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The Mask of Dimitrios (1939)

by Eric Ambler

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Charles Latimer (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,529418,706 (3.85)106
With a new Introduction by Mark Mazower 'A gripping thriller . . . still fresh as new'Guardian English crime novelist Charles Latimer is travelling in Istanbul when he makes the acquaintance of Turkish police inspector Colonel Haki. It is from him that he first hears of the mysterious Dimitrios - an infamous master criminal, long wanted by the law, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus. Fascinated by the story, Latimer decides to retrace Dimitrios' steps across Europe to gather material for a new book. But, as he gradually discovers more about his subject's shadowy history, fascination tips over into obsession. And, in entering Dimitrios' criminal underworld, Latimer realizes that his own life may be on the line. 'Not Le Carré, not Deighton, not Ludlum have surpassed the intelligence, authenticity or engrossing storytelling that established The Mask of Dimitrios as the best of its kind' The Times… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
While visiting Turkey during the 1930s, author Charles Latimer is introduced to a Turkish police chief, and accompanies him to a mortuary to view a body fished out of the Bosphorus. Here, the policeman tells him about the body - it has been identified as that of a criminal of Greek extraction. Latimer is intrigued by the dossier, and sets out to find out more, retracing Dimitrios' footsteps from Smyrna in 1922 (where Dimitrios starts his criminal career with the robbery and murder of a money-lender and the framing of his accomplice for the murder) to Paris in 1939 where the explosive denouement takes place in an extraordinary flat of one of Dimitrios' former gang members.

Throughout the journey, Latimer comes to understand his own motives for tracing Dimitrios' journey. Initially thinking it would form a plot for his next detective novel, he develops an obsession with Dimitrios. From encounters in seedy bars and train carriages, from luxury villas to shabby hotels, the pre-war Balkans are skilfully drawn.

Recommended.
1 vote Maddz | Jun 9, 2021 |
Charles Latimer is a writer of detective novels. Grappling for a plot for his next book, he is intrigued wth a story a Turkish colonel tells him about an actual criminal, Dimitrios Marrukakis. The story of Marrukakis is not totally known, he operates in different countries and changes names as needed. Certain to be the leader of a large drug gang operating in Eastern Europe it is likely there are many crimes that could be attributed to him.

Latimer decides to investigate Marrukakis and travels over the next weeks in Turkey and Greece as he trails his suspect. His interest becomes an obsession and he puts himself at great risk when he begins to circulate among treacherous people as if he were one of them.

Ambler is credited with raising the thriller to a literary level and based on this one book, published in 1939, I can see how that would be true. Although the plot is complex it flows smoothly and I thought it was quite easy to follow. The murky atmosphere, the delivish characters and Latimer's naivete are deliciously done. The one criticism I have is that I would have liked for the ending to have a bigger bang but overall for me it was great reading. ( )
  clue | Jan 8, 2021 |
Strong atmosphere, in Ambler's depiction of Europe in the late 1930s, combines with a political and almost anthropological subtext to elevate this adventure/spy novel into a serious evaluation of the world on the brink of hitherto unimagined violence. That, at least, is what I get from this story about the arch-criminal Dimitrios, a one-time fig-packer who works his way up the scale of sociopathology, going from theft, to robbery, to murder, to political assassination, and drug running. Yet he begins as what Marx would describe as a lumpen element, a fringe being who through force of will, cleverness, and ability to manipulate his fellows becomes a "respectable" crook on an international level.

The means to understanding Dimitrios and his associates is the trail Ambler's protagonist, Charles Latimer, follows through Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and on to Paris. For him, Dimitrios becomes an obsession. Eventually, he is brought near to ruin because of it. In making Latimer a writer of mystery novels who becomes involved in a plot far more encompassing than anything he could have imagined in one of his stories, Ambler also turns his own work into a self-reflexive exercise. The process and results of writing come under scrutiny. And only at the end is Latimer and his reader allowed to escape down the tunnel and back to "reality."

Clever work, on the part of Ambler. You can also see how many of his later themes and tropes come about. Like many of his later settings, Ambler relies upon an exotic displacement to shock his reader. In this case, initially, it's one he will return to often, Turkey and Greece. And Latimer grows into something beyond his fearful origins into someone himself capable of a cold-blooded attitude, susceptible to criminal acts--isn't everyone, Ambler seems to be saying, especially if we become addicted to satisfying our wants. Like the drug addicts, which are also featured in this novel, Latimer slowly becomes hooked on the "pleasantness" of following his mystery to the end. And what he never would have been capable of, or thought allowable, at the beginning, becomes accepted and ordinary at the end. Because, like the addicts, Latimer now has a "habit" of his own. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
An intelligent murder mystery entangled with espionage and presented in a beautiful noir atmosphere. Written shortly before the outbreak of WWII this book includes all the confusion of a Europe still recovering from turmoil of WWI and of displaced people trying to build life for themselves amid the tenseness of national governments uncertain of what the future holds. This is the first Eric Ambler story I have read but it will not be the last. ( )
1 vote pgmcc | Oct 13, 2019 |
This is the best detective novel I have ever read. Would have given it five stars in its genre. It had classic crime and detective novel features interspersed with more serious historical and social commentary, and quite often with tongue in cheek humour. A light touch on sombre subjects and characters. Ambler is such a fine author: his characters were so very vividly drawn they came alive -- I must admit I could hear Sydney Greenstreet speaking as Peters even though I remember nothing of the movie I saw as a child, also Peter Lorre though I don't know what he played. The plot involved you at every step and had unexpected twists. Even the novel's naive moral clarity, perhaps reflecting the era it was written in, was a plus for me. Let me add my kudos to the many Mr. Ambler already has been given. ( )
1 vote amaraki | Jul 13, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (47 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eric Amblerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brand, MaryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harris, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hertenstein, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mazower, MarkIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salvatorelli, FrancoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spencer, AlexanderNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'But the iniquity of oblivion blindely scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity ... Without the favour of the everlasting register, the first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methusalah's long life had been his only Chronicle.'
Sir Thomas Browne Hydriotaphia
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To Alan and Felice Harvey
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A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.
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With a new Introduction by Mark Mazower 'A gripping thriller . . . still fresh as new'Guardian English crime novelist Charles Latimer is travelling in Istanbul when he makes the acquaintance of Turkish police inspector Colonel Haki. It is from him that he first hears of the mysterious Dimitrios - an infamous master criminal, long wanted by the law, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus. Fascinated by the story, Latimer decides to retrace Dimitrios' steps across Europe to gather material for a new book. But, as he gradually discovers more about his subject's shadowy history, fascination tips over into obsession. And, in entering Dimitrios' criminal underworld, Latimer realizes that his own life may be on the line. 'Not Le Carré, not Deighton, not Ludlum have surpassed the intelligence, authenticity or engrossing storytelling that established The Mask of Dimitrios as the best of its kind' The Times

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