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Dr. Frigo: New Edition [Paperback]

Eric Ambler
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Sep 2010
A coup d'etat in a Caribbean state causes a political storm in the region and even the seemingly impassive and impersonal Doctor Castillo, nicknamed Doctor Frigo, cannot escape the consequences. As things heat up, Frigo finds that both his profession and life are horribly at risk.


Product details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: House of Stratus; New edition edition (24 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755123816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755123810
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 13.3 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,088,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

What pleasurable admiration one derives from the fact that in an age, and an area, where most writers become burnt-out cases, Eric Ambler - who after his classic beginnings and less remarkable middle years and books - is now getting better and best. Burnt-out cases is a deliberately chosen term since this new novel takes place in Graham Greene-land - one of those desolate little Central American coffee republics where even the palm trees are "like tired, untidy women." Here Dr. Frigo (which means frozen meat) assumes an uncommitted, spectator stance after the assassination of his father (was he a real liberator or just an opportunist?) twelve years before, ignoring his mother's treason theory and her desire to have Ernesto (his given name) as an avenger. But he just goes about his doctoring and has an affair with one of the most charming creatures met in a long time - Elizabeth, an artist, also a Hapsburg of direct descent six times removed from the Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria, Elizabeth who makes unsettling insinuations and only too direct historical referrals to the Hapsburg past which might be pertinent now. Particularly since Ernesto is asked, forcibly, to attend Villegas, his father's successor and candidate for a new takeover backed by international off-shore oil interests. But apparently there is something very wrong with his patient, more than his "abdominal inconveniences" - there's his slurred speech which when finally diagnosed makes the whole matter one of the greatest confidentiality. And Ernesto is obliged to continue at the failing arm's length of his patient all through the grand deception, the chaotic coup (even if a fait accompli before it was started) and assassination. Thus we have a parapolitical thriller in which Ambler is only too aware of the pragmatic complexity of a submerged part of the world where the returns are great for a few - but then no "government can do things for people without doing things to them." Ambler's entertainment - and surely it is more than that - is urbane, amusing, cautionary and threateningly urgent at all times - in a word, masterful. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Eric Ambler was born into a family of entertainers and in his early years helped out as a puppeteer. However, he initially chose engineering as a full time career, although this quickly gave way to writing. In World War II he entered the army and looked likely to fight in the line, but was soon after commissioned and ended the war as assistant director of the army film unit and a Lieutenant-Colonel. This experience translated into civilian life and Ambler had a very successful career as a screen writer, receiving an Academy Award for his work on The Cruel Sea by Nicolas Monsarrat in 1953. Many of his own works have been filmed, the most famous probably being Light of Day, filmed as Topkapi under which title it is now published. He established a reputation as a thriller writer of extraordinary depth and originality and received many other accolades during his lifetime, including two Edgar Awards from The Mystery Writers of America (best novel for Topkapi and best biographical work for Here Lies Eric Ambler), and two Gold Dagger Awards from the Crime Writer's Association (Passage of Arms and The Levanter). Often credited as being the inventor of the modern political thriller, John Le Carre once described Ambler as 'the source on which we all draw.' A recurring theme in his works is the success of the well meaning yet somewhat bungling amateur who triumphs in the face of both adversity and hardened professionals. Ambler wrote under his own name and also during the 1950's a series of novels as Eliot Reed, with Charles Rhodda. These are now published under the 'Ambler' umbrella.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why we need copy editors and proof-reading! 13 April 2010
Format:Paperback
Find an another edition/publisher for this fine thriller if you can: this one is choc-full of distracting transcription errors.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Intrigue of Power! 22 Jun 2004
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
To read or not to read the great espionage 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's 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 many 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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Intrigue of Power! 22 Jun 2004
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
To read or not to read the great espionage 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's 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 many 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.
Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ALL DISGRACED BY CORRUPTION 24 Jan 2008
By G. L. Rowsey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
You could almost say Eric Ambler started what John Le Carre finished, and I would agree if it weren't for the fact that I've never encountered a dull paragraph in any of the eight or ten Eric Ambler spy novels I've read - from Cause for Alarm (written in 1938) to Doctor Frigo (written in 1974). Whereas, when I finally read Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold last year, I was so bored I can't recall if I finished it. However, it was Le Carre's A Constant Gardener that reminded me to resume my Eric Ambler reading odyssey, because in fact the book reminded me of the master's style, much to Le Carre's credit.

The intrigues in Doctor Frigo take place in the early 1970's mainly on St. Paul, a typical post-colonial island in the French Antilles in the Caribbean. The lead character is a physician and a native, Ernesto Castillo, called Doctor Frigo by many, whose father was a liberal/socialist who was briefly in power before being assassinated twelve years previously. The plot revolves around the return to the island of a leading figure from Doctor Castillo's father's political party, to establish his bona fides to take over the government. This politician is named Don Manual Villegas, and he arrives from Mexico where he had spent the twelve years exiled by the junta that overthrew the narrator's father and by the "civilian oligarchy" which superseded it. The latter is falling; a rich offshore oil field has become potentially greatly profitable due to rising international oil prices; and a large private oil consortium, as well as the French government, is concerned. But the concerns of Doctor Frigo are more personal: was Don Manual Villegas involved in or even responsible for the assassination of his father, and what will he do if he learns the answer is "yes"? Further, once Castillo discovers that circumstances will not permit him to be simply the truthful, disinterested and contented physician that he is, is he being being set up, and by whom?

Which is only background. I say "only" because Ambler's true foreground is his marvelous descriptions of his characters and renderings of their conversations. As the book opens, the reader is struck forcefully by Castillo's intelligence, meticulousness, and foresight; but then with each new character whom the author introduces, the Doctor is portrayed as quite out of his element with yet another person. Including the pompous local police commissaire; the unflappable intelligence officer from France; the slimy representative of the international oil cartel; and the personages - intelligence, governmental, and clerical - of the remnants of the civilian oligarchy; as well as many others, including the Doctor's lover, a Hapsburg Dynasty expert-and-descendant who repeatedly mocks him by attributing to him the characteristics of various long-deceased idiots and incompetents of that most pertinacious royal house.

The ending comes as a resolution, not a surprise. And on the next-to-last page, Eric Ambler articulates in a conversation his masterfully condensed description of post-colonial, Caribbean regimes in the 1970's, which could also serve as the most charitable interpretation of America's condition in 2008, after seven years of George Bush. Doctor Frigo is talking to a Monsignor who says: "I am not offering the Church as an escape hatch, Don Ernesto, any more than you, I would think, would offer Democratic Socialism, whatever that is. No government, however well-intentioned, can do things for people without also doing things to them."
-"Forgive me, Monsignor, but that is part of a psychological platitude. The rest of it is that you can only do things with them. Comforting but meaningless."
-"Not entirely I think. It was Father Bartolome's view for a while. He did much good among his people then."
-"You surprise me, Monsignor."
-"Oh, of course, he became corrupt and disgraced us all. It's so easy. Easy for priests, but even easier for governments."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Intrigue of Power! 5 Jun 2003
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
To read or not to read the great espionage 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's 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 many 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. In a way, these stories are like a more realistic version of what Dashiell Hammett wrote as applied to European, Middle Eastern and Central American political intrigue and espionage.
Since Mr. Ambler wrote, the thrillers have gotten much bigger in scope . . . and moved beyond reality. Usually, the future of the human race is at stake. The heroes make Superman look like a wimp in terms of their prowess and knowledge. There's usually a love interest who exceeds your vision of the ideal woman. Fast-paced violence and killing dominate most pages. There are lots of toys to describe and use in imaginative ways. The villains combine the worst faults of the 45 most undesirable people in world history and have gained enormous wealth and power while being totally crazy. The plot twists and turns like cruise missile every few seconds in unexpected directions. If you want a book like that, please do not read Mr. Ambler's work. You won't like it.
If you want to taste, touch, smell, see and hear evil from close range and move through fear to defeat it, Mr. Ambler's your man.
Doctor Frigo was first published in 1974 by Antheneum, and is one of Mr. Ambler's most psychologically nuanced works. In Doctor Frigo we have the contrast between the reserved, self-contained man living in exile and his connection to the popular movement in a Central American country where his father was assassinated. The book opens with Doctor Frigo's musings about his father, Clemente Castillo Borja, and the assassination. "The gunmen were blown to pieces long before there was even a chance of their being caught and questioned." "Police records had both men down as, 'Wanted for armed robbery. No known political connections.'" The truth of the motives behind those bare facts is much more complicated, as the story evidences. Doctor Frigo's nickname comes from his reputation as being a cold fish, seemingly uninterested in his father's fate and political heritage. Is that the case, or is it merely window-dressing? With a new group planning to come to power, they feel that they need to find out. As a result, Ernest Castillo (Doctor Frigo's real name) finds himself invited to join a new political effort aimed at that same country.
Will he stay as Doctor Frigo? Will he become his father's son? Will he play a mere role as a puppet? Who is he, really? Doctor Frigo finds out as he moves out of the quiet hallways of the hospital into the maelstrom of political intrigue.
The book raises a very nice question of what would happen if we tried to walk in the steps of a person who had had wide influence. Could we handle the role? Who are we?
As you read the book, you should also think about someone you admire and how you could play a constructive role similar to theirs in a way that feels comfortable to you. Be inspired to do more!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Ambler 13 Feb 2014
By Mark Richardson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Funny, perceptive, character-driven. You'll never look at a coup d'etat the same way again. And of course, beautifully written. But for readers who like car chases, many explosions, and lots of sex, not your cup of tea
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Revolution from the viewpoint of a cynic. 6 Nov 2008
By Michael G. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Its the Democratic Socialists versus the "oligarchs" in this decidedly unromantic tale of revolution in a former Spanish colony located somewhere in Central America. The narration is provided by the title character Dr. Frigo, otherwise known as Ernesto Castillo.
Castillo is a young physician, a native of the unamed Central American country in question. He presently lives and practices in the French Antilles. A dozen years before the events described in "Dr.Frigo" take place, Dr. Castillo's lawyer father, the leader of his country's Democratic Socialist party was assassinated. Instead of taking up his murdered father's cause, the good doctor lives an apolitical life, practicing medicine as a resident alien in his newfound land. Far too cynical to be swept away by romantic notions of family and homeland, Dr. Castillo is perfectly content to keep politics at arms length. He wants nothing to do with the long simmering plans of the Democratic Socialists' "government in exile" to return home as conquering heroes.
But circumstances beyond his control dictate otherwise. His finely woven cloak of cynicism can do nothing to prevent the inevitable.
Eric Ambler's writing is extremely insightful when it comes to describing the political underpinnings of world events. In "Dr. Frigo", Ambler deftly points out how the differences between revolutionary governments and dictatorships may be not all that clearcut. First published in the 1970's, this book is also remarkably prescient in its take on offshore oil drilling and its potentially profound influence on geopolitics. Recommended to political junkies, especially those with cynical minds.
3.0 out of 5 stars ... last few weeks and I'm sorry to say I've enjoyed this one the least 20 Aug 2014
By new york john - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've read a number if Ambler's novels over the last few weeks and I'm sorry to say I've enjoyed this one the least. Perhaps it's because the main character isn't that strong or perhaps because there's a lot more conversation and preparation. It all seemed strained. There's still a number of his books on my wish list and I hope I'll enjoy them more.
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