(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A Coffin for Dimitrios is a novel of obsession, first of the protagonist, Charles Latimer, and finally of the reader. It is a novel of a search as Latimer travels around the eastern Mediterranean in a journey of discovery, trying to locate the past of the man whose body he had seen lying in a Turkish morgue. It is a novel of betrayal as first one and then another of Dimitrios’ friends become his victims, finally ending as both Latimer and the reader discover their own betrayal at the hands of the author, Eric Ambler.

The novel opens in 1938 with Latimer, a lecturer in political economy who has just resigned his academic post for reasons of health and in order to concentrate on his career as an author of detective stories, vacationing in Istanbul, where at a party he meets Colonel Haki, the head of the Turkish secret police. Haki, an inveterate reader of romans policiers, offers to give Latimer the plot for his next book, and the following day, the men meet at Haki’s office, where the officer describes a conventional but totally useless story about a murder in the library of an English country house. In a moment of inspiration, Haki also offers to show Latimer the dossier of a real murderer whose body has been recently found floating in the Bosphorus. Spurred by Latimer’s interest, Haki tells the writer about Dimitrios from his first run-in with the Turkish police in 1922 until they found his waterlogged corpse a few days before. Latimer accompanies Haki to the morgue, where they view the body; as they leave, the Colonel remarks that he would like to have seen what Dimitrios saw and what death has prevented his lips from recounting. With these intriguing lines, Latimer is off and running toward...

(The entire section is 703 words.)