Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Background to Danger: Eric Ambler

In my monthly reading summary in May, I described this book as a typical spy thriller by Eric Ambler, with the innocent bystander being pulled into a conspiracy unawares. Since I have only read four books by this author, it is a bit presumptuous of me to speak of his typical style of book, but Ambler is known for a recurrent theme of the amateur who gets involved with criminals or spies.

Kenton, the hero of this story, is a freelance journalist, and the reason that he is so good at his job is that he has the gift of being able to speak a foreign language as if it is his own. This gives him an edge in reporting on European politics and he gets the interesting stories more easily. However, he also has a major flaw; he cannot hold on to money. He has gambled all his money away while in Nuremberg, Germany and now owes money to a friend. He is headed to Vienna in hopes of borrowing money to pay him back. On the train, a stranger asks him to carry his money over the border; Kenton only agrees because the man promises to pay him three hundred marks, three times what he needs to repay the debt. And this is what leads to his involvement in the nefarious plot of this book.


This was a fun, entertaining spy story, not overly serious. Kenton meets up with Andreas Valeshoff and his sister Tamara, who are Russian agents. Valeshoff and Tamara are interesting characters and there are lots of adventures and thrills. And twists and turns that confused me at times. I liked reading a spy thriller set in Austria that was written before World War II had begun.

Background to Danger was initially published as Uncommon Danger in the UK. The book was made into a film starring Peter Lorre, as Valeshoff, Sydney Greenstreet as a villain, and George Raft as the hero (called Joe Barton in the film), and with a screen play by W. R. Burnett. Tamara was played by Brenda Marshall. I enjoyed the film and in general it kept to the same plot as the book. At first Peter Lorre as Valeshoff did not fit the picture I had of that character, but as I got used to him in the role, I changed my mind. There were two major differences that distinguish the film from the book, but I think the film is more enjoyable not knowing about those, so I will just recommend that you read the book and watch the movie.

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Publisher:  Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2001 (orig. pub. 1937)
Length:   280 pages
Format:   Trade paperback
Setting:   Austria
Genre:    Espionage fiction
Source:   I purchased my copy


20 comments:

  1. This does sound like an entertaining read, Tracy. It takes a talented author to strike that balance so that a story is fun and entertaining, but is still a solid spy novel. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Ambler is a very intelligent writer, Margot, although I miss a lot of the political context and pay more attention to the action and adventure.

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  2. I always enjoy Eric Ambler's books when I read them, but don't pursue them. but I will look out for this one.

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    1. I was not entirely happy with my review, Moira, because I did not feel like I expressed well what I liked about it. And I remember liking it a lot while reading it. It is one of those that was very enjoyable but did not stick with me, except for the main characters.

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  3. I've seen the movie but not read the book - thanks Tracy, Ambler is usually very, very good in my experience.

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    1. I have liked everything I have read by Ambler, Sergio, although I did not like A Coffin for Dimitrios as well as most people do. I should try more of his later books.

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  4. I've not read Ambler yet but I do own two of his books. And I love a good spy story, too. --Keishon

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    1. Keishon, I look forward to trying more books by Ambler. He wrote several books in the late 1930s, then starting writing again in the 1950s.

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    2. I don't know if it was Dorothy B. Parker or Highsmith who loved his books but def. need to read his work. - Keishon

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  5. I am so NOT a George Raft fan. I never could understand how this guy made it in the movies. He always left me cold, no matter what character he played - but especially as a leading man. Anyway, having said that - I've read several Eric Ambler books and enjoyed them all. But since I have old lady memory I can't remember plots much anymore or, for that matter, characters. I just know that all the Eric Ambler books I've read I've liked. Most especially A Coffin for Dimitrios'. Not being a big spy story reader, Tracy, I was really amazed how much I liked Ambler's books.

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    1. Yvette, I had read that George Raft was not liked in this role. I hardly noticed who was playing that role, I guess the other actors overshadowed him.

      I do remember that you listed A Coffin for Dimitrios on your list of favorite mysteries. I will reread it someday and I am sure I will appreciate it more the 2nd time around. That happens to me a lot.

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  6. Your review is inspiring! I love a good spy thriller writer. I've decided to read a biography by Peter Lewis about Eric Ambler first. Then I will start at the top of the list 'Epitaph for a Spy. They say his books change as he continues to write. This will be a great 'Indian Summer Project!"

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    1. Now you have me interested in that biography, Nancy. I do hope you like his books. I have not read many of his later books.

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    2. I'm reading the biography now in spurts (January 2017) I finished Uncommon Danger(US title) last night. I was more impressed by the bio about Ambler and this book...than the book itself! This was one one of his first books...so I hope to find a better one further down the road.

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  7. Sounds like my kind of book, Tracy. And nice cover and title too. I must admit I'm not yet familiar with Ambler's work.

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    1. It does sound like your kind of book, Prashant. I hope you have time to try Ambler's works sometime.

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  8. It's been ages since I've read any Ambler, Tracy, and now you've got me interested again. I need to find the DVD for that movie, too. Anything with Lorre and Greenstreet works for me. Surprised Bogart wasn't in it.

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    1. Yes, Lorre and Greenstreet were very good. One of the reviews of the film discussed whether it would have been a better movie with Bogart instead of Raft. Probably it would have, but I still enjoyed it.

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  9. Not sure if I have this one or not. Regardless I'll have to read some Ambler at some point.

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    1. Oh, definitely, Col, giving Ambler a try is a must.

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