Saturday, January 23, 2010
Eric Ambler - The Mask of Dimitrios
This is an unusual crime thriller. It follows an unlikely hero, Charles Latimer as he crosses Europe trying to get discover the full story of the mysterious Dimitrios. Latimer is a crime novelist, and on a trup to Istanbul he is taken by a fan - a senior policeman to see the results of a real crime. This is the body of Dimitrios, now at the end of a long life of crime, doublecrossing and violence.
As he listens to the somewhat patchy life history of Dimitrios a fire it lit in Latimer, who decides he will attempt to find out who this man really was. So starts a trip of discovery that brings Latimer into the dirty underbelly of interwar Europe.
It's a fine novel, not particularly challenging and there are some fairly obvious twists that pop up from time to time. But the descriptions of the cafes, bars and brothels are what makes the novel. Amber has a nice writing style that means he recounts every part of Dimitrios' life differently. Once it is in the form of a letter that Latimer sends containing details of his meeting with someone who knew the man. Another time it's a conversation recounted or a flashback from an old lover.
Clearly this is the forerunner of the more modern "thriller". But it is worth reading not because of this historical interest, but because of the beautifully portrayed, dark and dangerous criminal underworld that we can imagine surrounds our more mundane society.