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A Coffin for Dimitrios (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – 1 Sep 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reprint edition (1 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726712
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.7 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 460,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

?Not Le Carre, not Deighton, not Ludlum have surpassed the intelligence, authenticity or engrossing storytellling that established "A Coffin for Dimitrios" as the best of its kind. "The Times "(London)

From the Inside Flap

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.

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Customer Reviews

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By Lonya TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
but who paid for the bullet."

Compact, amusingly cynical little sentences such as the above bubble up throughout Eric Ambler's "The Mask of 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. The Mask of 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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Format: Paperback
Ambler is perhaps the best thriller writer to have turned his gaze to the problematic era of pre-WWII politics. In the Mask of Dimitrios Ambler manages to expertly recreate on the page the atmosphere of paranoia and confusion that would have dogged people during the 1930's. Like most of Ambler's work the plot revolves around an essentially decent Englishman abroad who through his own inquisitiveness manages to get involved in political intrigue beyond his comprehension and control.

Almost immediately the story grips you and takes you on an exhilarating journey from Turkey into Western Europe via the Balkans. Along the way we meet decent yet arrogant police, political schemers, assassins and other assorted weak men - all the while intrigued by the snippets of information that our hero finds in his seemingly pointless search for the mysterious and apparently dead Dimitrios. If you enjoy your thrillers politically attuned and expertly plotted always look to Ambler - no one has managed to match his scope and stories...yet.
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Format: Paperback
When I saw that Penguin were reissuing five of Ambler's novel in their Modern Classics series, the choice of which to read first was easy - I picked The Mask of Dimitrios. Apart from having been published during the same year as Chandler's The Big Sleep, this novel is famous for being the one that Ian Fleming nodded to, having Bond read it on a plane to Istanbul in From Russia with Love.

"Bond unfastened his seat-belt and lit a cigarette. He reached for the slim, expensive-looking attaché case on the floor beside him and took out The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler and put the case, which was very heavy in spite of its size, on the seat beside him."

The Mask of Dimitrios is a classic spy story. A mild-mannered crime novelist, Charles Latimer, is travelling in Europe and makes the acquaintance of Colonel Haki - an inspector in the Turkish secret police. Haki has read Latimer's novels and has an idea for a plot for him, however Latimer finds real life to be much more fascinating. Out of professional interest, he goes with the Colonel to the morgue to see the body of a notorious criminal, who had ended up stabbed to death. Dimitrios was wanted all over Europe in connection with murders, assassination attempts and more, but had been too clever to be caught. Latimer's interest is piqued and he feels that to do some real detection work into Dimitrios would be helpful to his novels.
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The Mask of Dimitrios is in many ways an old-fashioned, intelligent thriller, displaying all the craft of disciplined good writing.

The central character, Latimer, is an academic and writer. He has written books on economics, but, latterly, has become successful as a writer of popular, well written detective stories. Travelling abroad whilst he works on finding a plot for his next novel, he happens, by chance encounter, to meet a high ranking Turkish colonel, through whom he gets drawn into hearing the story of Dimitrios, a man who evaded capture across Europe, for over a decade. He was implicated in several murders, political assassination attempts, was some kind of mercenary, and ran a drug ring. In short, he was some kind of personification of the master criminal.

Latimer, almost idly, is intrigued to see, as a writer of detective stories, if he himself can do some detection into all the many gaps in Dimitrios' history.

By making his central character a writer, not a professional investigator, criminal, journalist, policier, secret service agent or political activist, Ambler has found the perfect method for instructing the reader in any background information which is needed, without the novel degenerating into a lecture on policing, the autopsy room, the drug trade, espionage and the like. Latimer, like us, is innocent of these things and will need instruction. Ambler uses an old fashioned, third person narration, which works perfectly well - the author as a cool, cerebral narrator of events. Latimer seeks out various experts along the way who can do things like translate official records written in Bulgarian, explain how spies are recruited and run, and the like.
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