Posts tagged Eric Ambler
Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through it.
You can thank local thrift shops for this round of literature porn—I certainly do. For a mere $3.00, I came away with a pretty well-rounded selection of crime books. Blye, Private Eye is a non-fiction profile of real-life private detective Irwin Blye by Goodfellas and Casino screenwriter (and Nora Ephron’s husband) Nicholas Pileggi. Eric Ambler and Ross Thomas wrote masterly—though very different—hardboiled espionage thrillers. Ambler is represented via his Hitchcockian final novel, The Care of Time. The Back-Up Men is a more cynical thriller in Thomas’ McCorkle and Padillo series. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon needs no introduction or commentary. And Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest was a critically-lauded debut novel. I found a move tie-in edition. These aren’t really my favorite, but it was selling for less than a dollar. I’ll take it.
thelamplightersserenade asked: Do you have recommendations for spy novels? I've read Tinker Tailor and plan to read the rest of the Karla trilogy, I have the IPCRESS Files on my list, and the Company. Do you have any cold war films/novels you can recommend?
John le Carré’s Cold War novels are good (his post-Cold War novels are less so). I would especially recommend The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (and the movie with Richard Burton). I have a number of espionage novels around, I just have yet to read them all. The definitive Cold War neo-noir is probably The Manchurian Candidate, though the novel by Richard Condon is not really noir. The Third Man also deals with international politics, as do a number of other Graham Greene novels.
Eric Ambler wrote some hardboiled spy thrillers. The Fallen Sparrow, by the always excellent Dorothy B. Hughes, has some foreign intrigue in the plot. Richard Hershatter and Andrew Garve wrote pulpy espionage novels, as did Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm doesn’t remotely resemble Dean Martin, by the way).
And let us not forget Ian Fleming’s James Bond. As I have argued previously, I think James Bond is a hardboiled hero. Especially in Casino Royale, which has near-noirish fatalism. In the other novels, the noir elements are perhaps less apparent. But he is a hardboiled, pulpy hero—a Tory Mike Hammer, if you will.
This is not noir, I’ll grant. But John le Carré is a fairly close literary cousin to the noirish Graham Greene or the hardboiled Eric Ambler (though further way from the more overtly pulp-influenced Ian Fleming). Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy has some of the finest acting you will ever see. John Hurt is particularly brilliant as Control. Oldman is masterfully impassive as the spycatcher George Smiley. Toby Jones will make you want to punch him in the kidneys, but that’s the way you’re supposed to feel about the unctuous Percy Alleline.
The plot, unfortunately, cannot be praised with the same superlatives. A great deal is cut from le Carré’s complex novel, turning into a rather straightforward two-hour exercise where we simply wait for Smiley to find the mole. If you miss anything, the plot rushes by you and there’s little context to piece things together for yourself.
You should certainly see the film for the performances. But if you’re really interested in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, consider the 1979 miniseries starring Sir Alec Guinness as George Smiley. The 7 episodes afforded to that production give far more room to capture the Cold War tension and bureaucratic infighting that John le Carré’s novel captures so well.
[For those of you waiting for my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I do intend to see it as soon as possible. Showtimes haven’t been very cooperative recently, and I may end up seeing the Swedish version first. But my reviews of both will be forthcoming.]
Will Romola Garai be the next Christina Hendricks?
More importantly, is this noir? I don’t really think so. But it’s a darn good show. It easily could have been a noirish, hardboiled spy thriller à la Graham Greene or Eric Ambler. Think The Third Man diluted by Mad Men-style office politics and shenanigans.
I love Mad Men, but there’s a reason they stick to Don Draper’s personal drama and haven’t made him a CIA plant. Hell, James Bond (in the Ian Fleming novels, if not all of the movies) is a secret agent and still has rather hardboiled, pulp sensibilities. I like this show, but wish they’d upped the noir factor a bit. The two halves of The Hour—i.e., the Mad Men-wannabe office drama and the Cold War spy plot—are curiously bifurcated.
Here is a rather large stack of the pulp/noir crime fiction I’ve picked up in the past six months or so. I’ll strikethrough the books I’ve already read. From the top, then:
- R is for Ricochet, Sue Grafton
- The Goodwulf Manuscript, Robert Parker
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
A Bullet for Cinderella, John D. MacDonald
- The Dark Frontier, Eric Ambler
- The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon
The Bride Wore Black, Cornell Woolrich In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes
- One Fearful Yellow Eye, John D. MacDonald
Thunderball, Ian Fleming Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
- A Hell of a Woman, Jim Thompson
When the Women Come Out to Dance, Elmore Leonard
- Three By Cain, James M. Cain (consisting of
Serenade, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit and The Butterfly)
- The Long Fall, Walter Mosley
All Shot Up, Chester Himes Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane Miami Noir, edited by Les Standiford
- License Renewed, John Gardner
- Bad Business, Robert B. Parker
- The Underground Man, Ross Macdonald
- A Triple Shot of Spenser, Robert B. Parker (consisting of
Pastime, Double Deuce and Paper Doll)
- Nature Girl, Carl Hiaasen
- The Cold Six Thousand, James Ellroy
I’ll be doing a separate post soon about good places to look for cheap/used/out of print noir and pulp titles. These books here were accumulated from a couple different sources, and their cost ranged from free to about $7. The library is also free, and you should use it. But some of use have the collecting instinct…
Noir is notoriously tricky to define (though somewhat easier in diction than film, where is is sometimes more difficult to determine what is not a neo-noir). I include Ian Fleming’s James Bond as a pulp hero. A very Tory pulp hero, but a pulp hero all the same. Bond continuation novels are a mixed bag, and I include John Gardner’s License Renewed here because I haven’t read it yet. After reading it, I might decide it belonged to some other genre, along with Raymond Benson’s unfortunate continuation novels (which are airport novels at best and fanfiction at worst).
These do not represent the totality of my reading, as I also use the library frequently. You’ll want to check out the Currently Reading tag. I’ll probably be cheating and adding some of these books I’ve already read to that tag.