At the beginning of his career, Eric Ambler knew that his strengths were not in the construction of the ingenious plots required in detective fiction. As he was seeking to establish himself as a writer of popular fiction, his only course was the espionage thriller; its popularity in Great Britain was the result of public interest in the secret events of World War I and apprehension about Bolshevism. These concerns were enhanced by the most popular authors in the field— John Buchan, whose Richard Hannay was definitely an establishment figure, and Sapper (the pen name of H. Cyril McNeile), whose Bulldog Drummond stories were reactionary, if not downright fascist, in tone.
Ambler found neither these writers’ heroes nor their villains believable, and he viewed their plots, based on conspiracies against civilization, as merely absurd. Having seen fascism in his travels in Italy, he was radically if vaguely socialist in his own political attitudes, and his study of psychology had made it impossible for him to believe that realistically portrayed characters could be either purely good or purely evil.
Ambler decided, therefore, to attempt to write novels that would be realistic in their characters and depictions of modern social and political realities; he also would substitute his own socialist bias for the conservatism—or worse—of the genre’s previous practitioners.
The Dark Frontier
His first novel, The...
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