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The emergence of the detective story in the nineteenth century has been accounted for satisfactorily enough by Mr. Howard Haycraft. "Clearly," he says, "there could be no detective stories until there were detectives. This did not occur until the nineteenth century.

The belated appearance of the spy story is harder to explain.

Prostitution may be the oldest profession in the world but that of spy cannot be much younger.
    -Footnote to Epitaph for a Spy, Eric Ambler (1909-1998)
As Eric Ambler suggested in that Footnote, the spy thriller was more or less a 20th century concoction. He goes on to credit a handful of books and authors for birthing the genre -- The Riddle of the Sands [1903 (Erskine Childers); The Secret Agent [1907] (Joseph Conrad); The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan); and Ashenden (W. Somerset Maugham) -- but, of course, he did as much as anyone to establish its conventions. Read anything by Robert Ludlum or watch an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, in which an innocent man is plunked down in the middle of a conspiracy, and you'll see his influence.

Epitaph for a Spy is one of his classics. Josef Vadassy is a guileless language teacher indulging his photography hobby on the French Riviera when he gets picked up by the police and questioned about a series of pictures he seems to have taken of coastal fortifications. The Commissaire de Police recognizes there's been a mix-up, but takes advantage of Vadassy's uncertain citizenship status -- he's a Hungarian refugee -- to make the young man investigate his fellow guests at the Hotel de la Reserve. In effect, the pictures become little more than a mcguffin, affording Ambler a chance to put his cast of colorful characters through their paces. As one of them puts it:
"Well," said Skelton, "I don't know what it was all about, but we certainly see life at the Reserve."
And life at the Reserve is very entertaining in the author's hands.

Oh, and, by the way, if you're curious:
"He needed the money."
It was like an epitaph.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Eric Ambler (2 books reviewed)
Eric Ambler Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Eric Ambler
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Eric Ambler (IMDB)
    -AUTHOR SITE: Eric Ambler Books
    -WIKIPEDIA: Journey into Fear (film)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Journey Into Fear TV Series (1966– ) (IMDB)
    -AUDIO READING: Journey into Fear (BBC)
    -RADIO PLAY: Journey Into Fear (The Hour of Mystery, Aired 6/9/1946)
    -RADIO PLAY: Journey into Fear (BBC)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Journey into Fear (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Eric Ambler: British author (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Eric Ambler (Oxford Reference)
    -ENTRY: Eric Ambler (
    -ENTRY: Eric Ambler (kirjasto)
    -AUDIO BOOK: A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (You Tube)
    -DESERT ISLAND DISCS: Eric Ambbler (BBC)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview With Eric Ambler (Joel Hopkins, Fall 1975, Journal of Popular Culture)
    -PROFILE: Outside His Window, Within His Heart, Eric Ambler Finds the Stuff of Great Spy Novels (Robert Emmett Ginna, June 06, 1977, People)
    -PROFILE: A Storyteller's Story (David Streitfeld, April 23, 1995, Washington Post)
    -OBIT: Eric Ambler, Thriller Writer Who Elevated the Genre to Literature, Is Dead at 89 (Eric Pace, Oct. 24, 1998, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Eric Ambler (James Pettifer, 24 October 1998, Independent)
    -OBIT: Eric Ambler (Variety, Nov 1, 1998)
    -OBIT: Eric Ambler, 89, a pioneering author (Baltimore Sun, 10/24/89)
    -OBIT: Eric Ambler; Literary Father of the Modern Spy Thriller (LA Times, OCT. 24, 1998)
    -TRIBUTE: REMEMBERING ERIC AMBLER (ED KELLY, Feb 14, 1999, Buffalo News)
    -ESSAY: Existential Subjects in Sinister Situations (Pedro Blas Gonzalez, 12/11/23, Voegelin Views)
    -ESSAY: On Rereading Eric Ambler (JOHN WILSON, JUL 7, 2023, Prufrock)
    -ESSAY: A Point of View: The enduring relevance of Eric Ambler's spy novels : The characters in Eric Ambler's pre-war spy novels are adrift in a fractured and uncertain Europe, manipulated by forces they neither understand nor control. The books hold an uncomfortable mirror to the modern world, says philosopher John Gray, 8/23/15, BBC Magazine)
    -ESSAY: ERIC AMBLER: A CRIME READER'S GUIDE TO THE CLASSICS: Revisiting the Father of the Modern Thriller (NEIL NYREN, 9/21/18, Crime Reads)
    -ESSAY: Dangerous games: He became intrigued by the shady, unsavoury characters whom he would once have cast as villains Eric Ambler's exciting, fast-paced spy novels influenced Hitchcock and Graham Greene, and with their leftish take on 1930s European politics rescued the genre from nationalist cliché. Thomas Jones on a consummate thriller writer whose scrutiny of the links between big business and bad governments is all too relevant today (Thomas Jones, 5 Jun 2009, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Remembering Eric Ambler: On the virtues of the English novelist’s writing and life. (Albert Ashforth, March 2017, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Our Man in Europe: Eric Ambler and the 1930s: The writer Eric Ambler built his literary reputation on a series of thrillers published in the years prior to the Second World War. Praised for their maturity and realism, these works drew upon the febrile politics of the 1930s and explored the bellicose atmosphere of the interwar years. This article examines how these works were influenced by Ambler’s experiences as a tourist in Europe. (Michael Noble, Oct 14, 2018, Medium)
    -ESSAY: Socialism and suspense: Eric Ambler was born a century ago, but the morally compromised world of his left-wing thrillers is (Robert Hanks, 6/25/09, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: Beyond the Balkans – Eric Ambler and the British Espionage Novel, 1936-1940: Eric Ambler (1909-1998) was one of the foremost architects of espionage fiction as it exists today. Like his predecessor Somerset Maugham, Ambler sought to transform the genre from the verbal banality and minimal characterizations of authors William Le Queux and Edward Oppenheim to a more sophisticated, morally ambiguous world of deception and danger. (Brett F. Woods, 12/24/19, California Literary Review)
    -ESSAY: Broken Covers – Eric Ambler (Jeff, JANUARY 17, 2018, SpyWrite)
    -ESSAY: Eric Ambler on The Mask of Dimitrios, Journey into Fear and Judgment on Deltchev: Introduction to Intrigue (Hodder, 1965) (Nick Jones, 1/30/14, Existential Ennui)
    -ESSAY: UNCOMMONLY DANGEROUS: ERIC AMBLER ON TV (Tise Vahimagi, May 29th, 2009, Mystery File)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Snakes and Ladders: Eric Ambler's newly reissued spy thrillers confront a century of political treachery. (JENNIFER HOWARD, 2/01/02, Boston Review)
    -DOCTORAL THESIS: Reluctant Heroes, Ambivalent Patriots : Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Middlebrow Leftist Thrillers 1932-1945 (Christopher Doyle, 2018, Sheffield Hallam University)
    -ESSAY: Eric Ambler's heroes : Jake Kerridge champions Eric Ambler's probing art (Jake Kerridge, 18 Jun 2009, The Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: Pulp Valentine: Eric Ambler and the invention of the spy novel. (STEPHEN METCALF, 5/25/06, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Eric Ambler and His Land of Shadows (The Wandering Minstrel, Jan 8, 2019, Blitzedit)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Eric Ambler: Where to Start? (Agora Books)
    -ESSAY: Eric Ambler’s “lost” novel (JEFF, 2/25/16, SpyWrite)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Come Out of the Darkness Into the Light of Day (ethan Iverson, Do the Math)
    -PODCAST: Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times on Spy Novels (Spybrary Podcast)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -ARCHIVES: Eric Ambler (Criminal Element)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler (Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (William Armstrong, Hurriyet Daily News)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (J. Kingston Pierce, Rap Sheet)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (Matt Lynn, 5 Books)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (A Little Blog of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (John Self, Asylum)
    -REVIEW: of Journey Into Fear (Scott Head, Head's Film and Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (books & books)
    REVIEW: of Journey into Fear (Teresa, Shelf Love)
    -REVIEW: of A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (Sarah Weinman, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of A Coffin for Dimitrios (Mystery Reviews 2017)
    -REVIEW: of Mask of Dmitrios (Gotham Calling)
    -REVIEW: of Mask of Dimitrious (Dr Richard McGonigle, CapX)
    -REVIEW: of Coffin for Dmitrios (Eyrie)
    -REVIEW: of Mask of Dmitrious (Past Offences)
    -REVIEW: of Mask of Dmitrios (Crime Scraps)
    -REVIEW: of Coffin for Dmitrios (Louis Proyect, Swans)
    -REVIEW: Mask of Dmitrios (Jonathan Spain)
    -REVIEW: of Coffin for Dmitrios (Yvette Candraw, In so Many Words)
    -REVIEW: of Backround to Danger by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Uncommon Danger by Eric Ambler (Book Lit)
    -REVIEW: of Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler (Lady Fancifull)
    -REVIEW: of Cause for Alarm (Colin Ricketts, For Reading Addicts)
    -REVIEW: of Judgment on Deltchev by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Judgment on Deltchev (To Bulgaria)
    -REVIEW: of The Nightcomers by Eric Ambler (PorPor Book Blog)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Uncommon Danger (Pechorins Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler (Bitter Tea and Mystery)
    -REVIEW: of EPITAPH FOR A SPY (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Light of Day (Jacqui Wine's Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Light of Day (Lesley Mason, Book Bag)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Story by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Dark Frontier by Eric Ambler (Jack Goodstein, BLOGCRITICS.ORG)
    -REVIEW: of The Intercom Affair by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Nightcomers by Eric Ambler (Thomas Burchfield, A Curious Man)
    -REVIEW: of DOCTOR FRIGO by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of THE LEVANTER by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Siege of the Villa Lipp by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Care of Time by Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler (Cross Examining Crime)
    -REVIEW: of Passage of Arms (Jim Beaman, Crime Review)
    -REVIEW: The Edgar Awards Revisited: The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (Best Novel; 1964) (GABINO IGLESIAS, March 15, 2019, Criminal Element)
    -REVIEW: of The Light of Day (TOBY GUISE, Reaction)
    -REVIEW: of Waiting for Orders (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of WAITING FOR ORDERS: The Complete Stories of Eric Ambler (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Eric Ambler, A Literary Biography By Peter Lewis (Russell James, Crime Time)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: Eric Ambler (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Journey Into Fear TV Series (1966– ) (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (NY Times, March 19, 1943)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Jonathan Lewis, Mystery File)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Dan Stumpf, Mystery File)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Variety, Dec 31, 1942)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Reviews from the Bottom of the Barrel)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Danilo Castro, Classic Movie Hub Blog)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (DVD Beaver)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Paul Tatara, Turner Classic Movies)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Bryan Cyr, Everything Noir)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (AuthorTony D'Ambra,
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (Dennis Schwartz)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (New Granada)
    -FILM REVIEW: Journey into Fear (1975) (Noirish)

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