ERIC AMBLER – A Kind of Anger. Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1964. Atheneum, S, hardcover, 1964. Bantam, US, paperback, 1965. Reprinted many times.

   I had been the editor and part-owner of Ethos, an experimental international news review which had gone bankrupt, and that I had spent several months in a French mental hospital following a suicide attempt. The investigators, a Paris firm of private detectives, had even managed to worm out of the hospital authorities the fact that I had received shock treatments.

   The narrator is Piet Maas, a Dutch-born English-speaking reporter for the news magazine World Reporter. He’s also a typical Ambler hero, walking-wounded, no one’s hero, but a surprising survivor.

   Mr. Cust, Piet’s employer, wants rid of Piet because he is none to fond of people with mental problems, but he is also incredibly cheap and Piet has five months to go on his contract, so when a story comes up, a humdinger, and there is no one else available, the result is inevitable: “Pete, you shake the long hair out of your eyes, get your ass out of there and find that bikini girl…”

   “That bikini girl,” is related to a story Mr. Cust wants his Paris editor to assign Piet to breaking, a story Piet has little interest in, “ …a man named Arbil had been murdered in Switzerland and the police were trying to find some woman who wore a bikini and had witnessed the crime.” Said girl has been missing some time now, and Mr. Cust doesn’t want to be scooped by Time or Newsweek.

   Piet, like many an Eric Ambler hero before him, is in over his head before he even starts.

   After the War, Ambler seemed to lose track a little. Admittedly he was busy with new-found fame and a career as a screenwriter, but the post-war Ambler books just don’t measure up to his pre-war classics. They aren’t bad books, from anyone else they would be outstanding books, but they just aren’t Ambler at his best.

   That changed with The Light of Day, which Jules Dassin made into the classic film Topkapi. The book introduced a new wry humor into the mix, and Ambler fans waited with some trepidation to see what he would do next. What he did was A Kind of Anger.

   Sales and reviews said he was back on track and they were both right.

   Piet soon finds why everyone wants the girl in the bikini. Her name is Lucia Bernardi and she was the mistress of a wealthy man in Zurich fleeing his chateau there where he had been tortured then murdered. The man in question is “Ahmed Fathir Arbil, and he was an Iraqi. He was also a refugee.” Worse, he is a former Iraqi police chief, a Colonel who knows where bodies are buried and money hidden, and there are people who would like to find Lucia Bernardi for both reasons — to question her, or silence her. Complicating things more is the fact Lucia met Abril while in the company of an American named Patrick Chase, a suspected con man.

   Chase is actually named Philip Sanger, born in Lyon, France, and what he has to do with everything is where much of the plot comes in.

   Piet, though, is pretty good at what he does, and it is Piet who gets to Lucia first.

   And as luck would have it, Piet finds himself falling for Lucia, and suddenly faced with a choice. He can have the girl or the headline. Solidify his job at World Reporter, get an international by-line, and make his career, rebuilding his life in one stroke; or with Lucia, and Philip Sanger and his wife, Piet can gamble everything on the neatest little bit of international blackmail ever conceived.

   This being an Eric Ambler novel, you only get one guess which path he takes discovering things about himself, falling in love, and of course very nearly ending up dead a few times along the way before Piet, his love, his friends, and justice all get more or less well served.

   Sanger is another example of Ambler’s favorite kind of shadowy figure, the able criminal, one who may be suspected, but can never quite be caught, a smarter and more capable version of Graham Greene’s Harry Lime. In his earlier novels they were men like the murderous Dimitrios, but as the years passed, Ambler developed a kind of admiration for them until in Send No More Roses the able criminal was the hero of the book.

   Ambler remained uneven for the rest of his career, but he also wrote some of the best books of his career like Levanter and Dr. Frigo, not just thrillers, but novels that had something to say, often with a dark sense of humor. There are three distinct eras in Ambler’s work, the early years ending with Cause For Alarm, the post-War years where his books under his own name and in collaboration with Charles Rodda seemed to have lost something they once had, and the era beginning with The Light of Day where Ambler turned back to books walked away from cinema and produced some of his best works.

    A Kind of Anger is prime Ambler, modern in tone, complex, and about people you might actually meet if you hung out in the Europe Eric Ambler types hang out in where the double cross and dark alley always seem more appealing than the straight and narrow. The wry humor added to the mix of intrigue and irony proved a tonic for Ambler and his fans.
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