A Coffin for Dimitrios

A Coffin for Dimitrios - Eric Ambler Ambler has an elegant, quote-worthy prose style and a gift for characterization, not just in inventing distinct, memorable characters, but a real ear for the telling detail in expression or feature that brings a place or person vividly to mind. Speaking of which, this was one of my favorite bits: A man's features, the bone structure and the tissue which covers it, are the product of a biological process; but his face he creates for himself.... It is a screen to hide his mind's nakedness. That comes from the chapter "The Mask of Dimitrios." Dimitrios is the book's subject, although not the point of view character or protagonist. That role is filled by Charles Latimer, a former economics professor turned mystery writer--and a decent man, which is probably why I was able to enjoy the novel so much. Because otherwise this novel is squarely within the noir tradition, which is a genre I'm not by and large enamored of. Too dark, too cynical. Latimer is in Istanbul where he meets a Turkish intelligence officer who tells him of the mysterious Dimitrios, who had just wound up on a mortuary slab. Intrigued by Dimitrios' dossier, Latimer decides to try his hand at investigating this man in his various roles of assassin and spy, drug smuggler and dealer, thief, pimp and murderer. He travels to Greece, Bulgaria, Switzerland and France in search of information about Dimitrios and soon finds that tracing a dangerous man is very dangerous indeed. There were some really powerful and suspenseful parts of this book. The most memorable to me being the cat and mouse game played with drawing Mr and Mrs Bulic into espionage and the depiction of the heroin trade and addiction. The books is set in 1938 and published in 1939 and I thought the novel rendered a fascinating and complex portrait of a Europe on the brink of war--and even a bit of a gentle twitting of the mystery genre. This was a great read.