Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eric Ambler's Background to Danger

Before Graham Greene (and his in his so-called “entertainments"), before Len Deighton, before Robert Ludlum, before John Le Carre, and before Alan Furst, there was Eric Ambler. Ambler is often credited as the father of the contemporary thriller. Perhaps, John Buchan deserves the title, but Ambler is the recognized master. Ambler, who started writing these the 1930s, sets the tone for fast-paced, international intrigue. Many years ago, I read Ambler's ACoffin for Dimitrios, which I enjoyed, so I was happy to find a copy of Background to Danger and plunge back into Ambler's work. I was not disappointed.

Background to Danger starts with an international correspondent who's lost most of his money gambling, and finds himself sharing a compartment on a train with a stranger who claims to be a Jewish refugee escaping Nazi agents with some important documents. I won't go into further detail, as the plot moves quickly from that basic premise. Ambler’s writing is fast-paced and clear, with enough character to draw in the reader. His plot lines, as you may recognize from the brief teaser I just gave you, would suit perfectly for an Alfred Hitchcock movie. In fact, that's a good question, whether Hitchcock ever used any of Ambler’s works for any of his movies. He certainly could have.

You don't get the characterization and depth in Ambler that you do in Greene or Le Carre, but you do get the fast-paced intrigue at a level similar to what we find currently in Alan Furst. If you're looking for a fine read of intrigue set in the volatile Europe of the 1930s, you would have a hard time doing better than Ambler’s work.

No comments: