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You could do nothing but dislike him. The looming menace of another war that would forever change the name of THE world war to the first world war was beginning to be realized. Governments had risen and fallen; men and women had worked, had starved, had made speeches, had fought, had been tortured, had died.

Hope had come and gone, a fugitive in the scented bosom of illusion. Men had learned to sniff the heady dreamstuff of the soul and wait impassively while the lathes turned the guns for their destruction.

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For me the story started slow, but built nicely. I can tell this is the type of book that improves with each reading. The pacing once it gets going is nicely maintained. The characters are truly dangerous people and I began to wonder how Latimer was going to continue to ask impertinent questions without losing his nose or his life. Dimitrios is kept off screen ;and yet, his menacing apparition lurks in every paragraph. The grand finale is a pyrotechnical display of heroics, betrayal, and greed. View all 29 comments. Dec 24, Richard Derus rated it it was amazing Shelves: returned , borrowed.

Excellent between-the-wars spy story that sets the bar for later entries into the genre. The tale has also given numerous parts of itself to other writers. A solid bit of Charade , that delightful Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn spies-in-Paris story, came from this tale. But the main thing about reading the book, the primary pleasure unavailable to viewers of the film The Mask of Dimitrios , is that the movie timeframe makes the story more or less a highlight reel.

It also seemed a bit off Excellent between-the-wars spy story that sets the bar for later entries into the genre. It also seemed a bit off to me to make this interwar story in the midst of WWII So, quite naturally, they were left out. The book unfolds, if not slowly, then at a steady pace and one that simply could not be filmed in that time. Now it would be a 4-hour "event series" as we apparently now call the miniseries of my youth; that would, I feel quite sure, work well to flesh out the filmed version to something like the book's fullness.

The story's action takes place by reports and in flashbacks, yet such is Ambler's gift with the gab that it doesn't Skip the three-star film, read the five-star book, and never look back. I read that Ambler finished this work at the perilous time when the Nazis were invading Czechoslovakia in The lead character Charles Latimer is a novelist who like Ambler himself, gets inspired about international intrigue from the multicultural society he experienced in Istanbul.

As a teenager I made the trip he took by boat from Piraeus to Istanbul and experienced the otherworldly sense he got from arrival by water to the bustling harbor of that ancient city with its skyline dominated by famous mosques in their architectural splendor.

This parallel hooked me from the beginning. Latimer milks his contacts to get invited to a party of aristocrats, diplomats, and ex-patriates of various exotic places. Bored by the boozing, the chatter, and decadence some guests are playing strip poker , he perks up with a conversation with one Colonel Haki, who claims to admire his murder mysteries and offers him plot ideas.

It turns out he is the head of the Turkish secret police and has just identified the body of a man fished out of the Bosphorus who was killed by stabbing. A French visa sewn into his jacket indicates him to be Dimitrios Makropoulos, whom Haki has sought since for the robbery and murder of a Muslimized Jew in Smyrna Izmir during the time of terrible slaughter between Greece and Turkey. From their common interest of making art out of crime and intrigue, Haki challenges Latimer to see anything romantic or noble about the life of Dimitrios. We have known of his existence for nearly twenty years.

A dirty type, common, cowardly, scum. Murder, espionage, drugs—that is the history. There were also two affairs of assassination. That argues a certain courage, surely? No, this type of man does none of the risky dirty work himself: They are the professionals, the entrepreneurs, the links between the businessmen, the politicians who desire the end but are afraid of the means, and the fanatics, the idealists who are prepared to die for their convictions.

As far as I know, no government has ever caught him and there is no photograph in his dossier. But we knew him all right, and so did Sofia and Belgrade and Paris and Athens. He was a great traveler, was Dimitrios. In preparing to dispose of Dimitrios decaying body, Haki hooks Latimer with the idea of filling in the huge blanks in his dossier: But there must be people who knew of Dimitrios, his friends if he had any , and his enemies, people in Smyrna, people in Sophia, people in Belgrade, in Adrianople, in Paris, in Lyons, people all over Europe, who could answer them.

If you could find those people and get the answers you would have the material for what would surely be the strangest of biographies. It would be an experiment in detection really. But it was amusing to play with the idea and if one were a little tired of Istanbul … And so Latimer takes up the harmless task of asking questions about this mysterious and notorious figure to satisfy his literary curiosity.

Either way, the answers could be dangerous to Latimer. As an average kind of man with a lack of defensive skills, he experiences reasonable trepidations. The suspense drew me on as he makes his rounds with a colorful set of characters as sources in exotic locales of seedy bars and nightclubs in various cities in the Balkans, Paris, and Greece. Despite a minimum violent pyrotechnics common to modern spy thrillers, this tale entertained me well with its slow unfolding of secrets and atmospherics.

It also had a very satisfying surprise ending. It sits well among my old favorites of the genre set during the Cold War by Deighton and le Carre. View all 9 comments. Sometimes digging around in the past is just a bad idea, and for British crime writer Charles Latimer he certainly ends up way out of his league, after befriending an inspector from the Turkish police while staying in Istanbul he learns that master criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos has just been fished out the water, killed by an apparent knife to the back.

Latimer takes an interest in this mysterious Dimitrios and decides to try and delve into his history to write a true crime novel rather one of Sometimes digging around in the past is just a bad idea, and for British crime writer Charles Latimer he certainly ends up way out of his league, after befriending an inspector from the Turkish police while staying in Istanbul he learns that master criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos has just been fished out the water, killed by an apparent knife to the back.

Latimer takes an interest in this mysterious Dimitrios and decides to try and delve into his history to write a true crime novel rather one of fiction, but what starts out as a few general inquiries soon turns into a journey of obsession that sees him travel around Europe, meeting old acquaintances and learning that Dimitrios was mixed up in some serious business including, spies, assassination attempts, people trafficking, drug smuggling and false identities, but just who can be trusted?

And he soon realizes that Dimitrios was a very cunning and clever individual. View 2 comments. Apr 15, Darwin8u rated it it was amazing Shelves: Good Business and Bad Business were the elements of the new theology. They aren't reluctant, rather lucky and persistent. They seem to have seeded an entire generation of suspense novelists. Ambler has a voice and style which are matched by his ability to capture a reader's interest with characters and setting. He is like a magician that spends an elaborate amount of time carefully setting a formal table just so at the very end he can pull the cloth out -- leaving the characters shaking from the movement, but readers stuck within their own inertia.

It is hard to judge Ambler once you realize every reference point you have to judge him by contains a fragment of Ambler. He is the Raymond Chandler of European espionage fiction. The genre doesn't exist separate from the author and 'A Coffin for Dimitrios' is one of his greatest works. View 1 comment. Jul 31, Tristram Shandy rated it it was amazing Shelves: classic-english-literature , noir , crimes-stories. It is the decoration conferred on mediocrity by ignorance. What starts as a mere whim of fancy, apparently, soon turns out to be a descent into the deepest nightmarish knowledge on human nature because the rather narrow-minded writer not only has to team up with a most insalubrious individual who calls himself Peters but he also has to realize that there exists a sort of evil that makes the villains in his novels look like pale imitations of life.

I have known the movie starring Peter Lorre as Latimer although on screen, the English writer is made into a Dutchman called Leyden and Sydney Greenstreet as the heavyset but prolix Mr. It is one of the fascinating traits of this novel to see how a person like Latimer is wading deeper and deeper into the mire of crookedness and cynicism, and how he reacts to his awareness of this change.

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler - AbeBooks

Second, it is simply marvellous to see how Ambler, on the eve of the next World War, gave an account of European politics and the struggle for power that set nations against each other. Dimitrios] in terms of Good and Evil. He had committed at least two murders and had therefore broken the law as surely as if he had been starving and had stolen a loaf of bread. View all 4 comments.

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Sep 22, Jenny Reading Envy rated it really liked it Shelves: whodunitbymail , read , thriller , secret-agents-and-detectives , mystery. The novel starts with Latimer in Turkey, talking about his crime writing, and learning about a current police case. He sees the corpse of Dimitrios, "[Dimitrios] had the appearance of being tame, but when you looked into his brown eyes you saw that he had none of the feelings that make ordinary men soft, that he was always dangerous.

He sees the corpse of Dimitrios, a man who had been pursued for some time by multiple governments. Latimer can't let it go and starts to follow the story. I loved how people were described in particular because it really made me feel like I was there. I received this as part of a long-term postal book swap called whodunitbymail, where we've been reading a bunch of different types of crime novels.

I knew of Eric Ambler because of a guest on the Reading Envy Podcast episode and had wanted to try him, knowing he had an influence on what I refer to as the "cocktail spy" novels of the post-World War II era. Some of the reveals were already obvious to me, but that was okay. I think it's all just hyper logical and it is the protagonist who is unused to having to come to the conclusions the right way. Perhaps he gets better at it. Murder, slavery, drugs, gambling, prostitutes — Dimitrios had his fingers in a lot of pies!

Modern readers will easily see the twist ending of the book looooooong before it comes — I called it in the first chapter and I was right! And the Germans and Italians possibly starting a war is only mentioned in passing in the last three pages of the book with no strong fascistic presence elsewhere. But Latimer is a blank slate who is exactly the same at the end as he was at the beginning.

The guy led an interesting — if despicable - life and hearing about his Scarface-esque construction of a criminal empire from nothing is quite good. The Mask of Dimitrios has become a period piece now but still a readable one. Apr 15, Helen rated it really liked it Shelves: espionage. If I'd read this in , I'm sure I would have been breathless with astonishment. Enter Charles Latimer. A retired If I'd read this in , I'm sure I would have been breathless with astonishment.

A retired academic, he writes crime novels. At a party, he meets the chief of Istanbul's secret police, who tells him, as everyone does, that he would write a crime novel if he had the time. He asks Latimer if he'd like to get a little closer to real crime Dimitrios is a twisted Gatsby. Struggling to survive in a post-World War I society of war, catastrophe, and genocidal hatred, he dreams of a better life for himself, and creates it--powered by robbery, drug-dealing, treachery, murder. Dimitrios murders to survive, to protect his identity, to topple governments, to safeguard a bank's investments.

He's a monster for hire. Latimer is tantalized, then fascinated, then obsessed. Off he goes to the far reaches of Europe, to follow the trail of Dimitrios's crimes, telling people he meets that he's doing research for a novel, but really, he's just eager to have a whiff of real evil. What amazed me was this. It is a wise and intelligent warning on what lay ahead for Europe, traveling through countries we never think of and keeping company with people we are better off not knowing, showing the reader exactly what kind of corrupt, frightening, pitiless people were in power, the nature of the people who worked for them, and what ugly acts they were willing to commit in order to hold on to that power.

View all 13 comments. The Good : So much tension! This is very well written and had me second guessing everyone. The settings are gorgeous, illustrating the magic and paranoia of interbellum Europe. And Mr Peters is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever read. The Bad : view spoiler [After building up to a big reveal I was horrified to find that Dimitrios was not Colonel Haki of the Turkish secret police. He was brave and polite and completely out of his element. As a 'Friends' character he was most like one of the Brits who made a cameo on the episode with Ross's wedding.

Dec 31, Daniel rated it really liked it Shelves: read One night, I went out with a friend, who also reads, and met up with some of his friends, most of whom also read. I haven't read Furst, he said, but I really like Eric Ambler. Right there, that little literary alarm went off in One night, I went out with a friend, who also reads, and met up with some of his friends, most of whom also read. Right there, that little literary alarm went off in my head, and my nose tingled at the prospect of a new hunt. Who, I asked, leaning forward, is this Eric Ambler? You know that I went on Amazon that night and looked up Ambler's entire bibliography in print; and you know, fellow Goodreader, that I looked him up on wikipedia and skimmed through his particulars.

By the time I stepped away from the computer, I knew that I would be picking up a book by Ambler in the near future. Such restraint: back then, if I saw a book was brand-spanking new, I held off and told myself to wait for a used copy; these days, I'm not so well-behaved--hence the massive to-read shelf looming over my shoulder like a troll with a law degree and a court summons Eventually, I found a used Eric Ambler book, and that book was a paperback edition different than what is pictured here, I just preferred to include my review with the lot of them of "A Coffin for Dimitrios.

And the big--no, humongous--difference between him any other writer who tries to do this today is that Eric Ambler was alive and writing in Europe on the eve of World War II. The man knows how to write a good story--and he had his fingers on Europe's erratic pulse in the late s, when governments kept telling themselves and each other that they would never, ever commit the same sins that they had done a few decades before, while at the same time some of them braced themselves for the second coming of the war gods and their insatiable thirst. Meanwhile, people across the continent continued to travel between countries, wielding their passports and visas with casual aplomb; families spread out with the promise of seeing each other again; businesses connected with their clients across various borders; and the general mood on the continent waxed positive, as people recovered from the horror of mass warfare and picked up the efforts and dreams that their predecessors had carried into the early 20th century.

I am fascinated by this period of the 20C, and I relish any book that captures its mood and atmosphere. That Ambler not only does this, but also mixes in a complicated espionage story with believable characters who sweat and bleed and probably curse, makes his work a special favorite of mine. And in this book, Ambler is working at his very best. I could not consume it fast enough, and when I was done I felt like telling every person I knew to read this book.

Read it now. See what life was like back then, and enjoy a helluva adventure while doing so. Thank you Lawrence should you ever come across this , for showing the way to Eric Ambler. Oct 21, Tosh rated it it was amazing. You can smell Orson Welles off the pages - or maybe it's Graham Greene? Nevetheless it's the start of the war years in Europe circ. In other words welcome to the world of Eric Amber. The classic suspense writer and this is a great classic thriller. And back to Welles, it reminds me of The Third Man - not in plotting, but just the feel of dread in Europe at the time.

But wait Third Man takes place after the war - well, this is right before the war. Same thing! Apr 02, Lauren rated it it was amazing Shelves: crime. Latimer is a mystery writer on holiday. He's supposed to be writing his next book--especially now that he doesn't have his Oxford salary to depend upon--but instead, he's treading water. He finds himself introduced to a Colonel Haki who has a mysteriously high and dangerous position with the Tu 'I am sorry,' said Latimer uncomfortably.

He finds himself introduced to a Colonel Haki who has a mysteriously high and dangerous position with the Turkish police and who has, of course, a slightly hackneyed plot he wants to pitch. I am obviously being invited to the wrong lunches with the wrong people, because they never end like this. Dimitrios was a large-scale drug dealer, a pimp, and a murderer, utterly unlike the characters Latimer has been writing, situated in their orderly country houses. Without being able to explain why, Latimer becomes obsessed with learning more about Dimitrios and filling in the missing gaps of his biography, the times when his name changes or underground movements were so successful that the system lost track of him.

This leads him on a journey across Europe as he does the legwork to piece together Dimitrios's life across borders and jurisdictions. Soon enough, unsurprisingly, this embroils him in peril and additional mystery. Ambler is a smooth, nuanced, and often funny writer. He can take on with equal aplomb a long, chilling speech describing the slow descent into drug addiction and a tongue-in-cheek description of dangerous absurdity: "A person who searched rooms, brandished pistols, dangled promises of half a million franc fees for nameless services and then wrote instructions to Polish spies might reasonably be regarded with suspicion.

It has intrigue but no glamour; it's full of self-aggrandizement and routine betrayal. Impressively, he makes Dimitrios a deadly and legendary figure without making him superhuman. He has "very brown, anxious eyes that make you think of a doctor's eyes when he is doing something to you that hurts. The further Latimer delves into Dimitrios's life, the less Dimitrios fascinates him as an individual and the more he fascinates him as a symbol of the time : "The logic of Michelangelo's David , Beethoven's quartets and Einstein's physics had been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Yearbook and Hitler's Mein Kampf.

There weren't a lot of surprises in store. My favourite characters were the shady Peters and Colonel Haki whose presence was quite minute unfortunately. Charles Latimer was a likeable enough main character but his presence was often overshadowed by the other characters. Feb 04, Lyn Elliott rated it really liked it Shelves: thrillers , mystery. A good read. It's held up amazingly well, and though the locations deadly power games played by Dimitrios have shifted in today's world, you can't help recognise techniques for fomenting discord.

The central plot device naive mystery writer sets out to satisfy curiosity seems pretty shaky to me, and some of the tools used to advance the narrative are clunky the letters that Latimer writes to the Turkish policeman to bring him up to date, for instance. I'm surprised I hadn't read it before, gl A good read.

I'm surprised I hadn't read it before, glad I have now. Oct 01, Robert Kettering rated it it was amazing. I give this one five stars because I've heard that it was the first of its kind international espionage thriller and because it was one of those books I hated to end.

Eric Ambler was a first-writer I prefer the title given to it in the UK, "Mask of Dimitrios", which I think was the also title of the Hollywood movie. Haki tells Latimer about Dimitrios Makropolous, a murderer, drug dealer, assassin and general rogue, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus. Fascinated by the story, Latimer decides to retrace Dimitrios's steps across Europe to find out more about him. The plot conceit of having a writer of detective novels as the protagonist is a great way of contrasting detective novels with real world investigation.

The plot machinations of Latimer's investigation make ' The Mask of Dimitrios ' a rich source of European history during the early s through to the end of s. Despite WW1 being over, Europe was still awash with ethnic cleansing, ideological conflict, political assassination, and crime. Prime ministers were assassinated, drugs, women and state secrets were bought and sold, and the fascists and communists took what advantage they could. Amoral entrepreneurs like Dimitrios exploited the situation and ' The Mask of Dimitrios ' effectively relates his story.

It's hard to imagine that his detective fiction could amount to much. This aspect of the book confused me and undermined my enjoyment.


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However, putting this qualm to one side, it is an undeniably enjoyable, informative and compelling tale. Jun 25, Bev rated it liked it Shelves: mystery , thriller. There have been exceptions over the years. I love the Maltese Falcon with Bogart. In fact, you might say that I prefer my thriller So In fact, you might say that I prefer my thrillers and spy novels on screen rather than in print.

Which leads me to my point A Coffin for Dimitrios doesn't read well for me. You'd think I'd love Eric Ambler's former academic, now mystery author protagonist. I'm big on mysteries with an academic connection of any sort. But, honestly, most of the book felt like a really long, dry lecture class.

There was a lot of tell and very little show In the second half of the book, we get several long stories from people who knew Dimitrios. They tell us all about what Dimitrios was like and what he did and how he made his money and swindled people or killed people or whatever--but very little action.

But, as he gradually discovers more about his subject's shadowy history, fascination tips over into obsession. And, in entering Dimitrios' criminal underworld, Latimer realizes that his own life may be on the line. This is the best detective novel I have ever read.

The Mask of Dimitrios

Would have given it five stars in its genre. It had classic crime and detective novel features interspersed with more serious historical and social Excellent between-the-wars spy story that sets the bar for later entries into the genre. The tale has also given numerous parts of itself to other writers.

A solid bit of Charade, that delightful He is now Professor of History at Columbia University. The Mask of Dimitrios. Eric Ambler. The Dossier of Dimitrios.