FW: Eric Ambler

David McDonald dbmcdonald at attbi.com
Sat May 31 15:42:57 MDT 2003

-----Original Message-----
From: Louis Proyect [mailto:lnp3 at panix.com]
Sent: Saturday, May 31, 2003 2:12 PM
To: David McDonald
Subject: Re: Eric Ambler

This was very interesting. Why not post it to the list?

At 10:54 AM 5/31/2003 -0700, you wrote:
>I don't think we know each other yet. I'm a former SWPer recently
>re-activated by the war, and a friend of Fred Feldman's.
>I'm writing to you personally to heartily endorse your positive critique of
>Eric Ambler.
>Let me add a little more. I believe Ambler is essentially the creator of
>modern spy fiction and the political thriller. Beyond that, he is the only
>consistently left-wing thriller writer I know of, and certainly the only
>who could handle the ins and outs of radical politics and include them in
>actually readable book.
>His most political works are Background to Danger and Cause for Alarm. They
>both detail the escapades of two Russian spies, the redoubtable Andreas
>Prokovitch Zaleshoff and his dangerously beautiful sister, Tamara Prokovna,
>who dreams only of quitting the game of spying and returning to her beloved
>Moscow. Interestingly, these two are not the main characters of these
>Ambler's main characters are always somehow disenfranchised, exiled, alone,
>or somehow compromised in their relation to society as a whole, who never
>start down the road they find themselves on consciously, and who are drawn
>into dangerous missions they would never undertake under normal
>circumstances. In Cause for Alarm, a British engineer finds himself caught
>up in Italy and finds a friend and protector and guide in Zaleshoff.
>Background for Danger is, in my view, his absolutely best book and a total
>winner for any politico, especially a Trotskyist, since it slyly takes aim
>at Stalinism. Its hero is an English newspaperman who finds himself in a
>train compartment iun central Europe with an oily and sneaky guys who
>convinces him (he is broke) to take some documents to a hotel room for him
>for money. The newsman gets to the hotel, only to find the guy dead. He
>peeks into the documents, and discovers that they are Russian war plans for
>the invasion of Bulgaria which have been stolen from Moscow (not current
>plans, as Zaleshoff later points out: it is after all, the business of war
>departments to draw up such plans and have them available when the need
>arises) in order to be leaked by some fascists who are intent on breaking
>Russian concessions in the oilfields so they can send the oil to Germany,
>and who need such a provocation as leaked invasion plans. In other words, a
>destabilization plan. So the fascists and the Soviets both want these
>documents, and Ambler's hero has them. There is great action here, but way
>more importantly, Ambler's skill as a novelist of manners enters here. Most
>of what happens happens not because of violence, although there is some of
>that but not on the scale of modern books, but because of conversation:
>because of what people reveal, or don't reveal in conversations with others
>they know are their enemies. It is a thrilling, thrilling book.
>This was Ambler's earliest work, right after Tomb for Demetrios. In the
>fifties he went to Hollywood for a while and worked there, and then came
>another string of fabulous books: Eric Ambler's Dirty Story and another
>funny book about Arthur Abdul Simpson, an anti-hero if ever there was one.
>(The character was portrayed by Peter Ustinov in Topkapi, a movie made from
>one of the Arthur Abdul Simpson books.) The Levanter is a great book about
>the Middle East, The Care fo Time also deals with the Middle East.
>There is no one like Ambler. I have dreamed for 30 years about making a
>movie of Background to Danger. It was horribly filmed just before WWII in
>Hollywood, with a miserable portrayal of Zaleshoff by Peter Lorre.
>I fail to see why Ambler is not generally considered a continuer of the
>genre of novels of manners, and only his subject matter keeps him from the
>ranks of generally respected "real" writers and in the ghetto of grunt
>David McDonald
>dbmcdonald at attbi.com

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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