Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Coffin for Dimitrios: Review

So...one of the things I know about myself is that I'm not a big thriller or spy novel fan. There have been exceptions over the years. For instance, I went through a tiny phase of reading James Bond books and I'm very fond of Pierce Brosnan as Bond in film (of course, I'm fond of Pierce Brosnan in just about anything). And I like the less serious Avengers with Steed and Emma Peel (television version, please). I love the Maltese Falcon with Bogart. In fact, you might say that I prefer my thrillers and spy novels on screen rather than in print.

Which leads me to my point...A Coffin for Dimitrios doesn't read well for me. You'd think I'd love Eric Ambler's former academic, now mystery author protagonist. I'm big on mysteries with an academic connection of any sort. But, honestly, most of the book felt like a really long, dry lecture class. There was a lot of tell and very little show....In the second half of the book, we get several long stories from people who knew Dimitrios. They tell us all about what Dimitrios was like and what he did and how he made his money and swindled people or killed people or whatever--but very little action. Until the very end. Thrillers and spy novels, should, I think, by their nature be action stories. There should be a lot going on. Most of what we've got going on is people sitting around talking about Dimitrios.

Things start out in a very promising way. Charles Latimer, our academic turned author, is in Turkey. While there he meets a Turkish colonel who is a devoted reader of his mystery novels. Colonel Haki presents Latimer with a plot for a mystery novel and then asks him if he's interested in real murders. He goes on to share the story Dimitrios, a man said to be mixed up in everything from drug dealing to murder, spying to white slavery. Dimitrios's body has been found and lies waiting in the morgue. After going with the colonel to see the body, Latimer becomes unusually interested and decides to reconstruct the criminal's career. From there, you'd expect Latimer to get into all kinds of trouble while visiting various places where Dimitrios was known and have to get himself out of tight situations and well, you know, that a lot would happen. Exciting adventures. Thrilling stuff. Not as far as I could see.

I absolutely understand that this book is a big deal in the thriller/spy novel world. Ambler has often been credited with inventing the modern suspense novel. He is applauded for depicting the ordinary citizen pushed into intrigue and ill-prepared to handle it. He's known for his realism and for paving the way for Le Carre, Deighton and Ludlum. But I'm afraid that it just hasn't done that much for me. Your mileage may vary. Two and a half stars. {Actually finished last night.}


Jenners said...

Often those who pave the way get stepped on in the process. Too bad this didn't work for you.

neer said...

Bev, I enjoyed the reconstruction because everybody had a different tale of/ about Dimitrios.Loved the ambiguity because we can never be sure whether there was somebody called Dimitrios or not or if there was, who was he: the drowned man, the fat man, or the man at the end.