Characters

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Last Updated on March 12, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

Charles Latimer

Charles is an English detective-fiction writer and an amateur sleuth. Latimer is a former professor who now earns a living from his writing, and a visit to Istanbul leads to his meeting Colonel Haki. He becomes obsessed with the hunt for the notorious criminal, Makropoulos, who nearly kills...

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Charles Latimer

Charles is an English detective-fiction writer and an amateur sleuth. Latimer is a former professor who now earns a living from his writing, and a visit to Istanbul leads to his meeting Colonel Haki. He becomes obsessed with the hunt for the notorious criminal, Makropoulos, who nearly kills him.

Dimitrios Makropoulos

Dimitrios is presumably Greek, and he has numerous aliases, including Rougemont and Monsieur C. K. His illicit activities include spying and drug dealing, and he has also committed murder. His operations span several European countries. By the late 1930s, he has finagled his way into the cover of a respectable position in the Eurasian Credit Trust. To make the authorities believe he is dead, he trades places with Manus Visser after killing him and throwing his body into the Bosporus. He and Peters kill each other.

Mr. Peters, or Frederik Petersen

Mr. Peters is a convicted drug dealer and former nightclub owner. Peters, an overweight, middle-aged Dane, knew Makropoulos at the Paris club where he joined his drug business. Makropoulos not only stole the operation’s money, but also informed on Peters and the others. Peters later discovered Makropoulos’s new identity and blackmailed him. Together with Latimer, he finds and confronts Makropoulos. Following a dispute over the blackmail money, Makropoulos and Peters kill each other in Paris.

Colonel Haki

Colonel Haki works for the Turkish secret police and connects with Latimer over his enthusiasm for detective stories. He draws Latimer into the intrigue with Makropoulos.

Dhris Mohammed

Dhris is a Muslim agricultural worker and was Makropoulos’s accomplice in a murder and robbery. When he was arrested, he blamed Makropoulos but was hanged for the crime. Makropoulos escaped and the police began searching for him.

Marukakis

Marukakis, a Greek journalist, provides Latimer with information about Makropoulos and a thwarted assassination attempt. He introduces Latimer to Irana Preveza.

Irana Preveza

Irana runs a nightclub and brothel in Sofia. When she knew Makropoulos in the 1920s, he stole from her, which left her bitter toward him.

Wladyslaw Grodek

A former espionage agent, Wladyslaw has retired to Switzerland. In Belgrade, he had used Makropoulos to obtain the naval plans that Makropoulos later sold to the French.

Manus Visser

Manus worked with Makropoulos selling drugs in Paris until Makropoulos turned into an informer, leading to Manus and other dealers serving prison time. After his release, Manus blackmailed Makropoulos, who was using the identity of Monsieur C. K. Then, Makropoulos killed Maus Visser and assumed his identity, leading to Haki’s mistaken identification of the body.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 791

Charles Latimer

Charles Latimer, an English writer of detective stories in his early forties. Formerly, Latimer was a professor of political economy at a minor English university; the success of his stories freed him from academe. On a visit to Istanbul in 1938, Latimer meets Colonel Haki, an admirer of detective novels, who in passing gives Latimer the opportunity to view a body that the Turkish police have identified as that of Dimitrios Makropoulos, known to them since 1922. Latimer, on a whim and as an exercise in detection, decides to trace Makropoulos’ career. In Paris, he discovers the real Makropoulos and only narrowly avoids being murdered by him.

Dimitrios Makropoulos

Dimitrios Makropoulos, also known as Talas, Taladis, Rougemont, and Monsieur C. K., a murderer, thief, spy, pimp, drug dealer, and businessman. Makropoulos, of Greek extraction, was born in 1889. Coming to the attention of the Turkish police in 1922, in subsequent years he engaged in various illegal activities in several European countries. By 1938, he is a director of the Eurasian Credit Trust. It is not Makropoulos’ body that is discovered floating in the Bosporus but that of Manus Visser, who had been blackmailing the Greek. Makropoulos killed Visser and disguised the corpse, making it appear to be the body of the long-sought Makropoulos. Makropoulos is blackmailed again, and he and his new blackmailer kill each other in a shootout.

Mr. Peters

Mr. Peters, also known as Frederik Petersen, a drug dealer and former convict. A fat and unhealthy-looking Dane of fifty-five, Peters first knew Makropoulos in the late 1920’s in Paris, where Peters owned a nightclub. Makropoulos persuaded Peters, along with several others, to work for him in what became a widespread and profitable drug operation. Eventually, Makropoulos absconded with the profits, but he first turned Peters and the rest over to the police. Later learning of Makropoulos’ new identity, Peters decides to blackmail Makropoulos. He joins forces with Latimer because the latter had seen the “fake” Makropoulos. The two confront Makropoulos, who pays the blackmail, but the next day Makropoulos traces his blackmailers to the house in Paris owned by Peters and formerly used by Makropoulos. There, Makropoulos and Peters kill each other.

Colonel Haki

Colonel Haki, the head of the Turkish secret police. Haki, a fan of detective fiction, meets Latimer at a party in Istanbul and offers Latimer the plot for a future story. When Haki is summoned to the morgue to examine a recently retrieved body identified as that of Makropoulos, Latimer accompanies him. Haki, ruthless and assured, has no doubt that the body is that of Makropoulos.

Dhris Mohammed

Dhris Mohammed, a black Muslim fig-picker in Smyrna. In 1922, Makropoulos and Mohammed robbed and killed a moneylender. Mohammed was later arrested, but before he was hanged he blamed the murder on Makropoulos, who already had escaped. It was on this occasion that Makropoulos first came to the attention of the police.

N. Marukakis

N. Marukakis, a middle-aged Greek journalist in Sofia, Bulgaria. Latimer, following the career of the supposedly dead Makropoulos, turns to Marukakis for information regarding an attempted political assassination that occurred in 1923 and that involved Makropoulos. Latimer learns that the incident had been financed by the Eurasian Credit Trust, a shadowy bank registered in Monaco. Marukakis also introduces Latimer to Irana Preveza.

Irana Preveza

Irana Preveza, the madam of a Sofia nightclub and brothel. A former prostitute, Preveza knew Makropoulos in 1923. She had loaned him money that he never repaid, and fifteen years later, Preveza is still bitter and angry. She is the first person interviewed by Latimer who actually knew Makropoulos.

Wladyslaw Grodek

Wladyslaw Grodek, a master spy. Living in Switzerland and now retired at the age of about sixty, Grodek tells Latimer about the time he employed Makropoulos, in Belgrade in 1926. Makropoulos, using a combination of blackmail and force, was successful in obtaining secret naval plans for Grodek but then turned on Grodek, who was working for the Italians, and sold the plans to the French government instead.

Buli

Buli, a low-level Yugoslav bureaucrat in the ministry of marine. A dissatisfied man in his forties with a younger wife, Buli allows himself to become compromised by Grodek and Makropoulos in a crooked gambling affair and provides the naval plans. He is later arrested and sentenced to prison.

Manus Visser

Manus Visser, a drug dealer. A Dutchman, Visser was part of Makropoulos’ drug operation in Paris and served time in prison in 1931 after Makropoulos informed the police of the names of his former associates. Years later, Visser discovered Makropoulos’ new identity as Monsieur C. K. and blackmailed him. Visser, however, eventually was murdered by Makropoulos, who disguised Visser’s body as his own. It is thus Visser’s body that Colonel Haki identifies as that of Makropoulos.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

One of the engaging aspects of this story is that the character who most dominates the novel does not appear himself until near the end, and the reader is carried along in the belief, as is the protagonist Latimer, that Dimitrios is already dead. As a character, he embodies all those characteristics that have come to stand for the evildoers in spy fiction: deceit and ruthlessness, guile and resourcefulness. He is uncanny in his ability to elude the authorities and to disguise himself as various personae. The mercurial quality of his character and the flexibility of his values make him easily absorbed into any environment, and his lack of any consistent characteristics as an individual, except his cunning, make him particularly difficult to pursue, since without a context, either social, familial, or political, he becomes untraceable. He is the perfect existential man: alienated, quixotic, not bound by conventional morality, and utterly alone, both in his criminality and in his being.

Also of interest is the protagonist, Charles Latimer, because he is sufficiently gullible and sufficiently obsessed to abandon his life in order to follow the wanderings of Dimitrios. He is in search too, however, not only of the story of this incredible man but also, one suspects, of something else, a meaning or purpose, which he seems to lack at the beginning of the book. One realizes that he finds real-life crime, as would most of his readers, a frightening affair, and he retreats from life, with its violence and unpredictability and confusion, back into the manageable and secure world of his fiction. As Latimer notes early in the story, he feels as though he is no longer a professional during his search for Dimitrios and flees from his amateur status at the end into more familiar territory. As is often the case in detective fiction, Latimer is the eyes and ears of the tale, recording enough to keep the reader informed but with sufficient filtering to keep the reader interested and slightly off balance.

One of the riches of this work, as indeed of most of Ambler’s stories, is the luxuriance of the secondary characters. Unfortunately, the novel is old enough to have influenced the shape of spy fiction since World War II, and so some of the innovative aspects of the characters now seem overworked. Too many Peter Lorre films may prevent readers from fully appreciating the deftly drawn and memorable gallery of supporting figures in this novel. Colonel Haki is a suave and dangerous man whose smooth manners and bearing do not fully conceal the menace visible in the cast of his eyes. Irana Preveza is blowsy and vulnerable underneath but projects to the world a still stylish demeanor. Marukakis, a Greek journalist, is helpful and compassionate toward Latimer but worldly enough to keep him out of trouble. Grodek, the spy, is totally unprincipled and grandly amused at the fumbling lives of his fellowmen, who are so vulnerable to the venalities upon which he preys. Finally, there is Peters, also known as Petersen, who tries to outwit Dimitrios in one last attempt to best his master, and loses.

Such characters provide more than mere background atmosphere, as they would in a conventional spy thriller; they help to establish the sense of moral flux and confusion which distinguished the interwar years in Europe. Political assassination, drug smuggling, sexual decadence, casual murder for profit are all embodied in these figures, and they form a microcosm of a world doomed to destruction.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 73

Ambler, Eric. Here Lies: An Autobiography, 1985.

Ambrosetti, Ronald. “The World of Eric Ambler: From Detective to Spy,” in Dimensions of Detective Fiction, 1976.

Davis, Paxton. “The World We Live In: The Words of Eric Ambler,” in The Hollins Critic. VIII (February, 1971), pp. 1-11.

Jeffares, A. Norman. “Eric Ambler,” in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, 1985.

Lambert, Gavin. The Dangerous Edge, 1976.

Panek, LeRoy L. “Eric Ambler,” in The Special Branch: The British Spy Novel, 1890-1980, 1981.

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