Monday, October 06, 2014
15. Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler
Journey into Fear was excellent. A naive British engineer traveling to Turkey at the beginning of the Second World War suddenly finds his life threatened by Axis spies. They want to delay the deal he worked between his armaments firm and the Turkish government. After a failed assassination attempt in his hotel room in Istanbul, the Turkish secret service have him put on a small freighter to Genoa. There are a dozen other passengers or so and the bulk of the intrigue takes place on the ship, as his naiveté is slowly stripped from him and he learns the true nature of the world and the war that is building up momentum around him.
Ambler is probably the progenitor of the realist school of espionage fiction. His heroes are oftne not heroic and the bad guys can be quite banal, even pathetic. However, he does, at least in the earlier books, have clear good guys and bad guys. It's interesting reading them today, in the post LeCarré world. I wasn't sure at which point it would be clear who were the good guys and bad guys. The twist for me was that there was no twist, if you see what I mean. Despite the traditional form of protagonist and antagonist, Journey into Fear is at its core a fairly dark and pessimistic book and probably reflects Ambler's own awakening to the horrors of the war as they came to touch upon everyone in England.
What I particularly enjoyed about Journey into Fear is the role that manners play in the intrigue. Every interaction has layers of breeding, nationality the social expectations of the situation. Underneath all that are the true motivations of the characters. Even when it is time to put ones cards on the table, everybody remains unfailingly civilized, politely discussing the various reasons why one would not wish to kill the other person but would do so if it were made absolutely necessary.
[In looking for an existing online image of the cover, I see that The Sun King has a different version of Intrigue with a different cover and only three novels and no intro by Alfred Hitchcock. Will this start an international game of cat and mouse as he does everything in his power to obtain my copy? Or should I simply reveal that mine is a Book Club edition, the shabby bourgeois riding the third class car of book collecting to save him the trouble and expense?]