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The Dark Frontier (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – 11 Dec 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (11 Dec. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345802659
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345802651
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 466,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Jun. 2004
Format: Unknown Binding
The Dark Frontier is the debut novel of Eric Ambler, who contributed so much to the espionage and crime genres through such marvelous books as Background to Danger, Epitaph for a Spy, Cause for Alarm, A Coffin for Dimitrios, and Journey into Fear. Written in 1936, the book varies quite a lot from the rest of his work, and will be less satisfying to almost any reader. Serious Ambler fans, however, would be making a mistake if they passed up this book. Seeing this effort will help them appreciate the mature Ambler talent even more.
Most Ambler fans would do well to wait to read this one until they have read all the others, because it is clearly a lesser work for several reasons. First, it is an extreme parody of two popular English novelists that Ambler fans will undoubtedly not have read. As such, some of the pleasure of reading the parody is lost. Second, the book depends in part on Ambler's concepts of what might develop in weaponry after 1936. He did pretty well for his day, but not being surprised by the astonishing conjectures of "science fiction" element of the story also causes it to lose what was powerful color for contemporary readers. Third, the plot complications are not quite as delicious as those in the later Ambler works, and are intended to be pretty transparent as part of the parody.
That having been said, the sense of local color and suspense are strong and compelling. Mr. Ambler's story telling talents come through the parody quite well. I'm glad I read it, and I'm sure you will be too.
Make your efforts as timeless and universal as you can!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback
Long before le Carre's George Smiley and Deighton's Harry Palmer there were Eric Ambler's accidental spies. In the 1930's the loosely defined adventure/spy genre was not much advanced from the earlier works of Erskine Childers and John Buchan 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.

Ironically perhaps, Dark Frontier (Ambler's first book) was not as much a departure from earlier works in the genre as much as it was a parody of those works. While reading Dark Frontier after having read Ambler's later stories it struck me that by this parody perhaps he sought out to destroy the genre before recreating it. A brief look at the outlines of the story lends some small weight for this assertion.

It is 1935 and Henry Barstow is an unassuming, unsuspecting English physicist on vacation in the English countryside. It is during this holiday that he happens to meet a gentleman calling himself Simon Groom who claims to be involved in the munitions industry. And does he have a tale to tell Henry. A small country in eastern or central Europe has successfully unleashed the power of the atom and is on the way toward creating an atomic bomb. (This in and of itself is an interesting plot twist as the idea of an atomic bomb seems quite prescient for an author writing in 1936). Groom tries to enlist Barstow's help in sabotaging the plans before the balance of power in the world is changed, and not likely for the better. Barstow laughs off the invitation and goes on his merry way.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Jun. 2004
Format: Paperback
The Dark Frontier is the debut novel of Eric Ambler, who contributed so much to the espionage and crime genres through such marvelous books as Background to Danger, Epitaph for a Spy, Cause for Alarm, A Coffin for Dimitrios, and Journey into Fear. Written in 1936, the book varies quite a lot from the rest of his work, and will be less satisfying to almost any reader. Serious Ambler fans, however, would be making a mistake if they passed up this book. Seeing this effort will help them appreciate the mature Ambler talent even more.
Most Ambler fans would do well to wait to read this one until they have read all the others, because it is clearly a lesser work for several reasons. First, it is an extreme parody of two popular English novelists that Ambler fans will undoubtedly not have read. As such, some of the pleasure of reading the parody is lost. Second, the book depends in part on Ambler's concepts of what might develop in weaponry after 1936. He did pretty well for his day, but not being surprised by the astonishing conjectures of "science fiction" element of the story also causes it to lose what was powerful color for contemporary readers. Third, the plot complications are not quite as delicious as those in the later Ambler works, and are intended to be pretty transparent as part of the parody.
That having been said, the sense of local color and suspense are strong and compelling. Mr. Ambler's story telling talents come through the parody quite well. I'm glad I read it, and I'm sure you will be too.
Make your efforts as timeless and universal as you can!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 April 2004
Format: Paperback
The Dark Frontier is the debut novel of Eric Ambler, who contributed so much to the espionage and crime genres through such marvelous books as Background to Danger, Epitaph for a Spy, Cause for Alarm, A Coffin for Dimitrios, and Journey into Fear. Written in 1936, it was not published in the United States for several decades. The book varies quite a lot from the rest of his work, and will be less satisfying to almost any reader. Serious Ambler fans, however, would be making a mistake if they passed up this book. Seeing this effort will help them appreciate the mature Ambler talent even more.
Most Ambler fans would do well to wait to read this one until they have read all the others, because it is clearly a lesser work for several reasons. First, it is an extreme parody of two popular English novelists that Ambler fans will undoubtedly not have read. As such, some of the pleasure of reading the parody is lost. Second, the book depends in part on Ambler's concepts of what might develop in weaponry after 1936. He did pretty well for his day, but not being surprised by the astonishing conjectures of "science fiction" element of the story also causes it to lose what was powerful color for contemporary readers. Third, the plot complications are not quite as delicious as those in the later Ambler works, and are intended to be pretty transparent as part of the parody.
That having been said, the sense of local color and suspense are strong and compelling. Mr. Ambler's story telling talents come through the parody quite well. I'm glad I read it, and I'm sure you will be too.
Make your efforts as timeless and universal as you can!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Dark Parody of Mary Webb and Stella Gibbons 1 May 2003
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Dark Parody of Mary Webb and Stella Gibbons
The Dark Frontier is the debut novel of Eric Ambler, who contributed so much to the espionage and crime genres through such marvelous books as Background to Danger, Epitaph for a Spy, Cause for Alarm, A Coffin for Dimitrios, and Journey into Fear. Written in 1936, it was not published in the United States for several decades. The book varies quite a lot from the rest of his work, and will be less satisfying to almost any reader. Serious Ambler fans, however, would be making a mistake if they passed up this book. Seeing this effort will help them appreciate the mature Ambler talent even more.
Most Ambler fans would do well to wait to read this one until they have read all the others, because it is clearly a lesser work for several reasons. First, it is an extreme parody of two popular English novelists that Ambler fans will undoubtedly not have read. As such, some of the pleasure of reading the parody is lost. Second, the book depends in part on Ambler's concepts of what might develop in weaponry after 1936. He did pretty well for his day, but not being surprised by the astonishing conjectures of "science fiction" element of the story also causes it to lose what was powerful color for contemporary readers. Third, the plot complications are not quite as delicious as those in the later Ambler works, and are intended to be pretty transparent as part of the parody.
That having been said, the sense of local color and suspense are strong and compelling. Mr. Ambler's story telling talents come through the parody quite well. I'm glad I read it, and I'm sure you will be too.
Make your efforts as timeless and universal as you can!
Donald Mitchell
Co-Author of The 2,000 Percent Solution, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Outdated. 31 May 2004
By Michael G. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Written in 1935, this is Eric Ambler's very first published novel. As the author explains in the introduction, The Dark Frontier was meant to be a parody of the brand of adventure thriller he enjoyed as an adolescent but came to find rather silly when he reached adulthood.
That Ambler's tongue was firmly implanted in his cheek while writing this novel is quite obvious from the outlandish premise.
Henry Barstow, a mild mannered, straitlaced scientist, sustains a blow to the head which renders him unconscious. He then awakens as a different person. He is now Conway Carruthers, an Indiana Jones type action hero. Barstow as Carruthers travels to a fictitious Balkan state where he helps revolutionaries overthrow the government, squelches a nascent atomic weapons program and pines for the love of an evil countess. All the while risking his life at every turn.
Some insightful social and political commentary can be found in the midst of this intentionally bad novel. And it's interesting to read Ambler at the beginning of his literary career. But, since the writers and the writing being parodied, have been long forgotten, it's difficult for the modern reader to fully appreciate the book's intended comic nature.
Overall, I would characterize The Dark Frontier as a decent first effort by a young writer who would go on to accomplish great things. However, I would only recommend it to diehard Eric Ambler fans.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great debut novel by prolific author 14 Sept. 2005
By Peter LaPrade - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Reading "Dark Frontier" was quite an experience. Yes, parts of it are painfull outdated, and Ambler admits that in his introduction, but it was ahead of its time, and it is a great spy novel and adventure story. It stars an unlikely secret agent, Professor Barstow, a middle-aged and overworked physics professor, who turns into Conrad Carruthers, debonoir agent determined to stop nuclear proliferation. Alongside him in this adventure is a American reporter named Casey, and together they help the revolution in a fictional Balkan country overcome the evil aristocrats that want to use the A-bomb. Given it was written in 1935, 10 years before the first A-bomb was ever used, but in some ways, it is realistic. Very entertaining read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Mr. Mitty, meet Mr. Powers 1 Nov. 2013
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Long before le Carre's George Smiley and Deighton's Harry Palmer there were Eric Ambler's accidental spies. In the 1930's the loosely defined adventure/spy genre was not much advanced from the earlier works of Erskine Childers and John Buchan 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.

Ironically perhaps, Dark Frontier (Ambler's first book) was not as much a departure from earlier works in the genre as much as it was a parody of those works. While reading Dark Frontier after having read Ambler's later stories it struck me that by this parody perhaps he sought out to destroy the genre before recreating it. A brief look at the outlines of the story lends some small weight for this assertion.

It is 1935 and Henry Barstow is an unassuming, unsuspecting English physicist on vacation in the English countryside. It is during this holiday that he happens to meet a gentleman calling himself Simon Groom who claims to be involved in the munitions industry. And does he have a tale to tell Henry. A small country in eastern or central Europe has successfully unleashed the power of the atom and is on the way toward creating an atomic bomb. (This in and of itself is an interesting plot twist as the idea of an atomic bomb seems quite prescient for an author writing in 1936). Groom tries to enlist Barstow's help in sabotaging the plans before the balance of power in the world is changed, and not likely for the better. Barstow laughs off the invitation and goes on his merry way. But soon enough he manages to bump himself on the head and after waking up in a concussed state believes that he is one Conway Carruthers, man about town and master spy. The rest of the book follows Barstow/Carruthers in a role best described as two-parts Walter Mitty and one-part Austin Powers. The result is a book that is two-parts entertaining and two-parts wholly unbelievable.

Dark Frontier is far from Ambler's best work. For him the best was yet to come. Yet at the same time it was enjoyable to read. The plotting was good (once you got over the bump-on-the head premise) and the story had enough twists and turns to keep me engaged in it. Ambler's prose can be very funny and the observations made by Carruthers as he careens from pillar to post in this eastern European quasi-police state were both funny and sometimes acerbic.

I heartily recommend this book to any fan of Ambler. Anyone who has read and enjoyed his later works will certainly derive some benefit to seeing where his writing life started in earnest. For someone new to Ambler I would not suggest you start here. I think if you start here you may not feel compelled to explore his other stories and that would be a great loss. Anyone who likes Alan Furst (amongst others should like Ambler) and I would suggest starting with any of the following, in no particular order: A Coffin for Dimitrios; Epitaph for a Spy; or Cause for Alarm

L. Fleisig
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
His Prototype Adventure Story 31 Dec. 2004
By Acute Observer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This 1936 novel tells of the vacation of Professor Henry J. Barstow after four months of hard work for a British government agency. After stopping at a hotel for lunch, he could not remember the next 39 days! All he remembers is waking up on a train and finding his passport lost. But the rest of the book fills in the missing story. [The Introduction says this was meant as a parody of stories like from E. Phillips Oppenheim.] Barstow meets a friendly talkative stranger who knows something about him and his remarks on atomic energy. Simon Groom confides in him that the first atomic bomb has been made! Then Groom offers Barstow an important job if he travels to Ixania, a country that is similar to Jugoslavia.

Somehow Professor Barstow is transformed into Conway Carruthers, secret agent, who will travel to Ixania. [There is one big problem with this. It is easier to teach a businessman or scientist to be a spy than to teach a spy to be a businessman or scientist.] Chapter 11 explains how to tap a telephone in a hotel. The newspaper reporter Casey is being used as a confidential agent for some bankers in America, through his contact with Nash. Professor Barstow is working with the Young Peasant Party to help with their planned revolution. [Is this all too incredible? But it is a parody.] There is a happy ending.

This was Eric Ambler's first novel, but not his best. It shows the plot twists that would enrich his later political thrillers. The recurring theme in many is how an ordinary man gets involved in important events, yet survives. The book also tells that carrying a pistol was quite common for travelers before WW II. The idea of an atomic bomb was also known, it just needed hundreds of millions to create one.
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