Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Light of Day: Eric Ambler


From the summary at Goodreads:
"When Arthur Abdel Simpson first spots Harper in the Athens airport, he recognizes him as a tourist unfamiliar with city and in need of a private driver. In other words, the perfect mark for Simpson’s brand of entrepreneurship. But Harper proves to be more the spider than the fly when he catches Simpson riffling his wallet for traveler’s checks."
The narrator of this book, Arthur Simpson, is a thief and a con-man. He isn't as smart as he thinks he is, and ends up being forced to cooperate with a man he had hoped to steal from. While working for him, Arthur is arrested for smuggling at the Turkish border, and then ends up cooperating with the Turkish authorities to infiltrate the band of "criminals" he is working with. And throughout it all he whines and complains about how nothing is his fault.

Opening lines of the book:
It came down to this: if I had not been arrested by the Turkish police, I would have been arrested by the Greek police. I had no choice but to do as this man Harper told me. He was entirely responsible for what happened to me.
Yet Arthur is very likeable and entertaining.  He goes into details of his English education, and relates how his childhood and his school experiences affected his later behavior and decisions. And in doing so, he reveals much about his character...

While Arthur is a very complex character, the rest of the group he is working with are not as well depicted.  There is a beautiful young woman (Elizabeth Lipp, the mastermind of the group), and several other men are co-conspirators. They all have important parts to play, but are not very interesting as characters. Arthur carries the book.

The Light of Day was the winner of the Best Mystery Edgar in 1964.  It was also made into a movie, Topkapi,  in 1964. I have watched that movie many times. The movie does differ from the book substantially, but knowing the gist of the story did affect my enjoyment of the book. If you have a choice, read the book first. The movie is great, although it feels dated now, but the book is better.

Jules Dassin directed the movie and the role of Elizabeth Lipp was played by Melina Mercouri.  Peter Ustinov won an Oscar for Supporting Actor for the role of Arthur. Maximilian Schell and Robert Morley also starred. In the movie, Arthur is very much the same kind of person, a bumbler and dishonest, but the movie does not give us as much depth as you get with the first person narration of a book. One major difference between the book and the movie is that the other characters are much more fleshed out. As this in-depth review says: "The Light of Day was narrated by Arthur Simpson, but Topkapi is Elizabeth Lipp’s story."

I recently read The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler, and The Light of Day is more to my taste. I plan to read more books by Ambler, and I was pleasantly surprised today to find that I have two additional books that were lost in my TBR boxes. I knew I had Journey into Fear (part of a three book omnibus), but now I find that I have Epitaph for a Spy and Judgment on Deltchev. So I am set for a while.  Also ordering Background to Danger (US title for Uncommon Danger) soon.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge

A-Z Challenge

European Reading Challenge

Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge
 

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