If you haven’t yet read Eric Ambler’s pre-World War II espionage novels, the ones that created the sophisticated political and literary spy novel genre, now’s the time to start. And %%AMAZON=0375726713 A Coffin for Demetrios%% is the place to start. I’m writing a longer essay about the political prescience and sophistication of Ambler’s work, but I want more people to have read him. His four pre-WWII novels–which include Background to Danger–<Epitaph for a Spy and Journey Into Fear will make you realize where latecomers like LeCarre and Furth got their sensibility, the ability to fuse the complexities of politics and ideology with the spy genre.
But Demetrios is the essential one, even more relevant now with Balkan intrigue–Kosovo, Serbia, Albania et. al.–once again a flashpoint for international tension. The secret, though, of the subterranean profundity of Demetrios is Ambler’s use (in 1939) of the word “Holocaust”, the earliest reference I know, and how he links the Turkish/Greek/Armenian mass murders of the teens and twenties, to a shockingly prescient vision of the one to come. Hint: the master criminal, Demetrios, whose involvement in Balkan fascist intrigues is a key focus of the book, was born in 1889.
I’d like to hear if there any fellow Ambler fans out there.