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Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 28 May 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (28 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141190310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141190310
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'A genuine classic' The Times 'If you want to experience the feel of the Continent in the 1930s, you will find few better guides' - Robert Harris

From the Publisher

'Unquestionably our best thriller writer ever' Graham Greene
'Unquestionably our best thriller writer ever' Graham GreeneERIC AMBLER Eric Ambler began his writing career in the early 1930s, and quickly established a reputation as a thriller writer of extraordinary depth and originality. He is often credited as the inventor of the modern political thriller and John le Carre once described him as ‘the source on which we all draw.’

Ambler began his working life at an engineering firm, then as a copywriter at an advertising agency, while in his spare time he worked on his ambition to become a playwright. His first novel was published in 1936 and as his reputation as a novelist grew he turned to writing full time. During the war he was seconded to the Army Film Unit, where he wrote, among other projects, The Way Ahead with Peter Ustinov.

He moved to Hollywood in 1957 and during his eleven years there scripted some memorable films, including A Night to Remember and The Cruel Sea, which won him an Oscar nomination.

In a career spanning over sixty years, Eric Ambler wrote nineteen novels and was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for Passage of Arms in 1960. He was married to Joan Harrison, who wrote or co-wrote many of Alfred Hitchcock’s screenplays - in fact Hitchcock organized their wedding. Eric Ambler died in London in October 1998.

THE PAN CLASSIC CRIME SERIES The idea for the Pan Classic Crime series was sparked by two separate incidents – my struggle to find a new copy of MALICE AFORETHOUGHT by Francis Iles (one of my favourite crime novels), and a newspaper article about Eric Ambler which claimed that none of his novels was available in the UK. I then began six months of research to discover which other classics had shockingly been allowed to go out of print (concentrating particularly on novels published 1930-1960). And so the Pan Classic Crime series was born, launching in April 1999 with six titles – including two by Eric Ambler and, of course, MALICE AFORETHOUGHT.

Before my research began I must admit my knowledge of pre-1970s crime fiction was restricted to the giants – Doyle, Christie, Highsmith, Chandler. And I must admit, too, that I was hesitant about how well these ‘lost treasures’ would stand up to modern crime fiction. How wrong I was – the novels I read and am now publishing were remarkably sophisticated, skilful, innovative, insightful, and full of character and wit. I felt suitably ashamed for having doubted them! By July this year we will have published 18 titles in the series. One of our aims has been introduce new readers to these authors and, with this in mind, each edition is introduced by a well-known crime writer of today. For example, Colin Dexter, P.D. James, Robert Goddard and Robert Harris have all contributed to the series. What pleased me the most was the phrase that popped up again and again in the letters that accompanied their introductions: ‘I’d forgotten just how good they were!’

Also in the series

1) The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler With an introduction by Robert Harris

2) Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles With an introduction by Colin Dexter

3) The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake With an introduction by P.D. James

4) Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler With an introduction by Robert Harris

5) Green for Danger by Christianna Brand With an introduction by Lindsey Davis

6) Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin With an introduction by Jonathan Gash

7) Before the Fact by Francis Iles With an introduction by Colin Dexter

8) Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler With an introduction by Robert Harris

9) Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare With an introduction by Frances Fyfield

10) Last Seen Wearing . . . by Hillary Waugh With an introduction by Reginald Hill

11) Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler With an introduction by Robert Goddard

12) A Tangled Web by Nicholas Blake With an introduction by P.D. James

13) Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin With an introduction by Jonathan Gash

14) Judgment on Deltchev by Eric Ambler With an introduction by Robert Goddard

15) My Name is Michael Sibley by John Bingham With an introduction by John le Carre

16) Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler With an introduction by Robert Goddard

17) Death of a Doll by Hilda Lawrence (pub July 2001) With an introduction by Minette Walters

18) Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham (pub July 2001) With an introduction by John le Carre --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Harris's introduction paints Ambler as an icon, the thriller writer's thriller writer, and it's not hard to see why. The coolly detached challenge of the opening sentence ensures you won't give up early, the descriptions of the Riviera are beautifully done (you can feel the languid heat radiating off the cheap paper), and the hero (although anti-hero might be more appropriate) is engagingly self-effacing and wilfully pig-headed throughout. He is also very much afraid, not in a craven way, just in a normal fear of screwing-up-his-life-and-possibly-dying kind of way, and it's this broad portrait of a thouroughly average man caught way out of his depth that propels the reader through the occasionally tedious goings-on at the beachfront pension. It's Vadassy's terrible normalcy that also makes the revelations of the other character's true selves that much more compelling, and in one case genuinely moving. In one courageous and defeated man's description of life in a concentration camp, Ambler thrusts what appears to be a by-the-numbers holiday crime caper into the realm of vital political humanist writing. It came as a genuine surprise when I remembered afterwards that he wrote this in 1938. The man was clearly ahead of his time. Add a cracking finale reminiscent of A Touch of Evil, and you pretty much have a must-read on your hands. Perfect for anyone with a sense of nostalgia coupled with an acute awareness of the essential uncosiness of life.
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Format: Paperback
Long before le Carre's George Smiley and Len Deighton's Harry Palmer there were Eric Ambler's accidental spies. In the late 1930's the loosely defined adventure/spy genre was not much advanced from the earlier works of Erskine Childers (Riddle of the Sands) and John Buchan (Thirty Nine Steps). Ambler set out to write a book that added a small bit of realism to the good guy v. bad guy model. 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. Epitaph for a Spy is an excellent representative sample of Ambler's work.
In a footnote written in 1951 Ambler states that he "wrote Epitaph for a Spy in 1937 and it was a mild attempt at realism". 1937 was certainly a good year for realism in Europe and Ambler does an excellent job setting a realistic mood for a continent on the brink of another major war.
The story begins with an itinerant language teacher, Josef Vadassy, returning to Paris from his summer holidays. Vadassy stops off at a little town, St. Gatien, on his return journey. An amateur photographer, Vadassy drops off a roll of film at the local chemists for development. When he goes to pick up the photographs he finds himself under arrest by the French authorities. His film contains photos of a top secret French naval installation. Vadassy has no idea how the photos got there. One of the French agents, recognizing that he did not take the pictures advises Vadassy that he will be free to leave town if he goes back to the hotel and finds out which of the guests is the actual photo-taking spy. Vadassy, a stateless Hungarian traveling on a Yugoslav passport has no choice but to play along.
The rest of the book is devoted to Vadassy's efforts to uncover the spy.
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I liked it as it was "rattling good yarn" that kept the pace up to the end in the manner of the old-fashioned John Buchan story. However, the author takes the emergent form of the spy story that little bit further with the introduction of the psycological. Unlike other books of that period it feels extremely modern with the tensions between nations seeming realistic and familiar to the reader. In addition, it is well written in excellent English.

It would appeal to someone who wants a gripping read and a change from the usual spy authors of today.

Just start reading it and you will be hooked.
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This is an entertaining early Ambler with his stock plot at that time of the hapless innocent surrounded by villains with their own nefarious intentions.
Vadassy, a language teacher, stays in a hotel in the south of France. By chance he picks up the wrong suitcase and a plot is born, because it belongs to a spy. He's arrested and agrees to become a police informer. It is very dangerous and very much an Agatha Christie type mystery-who are the villains? We only find out at the end as you may imagine. It is written with the usual Ambler word economy and I enjoyed it.
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Format: Paperback
Epitaph for a Spy is an unusual spy thriller that plays around with the conventions of the action novel in a most interesting way. The setting is rather an exotic one: the south of France a few years before world war two. The novel was written in 1937 and yet it contains no crude stereotyping of foreigners and the choice of 'hero' is a strange one: a stateless 'Hungarian' travelling on a Yugoslavian passport. Mr Vadrassy has passed through several European countries including England and he now resides in France though his residency is in jeopardy. The novel opens with Vadrassy taking a pleasant holiday in the south of France and he is indulging in his hobby of photography, taking photographs with his Zeiss camera, the only possession of his of any real value.

The twist comes when Vadrassy is not only accused of spying (taking pictures of a naval base) but also the suspect is then called upon to help solve the crime that he has been accused of. Vadrassy is in a very tenuous position being a stateless person and he has no choice other than to play along with police requests to uncover the real spy. Mr Vadrassy emerges as something of a bungler rather than a resourceful Richard Hannay type. To say that Mr Vadrassy is not cut out for spying might be something of an understatement as his investigations degenerate into comedy, largely stemming from his inability to do anything properly.

The novel is a good read and genuinely innovative. Choosing a clumsy Hungarian refugee who fears deportation as the principal hero of a spy novel was a risky move but it works very well.
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