Nicky Marlow needs a job. He’s engaged to be married and the employment market in Britain in 1937 is pretty slim. So when his fiancée points out the position with an English armaments manufacturer in Italy, he jumps at the chance.
Soon after he arrives, however, he learns the sinister truth about his predecessor’s departure and finds himself courted by two agents with dangerously different agendas. In the process, Marlow realizes that it’s not so simple just to do the job he’s paid for – not in fascist Italy, on the eve of a world war.
©1954 Eric Ambler (P)2009 Audible Ltd
Eric Ambler practically invented the modern spy novel -- his works set in the late 30s define the European noir version of the genre. Always there is a more-or-less innocent person caught suddenly in the web of international intrigue, and Ambler conveys the helpless, swept-along nature of the plots very effectively. His atmospheres and settings are beautifully done, one almost sees The Third Man playing in black and white with dramatic lighting as one reads. Except for the clumsily drawn American-but-a-Russian-agent Zaleshoff (Brits have always had trouble with American dialogue) the characters are fascinating, well-defined, and plausible. David Thorpe's narration is spot on -- he is great as the oh-so-English protagonist/narrator, and does a nice job with the atmospherics that are so central to Ambler's work.
Not one of my favorite Ambler novels, and I can't decide whether the problem is the book itself or the performance. The protagonist is an insufferable bore and constant complainer, but to some degree, perhaps a large degree, that may be due to the way Thorpe inflects his every utterance with a plaintive, grating whine. Similarly, the other main character, a Russian agent masquerading as an "American" businessman, is rendered with an American accent that is a bit of a mess and very distracting. Given that the bulk of the story involves these two in a sort of buddy-movie escape plot, this novel may be much better to read than to listen to.
This is my third Ambler book and this one was the best so far. The narration was top rate. I could not wait to get in the car each day, a good test of a 5 star book for me. Too bad I can't find more authors like Ambler. Highest recommendation I can give. Looking forward to my next Ambler book.
"A dated thriller"
Enjoyable romp through Fascist Italy with a American who might well be a Russian agent and our hero, a slightly dim Arthur Dent like character. The plot does stretch the imagination but the action is fast and furious.
The narration was a joy and for that reason I have upgraded the rating to four stars whilst the story only merited three.
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