Archive for April 10, 2009


My regular visitors will have worked out that my Random Quotations 3 and 4 were taken from the classic thriller A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.
I had first read this book about 30 years ago [possibly longer] and could only recall the basic plot therefore I decided to read it again before recommending it for the Dartmoor Dozen.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the story written in 1939 is as vibrant and tense a reading experience as I remembered. So many times one is disappointed by the tricks that life and a fading memory plays on one. Ooops I am starting to sound like the wonderfully horrible character Mr Peters from the book. 
With this story of an ordinary man getting into a situation and finding himself way out of his depth Eric Ambler paved the way for John Le Carre, Robert Ludlum and a host of other thriller writers.

Charles Latimer, a successful crime writer, is visiting Istanbul where he  meets Colonel Haki, “something to do with the police there”, who gives him a ridiculous plot he has been working on for a future novel, and asks him if he is interested in real criminals. Dimitrios Makropoulos had been found dead in the Bosphorus and Colonel Haki shows Latimer the body, and tells him about the man’s criminal record. 
Latimer, partly for amusement and partly to indulge in some harmless amateur detection, decides to trace the history of Dimitrios. 

Latimer travels across Europe to Smyrna, Athens,  Sofia, Geneva and Paris, meeting along the way the loquacious and mysterious Mr Peters, as well as the master spy Grodek.
Ambler gives the reader just enough of the politics and interesting history of post Great War Europe to give context to the various crimes committed by Dimitrios. 
What is slightly surprising is that those crimes recorded in a seventy years old novel are so up to date; drug smuggling and the “traffic in women”. 

And of course the current financial shenanigans  would lead us to expect there to be a villain behind Dimitrios. 

“The Eurasian Credit trust was not, nor is for that matter, the sort of bank to accept a loss like that.”
“What sort of bank is it?”
“It is registered in Monaco which means not only that it pays no taxes in the countries in which it operates, but also that its balance sheet is not published and that it is impossible to find out any thing about it.”

If Latimer didn’t travel everywhere by train one could quiet easily imagine that the book was written yesterday, in a civilization that has lost its way  and the pursuit of money, power and fame are more important than right livelihood and worthwhile employment. Enough preaching, read the book I am sure you will enjoy it.

The logic of Michaelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s quartets and Einstein’s physics had been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. 


Posted: April 10, 2009 in Uncategorized



This was an incredibly difficult category to choose because I have read so many excellent historical crime fiction books. But I finally after much deliberation made the choice of A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr, which I reviewed here for Euro Crime. 
You can read an interview with Philip Kerr and a discussion of the book here.

Bernie Gunther finds himself in Argentina in 1950 posing as an escaped Nazi war criminal. He considers the past: 

I think something happened to Germany after the Great War. You could see it on the streets of Berlin. A callous indifference to human suffering. And, perhaps after all those demented, sometimes cannibalistic killers we had during the Weimar years, we ought to have seen it coming: the murder squads and the death factories.

Do we see today a certain extra brutality in the crimes we see reported in the media? Are we about to enter a period of depression which will destroy the middle class? Will some charismatic leader offer us easy answers to our problems allocating blame on to the “others”?

A Quiet Flame warns us over and over again about the dangers of following philosophies that put ideas above human beings. Towards the end of the book Bernie allocates the blame in a long moving passage that ends:

I blame the inflation and the Bauhaus and Dada and Max Reinhardt. I blame Himmler and Goering and Hitler and the SS and Weimar and the whores and the pimps. 
But most of all I blame myself. I blame myself for doing nothing. Which was less than I ought to have done. Which was all that was required for Nazism to succeed. I put my survival  ahead of all other considerations. That is self evident.
If I was truly innocent, then I’d be dead, Anna.  And I’m not.