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5.0 von 5 Sternen The unbelievable stupidity of espionage,
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Rezension bezieht sich auf: Epitaph for a Spy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) (Taschenbuch)Eric Amblers has a trick of the trade: An amateur in matters of detection or espionage is made to stumble into a situation, where he has to prove his wit, sometimes his intelligence but always his courage in uncovering secret plots or, after having discovered the hidden scheme, in escaping from those who wish to again cover up what has been brought into the open. In most novels, the hero is not alone but will be supported by others who themselves are deep into the shady business. There are variations to this theme in Eric Amblers novels. The heroes may have more or less wit, more or less courage, more or less drive, more or less support.
In the present novel the hero is out on his own. Suspected as a Gestapo agent while spending hard earned holidays in a remote hotel on the Riviera, the hero, Josef Vadassy, a Hungarian refugee and impecunious language teacher, is turned into a weapon against the hidden spy among the small community of the hotel. But what a blunt weapon he soon turns out to be. Detection and (counter-)espionage are not amateur's business, as Vadassy quickly discovers. His various attempts at uncovering the spy are fruitless and make him an almost ridiculous character. But so are the others: Two Americans, brother and sister, who have a story of their own to tell (but avoid doing so), a cheerful Swiss couple of no obvious depth which has a deep purpose of its own, a shy German who could be traitor or betrayed, a Monsieur Duclos who might be a comic character on the surface but something else below, the hotel manager with a past of his own, the police and its undisclosed scheme, and all the others among whom one must be the real spy.
When at the end the real spy has been discovered and is killed, a story of mostly humorous confusion comes to an almost unexpected end. All the twists and turns along the way are not the result of careful thinking and scheming but appear as chance events which, with more circumspection on the part of the actors, might have lead on to a very different outcome. When the knot is eventually untied some things turn out well, but not all ends well: Among all those betraying or betrayed some will get what they deserve, others will escape lucky, but for some the end of the story is their personal doom. History, in this case the impending Second World War, is always there in the background, and not just to add colour and drive to the book: It is very real and in its consequences very sad for some of the characters.
The very Aristotelian focus of the novel on a few days in a single location with a small cast of characters is reminiscent of much of Agatha Christie's writing. But there is more colour to the characters, more humour to the narrative and more real background in history to the story than in any of her novels. And unlike the super sleuths of Christie we are here looking at a story where chance and amusing stupidity do more to uncover the secrets than wit and intelligence. The story is no less captivating for this. It is all the more human.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Amateur Counter-Spy and His Bungles!,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Epitaph for a Spy (Pan Classic Crime) (Taschenbuch)To read or not to read the great spy novels of Eric Ambler? That is the question most people ignore because they are not familiar with Mr. Ambler and his particular talent.
Mr. Ambler has always had this problem. As Alfred Hitchcock noted in his introduction to Intrigue (an omnibus volume containing Journey into Fear, A Coffin for Dimitrios, Cause for Alarm and Background to Danger), "Perhaps this was the volume that brought Mr. Ambler to the attention of the public that make best-sellers. They had been singularly inattentive until its appearance -- I suppose only God knows why." He goes on to say, "They had not even heeded the critics, who had said, from the very first, that Mr. Ambler had given new life and fresh viewpoint to the art of the spy novel -- an art supposedly threadbare and certainly cliché-infested."
So what's new and different about Eric Ambler writing? His heroes are ordinary people with whom almost any reader can identify, which puts you in the middle of a turmoil of emotions. His bad guys are characteristic of those who did the type of dirty deeds described in the book. His angels on the sidelines are equally realistic to the historical context. The backgrounds, histories and plot lines are finely nuanced into the actual evolution of the areas and events described during that time. In a way, these books are like historical fiction, except they describe deceit and betrayal rather than love and affection. From a distance of over 60 years, we read these books today as a way to step back into the darkest days of the past and relive them vividly. You can almost see and feel a dark hand raised to strike you in the back as you read one of his book's later pages. In a way, these stories are like a more realistic version of what Dashiell Hammett wrote as applied to European espionage.
Since Mr. Ambler wrote, the thrillers have gotten much bigger in scope . . . and moved beyond reality. Usually, the future of the human race is at stake. The heroes make Superman look like a wimp in terms of their prowess and knowledge. There's usually a love interest who exceeds your vision of the ideal woman. Fast-paced violence and killing dominate most pages. There are lots of toys to describe and use in imaginative ways. The villains combine the worst faults of the 45 most undesirable people in world history and have gained enormous wealth and power while being totally crazy. The plot twists and turns like cruise missile every few seconds in unexpected directions. If you want a book like that, please do not read Mr. Ambler's work. You won't like it.
If you want to taste, touch, smell, see and hear evil from close range and move through fear to defeat it, Mr. Ambler's your man.
On to Epitaph for a Spy. During the pre-World War II era, it was common for ordinary citizens to be pressed into espionage activities, whether knowingly or not. These were often wealthy yachtsmen, newspaper reporters and industrialists with connections. Mr. Ambler deliberately makes a joke of that practice by making his "spy" be one of the biggest bunglers you can imagine . . . a predecessor to Inspector Clouseau. In fact, this book is one of the few humorous spy stories. Yet the humor is like that of Shakespeare's clowns . . . to relief the tension from the horrible events happening elsewhere in the story.
To me, Epitaph for a Spy is one of Ambler's greatest accomplishments. He convincingly and appealingly combines elements that I have never seen put together in another espionage story.
It's just before the start of World War II in the south of France, not far from Toulon where the French Mediterranean fleet was docked. Josef Vadassy, a stateless "Hungarian" who works as a language teacher in Paris, is taking for him a luxurious vacation at the shore for two weeks. His only valuable possession is a wonderful camera that he is using to make artistic photographs of lizards. Usually he does his own developing, but being on vacation he wants to see how the effects of his experiments work out so he takes the film to a local chemist. When he returns to pick up the film, he's unexpectedly arrested!
The police commissaire shows him the films and asks, "Was it the lighting, Vadassy, or was it the massing of shadows that so interested you in the new fortifications outside the naval harbor of Toulon?" Shocked by the question, Vadassy looks at the prints. "Lizards, lizards, lizards. Then came a photo from what looked like one end of a concrete gallery . . . I was looking at the long, sleek barrels of siege guns."
The police soon become convinced that he did not take the photographs, but it is a question of national security to find out who did. Surely, it is someone at Vadassy's hotel. He's given the choice of being deported or helping unmask the real spy.
From there, the fun begins. Vadassy is supposed to interrogate the guests, create all kinds of excitement . . . and wander down to the public telephone where all can hear to report his progress every morning. Naturally, he's no match for the spy. The complications will keep you enjoyably mystified as you learn all about the secrets that the guests are hiding.
More seriously, you realize that the police see Vadassy as an expendable pawn in a mortal battle. Ambler wants you to see the dangers of dehumanizing enemies, friends and foes. You'll come away convinced that such "strategic" thinking makes us less secure in ways that we don't appreciate.
After you finish the book, think about parallels to today's world and how we may sometimes compromise our human compassion and spiritual dimensions by first serving "strategic" national interests. I found the issue timely.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen An honourable school teacher learns the art of espionage,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Epitaph for a Spy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) (Taschenbuch)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. In rather traditional fashion, Vadassy hotel is peopled by a diverse but limited group of`suspects'. There is the couple that runs the hotel, an American brother and sister, an English major and his Italian-born wife, a couple enjoying a romantic getaway with someone other than their spouses, a German businessman and a Swiss couple. Vadassy is not a particularly good spy. He has been thrust into a situation for which he is woefully unprepared. In fact he is rather inept. I thought of Vadassy as Hercule Poirot as played by Inspector Clousseau of Pink Panther fame.
As the story progresses, Ambler does a very nice job of fleshing out the underlying personalities of his cast of characters. Not every is quite as it seems of course and Vadassy stumbles from one suspect to the next. By the time the book has reached its conclusion the reader has had an opportunity to assess each character enough to make a guess as to who the real spy is. It is to Ambler's credit that the spy is not readily apparent, at least not to this reader.
Epitaph for a Spy was an excellent read and I look forward to reading more of Ambler's work.
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Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics) von Eric Ambler (Taschenbuch - 28. Mai 2009)