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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A man may grow rich in Turkey even,
if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish government." Henry David Thoreau
In many respects, Eric Ambler was to the modern British suspense novel what Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were to the American detective novel. Ambler transformed the suspense 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 takes an unassuming, unsuspecting civilian and immerses him in a world of mystery and intrigue in pre and post-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 Ian Fleming, John le Carre, Len Deighton, and, most recently the highly acclaimed Alan Furst. The Light of Day finds Eric Ambler at the top of his game.
The protagonist and narrator is one Arthur Abdel Simpson who may, if his luck holds, grow rich in Turkey. Unlike his typical protagonists Simpson is far from an innocent person. Simpson is something of a hustler. Part English and part Egyptian Simpson makes a living hustling tourists arriving at the Athens airport. He drives a car for hire and passes himself off as a tour guide. Simpson has no aversion to fleecing those tourists he runs into at the airport. He first spots Harper in the Athens airport and thinks he has found a new source of ill-gotten funds. However, it quickly becomes clear that Simpson has met his match in Harper. Harper quickly sees through Simpson and almost before you can say "taxi, sir?" Harper has caught Simpson trying to rob him. Rather than have him arrested, Harper blackmails Simpson into working with Simpson on some sort of mysterious and quite unlawful plan. Simpson is directed to drive a fancy new American car cross the Greek border into Turkey and to await further instructions once he arrives in Istanbul. Simpson is quickly caught by Turkish secret agents who then blackmail him again into reporting on Harper's activities. As Simpson continues to narrate the actions of Harper and his gang on the one side and the Turkish authorities get ever closer to each other. Simpson is forced to walk a tightrope (literally and figuratively) that may just keep him from death or jail and may just net him a few thousand dollars in ill gotten gains if he plays his cards right.
Ambler is masterful when it comes to setting up a plot. He is not ham-handed or overly verbose but he does manage to convey a good sense of the inner workings of the principal characters in his stories. Ambler writes with a light touch when it comes to violence. It is more implicit than explicit. Yet the reader can sense violence `in the air' or at least the threat of violence as the plot thickens. He also has a keen eye for the various geographic settings in which his stories are set. You invariably get a feel for the streets and alleyways his characters come across. The Light of Day is no exception. Simpson is, as noted, no angel. He is a hustler and something of a con-man. Yet Ambler portrays him in such a clever way that you cannot help but hope he gets himself out of the mess he made for himself.
There was a critically acclaimed film version of The Light of Day made in 1964. Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Simpson.
I am a great admirer of Ambler's work and highly recommend any of his books to anyone not familiar with his work. They make for a nice read on hot summer days or long winter nights. The Light of Day is as good a place to start for anyone interested in discovering the author who shares no small bit of `genetic code' with le Carre, Fleming, Deighton, and Furst.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intrigue, Adventure and a Curiously Appealing Anti-Hero,
The Light of Day is one of the finest crime thrillers ever written. It continues to serve as a model for all those who wish they could write a great crime novel. The story is taut, surprising and intriguing. The story's background is as rich for stimulating the imagination as anyone could wish. But what makes the book truly great is the protagonist, Arthur Simpson, who is both a fresh and indelible character. He is a weak man who preys on those around him, but is curiously appealing in his foibles and follies. For those who are movie fans, Topkapi was adapted from this book.
Arthur Abdel Simpson is a journalist by profession, but doesn't make much money at it. So he's temporarily earning his living as a driver for hire with his own car. As the story opens, he persuades Harper to hire him at the Athens airport. Keeping an eye out for the main chance, Simpson leaves Harper at a maison de rendezvous called Madame Irma's and beats it back to burgle Harper's hotel room where Harper surprises him in the act. Harper blackmails him with a threat to complain to the Greek police, and Simpson agrees to do a little job of driving a car into Turkey. No fool, Simpson takes the car apart on the way to Turkey to see what he's smuggling. Finding nothing, he proceeds overconfidently to the border to an unpleasant meeting with the Turkish police. It seems he's overlooked a little something. From there, he finds himself pressured to help the Turks capture Harper in the act while trying to get the blackmail evidence back from Harper. It makes for many delicious complications as he fails to understand the true nature of Harper's intent until he finds himself in the middle of it!
One of the delights of this book is the way that Simpson's true personality and character are exposed by others as they test him with their own investigations, tasks and questions. Gradually, the self-serving history that he shares in the book's beginning is exposed for the fraud that Simpson himself is. Yet, he's really more of a good guy than a bad guy. What makes him a fraud is that he overindulges in the all-too-human qualities of self-righteousness, vanity, greed, laziness and self-pity. You will find yourself identifying with Simpson and caring about how he handles his many dangerous tasks.
If you enjoy Simpson as a character, you can read more about him in another Eric Ambler masterpiece, Dirty Story.
I suppose that the ultimate appeal of all Eric Ambler's many fine books is that his characters are ordinary people who rise to the occasion to deal with very difficult situations in admirable ways, displaying courage, ingenuity and honesty under fire. Since Simpson is the weakest reed you could ever imagine playing such a role, he makes Ambler's point that there is a hero in all of us in a remarkable effective way.
After you read and enjoy this marvelous story, think about how you could rise to the occasion to play a hero's or a heroine's role for others. You can do it!
5.0 out of 5 stars Light Of Day or Topkapi,
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The book arrived well packeged and in good condition.
This is a cracking read and has some lovely humorous ideas in the description of the characters and the relationships they have in their attempt to con the writers character into helping them to commit the ultimate crime.
The implied self centredness and simpleness of the main charater comes out well and contrasts nicely with the international villains and the Turkish police.
Alls well that ends well an this reader finished the book with a smile on his face.
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-notch Ambler,
This review is from: The Light of Day
Ambler has been one of the top suspense/thriller writers for many years, and for me still holds that crown. Usually his 'heroes' or protagonists are quite ordinary people, who come into rather extraordinary situations, usually in unusual places; not heroes at all, in other words. Normal people, who have to face the abnormal.
In Topkapi (1962), originally published as 'the Light of Day'. we get an anti-hero, istead. Arthur Abdel Simpson is a cheat and a liar, and in his slightly whiny voice Ambler reaches new heights, I think. He has always been very good at dialogue: natural, flowing stuff, as good as Elmore Leonard. You soon learn to take what Simpson says (the book is written from his point of view) with a large pinch of salt. And, amazingly, I found myself rooting for what is a pretty nasty character... Nothing is his own fault; he is always getting into scrapes because of others' peoples faults. "Persons in authority - headmasters, police officials - can do a great deal of damage by failing to understand the other fellow's point of view."
Simpson is a practical man, with his fingers in a great deal of pies, but in this book one of the pies bites back. Can Arthur extricate himself? Can he explain to the persons in authority that it was not really his fault as all?
If you like Flashman, here is someone like him; not as succesful, obviously, but someone with his morals more or less in the same place. "I have only been arrested ten or twelve times in my entire life." Highly recommended!
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The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (Hardcover - 1962)
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