Ambler gives us a protagonist that is so hard to like, who makes his success in outwitting the smart and dangerous international jewel thieves feel like an accident. A loser through and through who ends where he started, having gained nothing (money, acknowledgement or character) after his wild ride. The reader, is caught up in a caper that he/she is seeing and feeling (uncomfortably) through the eyes and mind of a very small time thief who has lived a life stealing just enough and doing only enough so as to stay just steps away from being seen or caught. Time, place and characters are portrayed in Ambler's unadorned tongue in cheek style, and pull you, the reader, right in. Funny. I gave it a four because I didn't like the protagonist from page 1, and kept wanting to find something, anything to explain why I wanted him to succeed. In the end, he flubs his win and is still a loser. It's a good Ambler.
If you have seen the film "Topkapi", this is the novel it is based on. I say based because it takes a while to get to the .... well, I won't spoil it for others. I am reading my way through Ambler's novels and this had got to be one of his best - if not THE best. The protagonist is a lovably blundering petty crook with an excuse for every misfortune in his life, of which there have been many. His "partners in crime" range from sexy to murderous and all are mysterious and interesting. And fun, If you only read one Eric Ambler novel, make it this one. (But why would you read only one?)
Ambler's character descriptions are meticulous but often overdone as word count fillers The famous museum robbery handled as an afterthought missing the potential central action of the book. Main character Simpson is amusingly inept at times but finally a hero. Purpose as intro to Ambler
I think this is Mr. Ambler's best and a hoot to read. The protagonist has to be one of the most colorful non-heroes in fiction, and, as I read, I kept seeing Peter Ustinov from the film version. The book is travelogue, social commentary, and spy thriller, of a sort. It was surprising to discover what transpired and changed from the first page to the last -- and what did not. It was believable and entertaining, and I recommend it as an Eric Ambler classic.
Many consider Ambler to be the father of the modern spy novel, and as far as I can tell, none his offspring have surpassed him. Each of novel and short story carefully crafts mystery puzzles with detailed analysis of the motivations and espionage tricks used by each participant against the others. Topkapi is set in romantic post WWI Istanbul and also lavishes the reader with loving historic detail of the history of the city and its ancient buildings, as well as its geo-political background leading up to that eventful period.
In my opinion, Eric Ambler is at his very best when writing about the intersection of politics and crime. Unlike many writers of his time, he understood the danger of first facism and then later communism. He best books were written before the Second World War "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and just right after "Judgment on Deltchev". His books about the end of Colonialism in Southeast Asia, "State of Seige" and "Passage of Arms" are also gems written while these events were happening.
Eric Ambler created the modern espionage novel and this is the genre where he shines. His crime novels like "The Light of the Day" are very good but in my view are second tier works. I can see why many reviewers gave this novel five stars. Ambler's writing style is so strong and Athens and Instanbul are exotic locations. While Ambler's lead character is very interesting, I found the plot to be too formulaic. He systematically goes from point A to point B and then to point C. There are none of the great plot twists which the best Ambler novels are known. Although a superior stylist, Ambler plods his way through this novel.
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard seems to be re-releasing all of Eric Ambler's novels. If you are new to Eric Ambler, he is defintely worth reading. He is a master of the espionage genre. However, start with another one of his more political novels. "The Light of Day" should be read after all the really great novels have been consumed.
"Topkapi: The Light of Day" (first published in 1962) by Eric Ambler (1909-1998) is a classic, of course. It received the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1964. The Edgar Award (named after Edgar Allan Poe) is presented yearly by the Mystery Writers of America.
The story is also famous for the 1964 film "Topkapi," with its all-star cast of Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximillian Schell, Robert Morley and others, enjoying a more-or-less resemblance to the book's plot. Read the book first.
Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is now a museum. It was the primary residence of Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856.
The main character (for whom Ustinov won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the film version) is a British (though Egyptian born) 50-something fellow named Arthur Simpson. He gets involved with the book's other characters as an anti-hero, working on one hand with the police and on the other hand as an accomplice to the boldly-planned gem heist at the Topkapi Museum. He actually (but barely) survives this faux "double-agent" experience. He narrates the story.
Though not on most lists of "100 Best Mystery Stories," "Topkapi" nonetheless is a fun, funny and clever story - straight out of the low-tech heist action stories of Europe in the early 1960s. For that "throw-back" experience, for its humor, and for its exotic Istanbul setting, the story is well worth a read. It is truly funny, greatly charming, rather conversational, somewhat slow-paced and well-written in the inimitable Eric Ambler style.
I was 75% into the book before I realized the movie Topkapi was based on the story.It was a semi famous movie of the early 60's that garnered an Oscar for Peter Ustinov. I love the way the narrator is so rough on himself. Like the time when the women in the crime clack says, "I cant stand being around that twerp. He gives me the creeps."