Eric Ambler Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Eric Ambler has been called the virtual inventor of the modern espionage novel, and though this is an oversimplification, it suggests his importance in the development of the genre. When he began to write spy novels, the genre was largely disreputable. Most of its practitioners were defenders of the British social and political establishment and right wing in political philosophy. Their heroes were usually supermen graced with incredible physical powers and a passionate devotion to the British Empire, and their villains were often satanic in their conspiracies to achieve world mastery. None of the protagonists in Ambler’s eighteen novels is a spy by profession; the protagonists are recognizably ordinary, and Ambler’s realistic plots were based on what was actually occurring in the world of international politics. In addition, because he was a craftsman, writing slowly and revising frequently, he succeeded in making the espionage genre a legitimate artistic medium.

Many of Ambler’s works have been honored. For example, Passage of Arms (1959) earned the Crime Writers’ Association’s Crossed Red Herrings Award; The Levanter (1972) also won the Gold Dagger; and The Light of Day (1962) was awarded the 1964 Edgar for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America. In 1975 Ambler was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and in 1986 he was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement. In 1987, his autobiography Here Lies: An Autobiography (1985) received an Edgar Award for best critical/biographical work.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ambrosetti, Ronald J. Eric Ambler. New York: Twayne, 1994. A standard biography examining Ambler’s life and works.

Cawelti, John G., and Bruce A. Rosenberg. The Spy Story. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. A useful genre study that provides background for understanding Ambler.

Eames, Hugh. Sleuths, Inc.: Studies of Problem Solvers—Doyle, Simenon, Hammett, Ambler, Chandler. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1978. Discusses Ambler’s distinctive approach to his genre and his relationship to other notable mystery writers.

Hitz, Frederick P. The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Hitz, the former inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency, compares famous fictional spies and spy stories—including those of Ambler—to real espionage agents and case studies to demonstrate that truth is stranger than fiction.

Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Focused genre study places Ambler in relation to his fellow practitioners of the noir thriller. Covers four of Ambler’s novels produced between 1936 and 1940.

Lewis, Peter. Eric Ambler. New York: Continuum, 1990. The first full-length study of Ambler.

Wolfe, Peter. Alarms and Epitaphs: The Art of Eric Ambler. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993. A very good, full-length critical study.