Saturday, February 22, 2014

Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler

Between 1936 and 1940, Eric Ambler published six thrillers that changed the genre. After John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, the genre had become stale. Ambler came along and introduced clean, efficient prose, appropriately paced plots, and the theme of the common man pulled into the treacherous world of Europe in the shadow of war. Journey into Fear (1940) is one of these six novels. 

Graham is a British engineer on assignment in Turkey helping with Turkish armaments. At a nightclub, a lady of the house notices a man staring at him and points this out to Graham. He shrugs it off. Later, back in his hotel, quite alone, someone takes a shot at him. As a result of the shooting he is taken to see the Turkish officer, Colonel Haki. Haki, the worldly and streetwise voice of experience, tells Graham that his life is in danger and that he will have to make special arrangements to return to Britain--to his job, his pleasant wife, their house, their car, to the happily normal life of a British engineer. Needless to say, complications intervene as he travels by ship to Italy on his journey to return home. 

Ambler has the touch in these novels. The prose is set just right and the pacing is near perfect. Scenes work, and the characters are drawn to just the right focus. But perhaps most importantly, Ambler perfects the problem of an ordinary person drawn into the intrigues of spies and criminals. His influence on Hitchcock’s famous films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day on a trip to Morocco) or North by Northwest (at least the initial plot conceit) is apparent.  

How good is Ambler in these this classic? Among the very best. Read and enjoy.

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