for Alarm" was written in 1937. Ambler is keenly aware of the political climate
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eric Ambler was a great writer of spy thrillers, and a great writer, period. His books are well-written, humane, intelligent, and subtle.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
"...while the central character is as realistic as you or me, the storyline is still completely implausible, which is after all what readers of spy novels want."

Dear me, this hasn't aged well at all, and I couldn't wait to get to the end of this one. According to Wikipedia, Ambler is known for his thrillers. I can't say I was thrilled at any stage while reading this lame account of a particularly pathetic British engineer who ends up the victim of espionage agents in pre-WW2 Fascist Italy.

Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Probably 4.5 stars but I will have to round it down, as it isn't a five star read.

Some other reviews compare it unfavourably with Le Carre and refer to Ambler's leftist tendencies. I can't quite agree with these as you have to remember that this book was published in 1938. It is the equivalent of a spy story set amongst the Brexit negotiations or within the power plays of Trump's USA, Putin's Russia and Xi's China with North Korea the focus of their plotting.

Ambler is warning his readership agai
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The story in this novel falls in to halves. In part one we meet Nick Marlow, a young engineer ,who in 1937 has lost his job and having just become engaged he takes a job in Milan for a company that manufactures shells in a very volatile Italy. In the prologue we has seen market's predecessor murdered by suspicious baddies. In Milan Marlow is drawn into a political situation where forces seek to undermine the Rome-Berlin axis and Marlow becomes the innocent fall guy.
The second half is an exciting
Roger Pettit
I love reading espionage fiction. One of my favourite writers of the form is Eric Ambler, whose novels started to appear in the 1930s. His work has an air of realism about it that seems to me to be missing from the more gung-ho stories of his predecessors such as Sapper, John Buchan and Dornford Yates. In fact, Ambler started a trend for engaging, historically and politically aware, credible spy fiction that has since given us such wonderful writers as John Le Carre, Len Deighton, Charles McCarr ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Machine engineer Nicky Marlow finds himself out of a job and, in a time of recession, can't find another . . . until the Spartacus company hires him to take over their Milan office following the tragic hit-and-run death of their previous manager there. Before the rather naive Nicky properly knows what's going on, he's up to his ears in international skulduggery, with his life very much at risk . . .

As soon as I started reading this I recognized it, and recalled thoroughly enjoying it; I must hav
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Ambler. Reading him is like living in a great Hitchcock film for a few days. To my way of thinking, for spy novels, Ambler and Charles McCarry are better than LeCarre.

Here's a great passage from Cause for Alarm:
“The gods, like most other practical jokers, have a habit of repeating themselves too often. Man has, so to speak, learned to expect the pail of water on his head. He may try to sidestep, but when, as always, he gets wet, he is more concerned about his new hat than the ironies of
Keith Currie
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Italy in 1938, Nicky Marlow is a young engineer selling British shell making machinery to the Italians. Fascist and Nazi secret services take an interest in his activities, as well as a Soviet spy, Zaleshoff.

This is another terrific adventure story from Eric Ambler, as the hapless but honest Marlow finds himself (in common with most of Ambler's heroes) deep over his head in a murky world of intrigue, betrayal and murder.
This was an excellent spy novel with interesting characters and plot. Eric Ambler is a talented writer and his words just flow off the page into what I found to be a real page-turner. The novel has a classic 'noir' feeling and is very entertaining. If you like spy novels, then I am sure you would enjoy this one.
Nicholas Vaughan
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this story. Ambler is becoming a favourite of mine. This was the second novel of his after the Mask of Dimitrios. What next?
Ryan La Fleur
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is something supremely satisfying, and a bit nostalgic, in reading classic thriller novels. It doesn’t matter if it’s the annoyingly optimistic enthusiasm of Americans in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games , the charmingly pessimistic defeatism of the British in John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy , or Stella Rimington’s At Risk , or even the arrogant sophistication of the French in La Femme Nikita. (I know that one’s a movie and not a book but my ...more
Laurence Westwood
Written in 1937, the plot of Cause for Alarm revolves about a naive English engineer, Nicky Marlow, who, in need of work, takes on a job for an engineering company as its agent in Milan, Italy, selling machines used in the manufacturing of armaments. After leaving his fiancee behind, Nicky Marlow, travels to Italy, discovers that the previous incumbent in his position had been murdered, and that both Nazi agents and Soviet agents are very interested in the work he is doing. Somehow he is going t ...more
Paul Cornelius
Eric Ambler once more incorporates his Russian-American brother/sister team, Zaleshaoff and Tamara, into another first rate thriller. Not quite as good as Background to Danger, where another unwitting Englishman is brought under the influence of the brother and sister Soviet spy tandem, Cause for Alarm is nonetheless engrossing on its own merits.

In this story, Nicholas Marlow, a recently unemployed English engineer, takes a job with a British firm in Italy. He does so out of desperation for work
Joan Kerr
It’s an oldie (1938), but a goodie, as they used to say on the radio when they played an old song. Oh for the days when the hero and his fiancée sat in the back row at the pictures holding hands. As that hero Nick Marlow might say, it’s a rattling good yarn, with an extended manhunt worthy of Richard Hannay in 'The Thirty Nine Steps'.

A severe manufacturing downturn in Britain leads Nick to take a job running the Milan branch of a British company that makes armaments for Mussolini’s government. N
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Esppionage/thriller buffs
Preface sets you up for another classic Ambler and highlights what a remarkable character he was himself. An anecdote re him and John Huston in war-time Italy in 1943 when an already half-destroyed bridge is being shelled and their jeep gets stuck on it. "Really lieutenant, this is most precarious," Ambler laconically remarked to the driver as recounted by Huston. The bon vivant Irish-American -- who along with other great directors from Hollywood like George Stevens and John Ford took time out ...more
Mark McTague
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bearing in mind that this was published in 1939, it has a very modern feel to it. The plotting is tight, the pace brisk, the dialog sharp, and the description of characters and settings economical yet vivid. Not for nothing do Graham Greene and John Le Carre point to Ambler as the Godfather of modern suspense thrillers. I gave this 4 stars because I did like it, but not quite "really." It's good in so many ways, and I only had one complaint, but it was annoying and has not appeared in any of his ...more
Annabel Frazer
I bought this new because of the fantastic cover of the Penguin paperback reissue - not the edition shown here, sadly. I am trying to read all Ambler's pre-war thrillers, having heard them all raved about. So far, the only one I've really enjoyed is Epitaph for a Spy Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler

This one didn't really work for me either. I find Ambler's characterisation is weak and his settings can be perfunctory. While he's good at pace and tension, if you don't care about the people involved and can't visualise the se
Jean-françois Baillon
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Eric Ambler is probably one of the most important forgottent geniuses in British literature and film. His contribution can hardly be overrated. Beyond the extraordinary cycle of spy thrillers that he contributed in the 1930s there are also some of the most wondeful film scripts ever written for the British film industry, such as "The October Man" (1947) and "A Night to Remember" (1958), both directed by Roy Ward Baker, another underrated talent. "Cause for Alarm" is just another of Ambler's bril ...more
Nancy Stein
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Confession, I am an Ambler fan. His writing voice is straight forward, clear, and easy to follow. This makes for a really good bedtime read. The story keeps one engaged enough to stay up while not leaving the reader feeling too bad about saving a bit for the next night.
In true Ambler style, the hero is not Bond, but an ordinary fellow who finds himself in unusual predicaments. Cause for Alarm is set in Italy on the brink of WW II with the protagonist just arrived from England to head up a Britis
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars, rounded up. Ran across the Penguin Modern Classics version during a layover at Heathrow. This is archetypal in that it is heavily plot driven, sparse in literary flourishes and includes several improbable scenarios. Not my typical genre and yet ... written in 1937 and set in Italy this is a fantastic time capsule of interwar Europe when it was not yet clear WWII was inevitable. The plot of an unwitting English engineer fumbling through fascist Italy was really entertaining. Ambler wro ...more
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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,

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