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Cause for Alarm (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Eric Ambler , John Preston
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 May 2009 Penguin Modern Classics
Nicky Marlow needs a job. He's engaged to be married and the employment market in Britain in 1937 is pretty slim. So when his fiancée points out the position with an English armaments manufacturer in Italy, he jumps at the chance. Soon after he arrives, however, he learns the sinister truth about his predecessor's departure and finds himself courted by two agents with dangerously different agendas. In the process, Marlow realizes that it's not so simple just to do the job he's paid for - not in fascist Italy, on the eve of a world war.

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Cause for Alarm (Penguin Modern Classics) + Uncommon Danger (Penguin Modern Classics) + Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (28 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141190329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141190327
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 95,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The classic 1930s thrillers of Eric Ambler took the crudely patriotic certainties of John Buchan and gave them a salutary shake. Nick Marlow, the hero of Cause for Alarm is an engineer who likes to think of himself as a plain man, above politics; when he takes a sales job in Mussolini's Fascist Italy, it never occurs to him as relevant that his predecessor was killed by a hit-and-run driver or that the boring machines he sells might be used for the making of armaments. Nor does he regard the politics of his clerk as of interest, nor think of the rouged Yugoslav general Vagas as anything more than a friendly buffoon. Before he knows where he is, a web is tightening about him and the only reliable friend he has is Zaleshoff, an American businessman, oddly keen to educate him in the ways of the world ... This is a superb piece of propaganda fiction from the popular front era; the things that made it work then as a thriller--its hairs-breadth escapes, its chunks of spycraft, its atmospheric portrayal of dark city streets and dangerous high passes--are as fresh-minted as they ever were. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Eric Ambler is a master of his craft' Sunday Telegraph 'If you want to experience the feel of the Continent in the 1930s, you will find few better guides' - Robert Harris

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Espionage: Realistic, Vivid and Noir!! 1 July 2004
To read or not to read the great spy novels of Eric Ambler? That is the question most people ignore because they are not familiar with Mr. Ambler and his particularly talent.
Mr. Ambler has always had this problem. As Alfred Hitchcock noted in his introduction to Intrigue (an omnibus volume containing Journey into Fear, A Coffin for Dimitrios, Cause for Alarm and Background to Danger), "Perhaps this was the volume that brought Mr. Ambler to the attention of the public that make best-sellers. They had been singularly inattentive until its appearance -- I suppose only God knows why." He goes on to say, "They had not even heeded the critics, who had said, from the very first, that Mr. Ambler had given new life and fresh viewpoint to the art of the spy novel -- an art supposedly threadbare and certainly cliché-infested."
So what's new and different about Eric Ambler writing? His heroes are ordinary people with whom almost any reader can identify, which puts you in the middle of a turmoil of emotions. His bad guys are characteristic of those who did the type of dirty deeds described in the book. His angels on the sidelines are equally realistic to the historical context. The backgrounds, histories and plot lines are finely nuanced into the actual evolution of the areas and events described during that time. In a way, these books are like historical fiction, except they describe deceit and betrayal rather than love and affection. From a distance of over 60 years, we read these books today as a way to step back into the darkest days of the past and relive them vividly. You can almost see and feel a dark hand raised to strike you in the back as you read one of his book's later pages.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good anti-fascist spy thriller 3 Dec 2010
By Larts
Our hero goes to Italy in 1938 to work as the manager of a branch of anEnglish engineering company. He gets tangled up in bribery and corruption in the fascist state. A very readable yarn and a tremendous scene in a railway siding.
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5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful book service 14 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
been trying to get this book for years. thankyou amazon for making this possible
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5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should rediscover Ambler 2 Jan 2014
By Mr G
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have developed a real love Eric Ambler's novels, and I wish there were more. His writing is superb, the plots genuinely gripping, and the historical detail inherent in his work is fascinating. Ambler writes in a taut, unsentimental style which nonetheless packs a real punch. Rather than dazzle with the derring-do of impossibly glamorous heroes, he instead invites us to feel the disorientated vulnerability of ordinary people caught up in dangerous times. His protagonists, while always decent and intelligent, also seem to be badly out of their depth when confronted with the cynical brutality of wartime. This makes them more rather than less intriguing, and means one is never quite sure how the plot will work out. Ambler's prose is succinct and atmospheric, and his psychological insight is always acute. A great, if undervalued writer.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars poor quality of edition 15 April 2011
By sherard
Format:Kindle Edition
The book is perfectly readable and is a classic inter-war yarn.
It is a bit dated, but it is a good read.

The reason for a single star is the poor quality of the editing.
There are numerous typographical errors, places where words are repeated or misspelled, and a generally sloppy production. Have other readers noted this with other Kindle versions? I have and it seems as if the Kindle editions are made by scanning hard copy, using a conversion process, and then having a human copy editor check the result. Unfortunately the latter stage seems to be of very variable quality - generally poor. This makes it annoying when reading some books.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the angry trumpet sounds alarm 14 Aug 2006
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
And dead men's cries do fill the empty air . . . I say, come forth, and fight with me!

These words of Warwick from Shakespeare's Henry VII, Part II seem a very appropriate theme for Eric Ambler's "Cause for Alarm". First published in 1938, when the Second World War had not officially started, Cause for Alarm painted a picture of a world where the dying had already begun, albeit in the streets and alleys of Europe if not yet on the battlefield.

For those not familiar with his work, Ambler was to the modern British spy novel what Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were to the American detective novel. Ambler transformed the spy novel from a simplistic black and white world of perfect good guys versus nefarious bad guys into a far more realistic world where sometimes the difference between good and evil is not all that great.

Typically, Ambler would take an unassuming, unsuspecting spectator and immerse him in a world of mystery and intrigue in pre-World War II Europe. The result was a series of highly entertaining and satisfying books that many believe set the stage for the likes of le Carre, Deighton, and, most recently, Alan Furst.

"Cause for Alarm" follows Ambler's typical plot line. Nicky Marlow is a recently laid-off English engineer. He is also recently engaged. His search for employment grows increasingly frustrated until he answers and advertisement for what appears to be a somewhat down-at-the heels machine tool company. Despite being told that that the company (the aptly named Spartacus Machine Tool Co.) sells machine tools used in the armaments industry and is profitably engaged in selling its equipment to Italian `military-industrial complex' Marlow accepts a position as the company's Italian sales agent.
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