Shortly before heading off on our holiday at the end of last year, we ventured into Fortnum & Mason to pick up some of their delicious chocolates for my family. For treats I love it in there but so it seemed did half of London on that day. We gratefully escaped and next door discovered the sanctuary that is Hatchards Bookshop.
I didn’t know at the time but it is the oldest bookshop in the UK, trading since 1797. It isn’t independant any more but I thought it had a lovely cosy feel, complete with winding staircase and a nice selection of books including a little section especially for Persephones. A place to be revisited.
I was admiring a display of several of Eric Ambler’s early political thrillers written in the 1930’s and reprinted as Penguin modern classics. A few weeks later Santa suprised me and I had my first read for 2010.
Uncommon Danger was published in 1937 and it was interesting to read a spy novel written before the outbreak of the second world war. Obviously by this stage the rising fortunes of the nazi party had not gone unnoticed in Europe. The backdrop for this story is the jostling for positon between Roumania and the Soviet Union in particular – with the inevitable expansion of Germany looming.
Also interesting is that Ambler’s hero is of the reluctant variety. An ordinary man. Kenton is a good journalist but with a gambling problem. On a train from Nuremberg bound for Linz in Austria and desperate for cash, he accepts a suspicous offer to carry documents over the border.
Predictably, this isn’t the best decision he has ever made and he finds himself on the run, hotly pursed by various nasties.
I’m not sure how I feel about the “hero” of a story like this being ordinary and flawed. Admitedly he was a grafter and did the right thing and he didn’t take the easy option – realistic perhaps rather than seemingly infallible.
I thought the plot was clever but I found it slightly hard to follow. It might be that it went over my head but I did need to concentrate to follow it.
The sense of atmosphere was excellent. I could imagine the dark, the cold and the narrow side streets. The fatigue and despair of a man without resources runnng for his life and not knowing why. The cunning of those fighting for the information he has, not knowing who to trust.
Several of Eric Ambler’s books were made into films. I’m still undecided if his style is for me.I’m going to try another one of his books and see how it goes…
Counted towards the 2010 Decades challenge.