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A Coffin for Dimitrios (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) [Paperback]

Eric Ambler
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.82
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Book Description

1 Sep 2004 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
A chance encounter with a Turkish colonel with a penchant for British crime novels leads mystery writer Charles Latimer into a world of sinister political and criminal maneuvers throughout the Balkans in the years between the world wars. Hoping that the career of the notorious Dimitrios, whose body has been identified in an Istanbul morgue, will inspire a plot for his next novel, Latimer soon finds himself caught up in a shadowy web of assassination, espionage, drugs, and treachery.

Frequently Bought Together

A Coffin for Dimitrios (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) + Journey into Fear (Penguin Modern Classics) + Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price For All Three: £22.79

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (1 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726712
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.3 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 201,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intelligent, gripping novel. 5 Jan 2002
By A Customer
Through a chance acquaintance with a senior Turkish police officer in Istanbul, Charles Latimer, a detective story writer and former university lecturer, gets to see the body of a dead man and decides (after being treated to one or two juicy excerpts from the man's dossier) to investigate his history. And so begins a journey that takes him out of his milieu and into a 'real' and dangerous underworld.
I rarely get sucked into reading novels more than once, but this was an exception. Why? Well, I've thought of two reasons.
The first is that, as a story, it's totally spellbinding. Like all good stories, it tells itself. Once Latimer is hooked on his investigation, so are you. We follow him every step of the way. We get to sense all his anxieties, his self-justifications, his decisions that aren't really decisions. And like him, all we can really do is wait for the whole adventure to unreel, which it does at a nicely tense and unhurried pace.
The second reason is that despite having all the tension and excitement of a thriller, that isn't really, or isn't only, what the book is. It's in fact (rather like a 'proper' novel) a study of people, who they really are, who they think they are, and what it is that really motivates them. The characters are deliciously unheroic. They're people who get themselves into messes, which they may or may not be able to get out of. They're intellectually and morally flawed. They're real.
Ambler was young when he wrote this book and you get the sense that in it he is confronting the issue that the world (and everyone in it)is uglier than we are deceived into believing. Latimer, out of his world, becomes a dreamy idealist suddenly scrambling around in the dirt.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Espionage: Realistic, Vivid and Noir!! 3 April 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It is not who fired the shot 8 Sep 2005
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
but who paid for the bullet."
Compact, amusingly cynical little sentences such as the above bubble up throughout Eric Ambler's "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and, in fact, throughout most of Ambler's books. That is just one reason why Ambler's books are so enjoyable and have held up so well over time.
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. A Coffin for Dimitrios was one of Ambler's best known works. (It was made into a movie starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.) It is a very entertaining read.
The plot is relatively easy to follow. Charles Lattimer is a British University professor who retired from academia once he discovered that writing mass market detective stories was far more lucrative. While on holiday in Istanbul he makes the acquaintance of a Turkish police inspector who is an admirer of Lattimer's work. Lattimer is invited to the policeman's office where he is provided with ideas for a book the police officer is writing. While there he is invited to join the officer in viewing the body of a master criminal, Dimitrios, who has just been fished out of the Bosporus.
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