The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

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When I read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express my main criticism was that she was writing a murder in a vicarage set on a train, when the real Europe that she was alive in and writing about was on the verge of war and there seemed nothing of that in her story. Well, I was reading the wrong author. I should have been reading Eric Ambler. Here, he was writing in the 1930s but was not afraid to reference what was happening with a foreboding of the horrors that were to come. He does mention the Orient Express, but also heroin smuggling, the sex slave trade and he even references Mein Kampf. But it’s all done in a very modern, knowing way. Our hero is a crime novelist who yearns for something more real than murder in the country manor, and finds himself with too much reality on his hands hunting for Dimitrios, an unscrupulous killer beyond the reach of the long arm of the law. It’s a crime novel, but feels more like a spy novel in which moral certainties have to be checked at he door. Great stuff, and I’ll look for more by Ambler.

No. 2 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2020.

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Patrick Sherriff, an Englishman who survived 13 years working for newspapers in the US, UK and Japan. Between teaching English lessons at his conversation school in Abiko, Japan, with his wife, he writes and illustrates textbooks for non-native speakers of English, releases Hana Walker mystery novels, short stories, essays and a monthly newsletter  highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. Saku’s Random Book Club is his latest project to spend more time with books.