The daddy of thriller writers

A year ago I was musing about how mistaken I was about Eric Ambler. I had read an Ambler many years ago, hadn't enjoyed it at all, and thought he was horribly over-rated; and then I read Cause for alarm, an absolutely top-notch thriller. I was delighted to discover when reading his earlier thriller, and the one that launched him into the pantheon of spy-fiction writers, Uncommon danger, that two of my favourite characters from Cause for alarm, the Russian spies Zaleshoff and Tamara are also featured here too.

Uncommon danger is a cracking read. A British journalist, Kenton, is thrown into danger when he does a small job couriering some documents to pre-war Linz. When the recipient of the documents is found murdered things rapidly get nasty, as Kenton soon has both Soviet spies and Roumanian/German fascists out to get him; and then there's also the police forces of Austria and Czechoslovakia. This is a spy thriller in the classic mould; and everyone from Ian Fleming (James Bond's uncle was definitely Eric Ambler) to Alfred Hitchcock (no North by Northwest without Ambler), Graham Greene and David Downing owe Ambler a huge debt of gratitude.

This was such a fun read. Likeable characters and appallingly nasty villains. Positively filmic descriptions - this novel is just crying out to be filmed in black and white with a good old fashioned British A-list cast. The plot may not be the most complex ever, and the characterisation is a bit thin; but it gallops along at breathtaking pace and is unputdownable. Hero gets put in ridiculously "he'll never get out of that" situations, but he does, and such is Ambler's skill that you actually believe it.

Eric Ambler has just shot up to the top of my great thriller writers list - he is a truly classy author, with a gift for setting time and place, and an uncanny ability to make any situation believable. Great read - and if you're about to embark on a train trip across Europe this should be one of your must-read books.


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