A Coffin for Dimitrios Characters

Eric Ambler

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 583 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.