Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Ambler’s first novels of intrigue expressed his criticism of the international bankers and armaments manufacturers who he believed in the 1930’s were responsible for international conflict. The evils faced by his protagonists were the greed and social irresponsibility of international economic forces, served by agents who were willing to commit any crime for the success of their employers. By the time Ambler wrote Journey into Fear, he was no longer convinced that the world’s ills could be so easily explained. Here the evil is Fascism, and the enemy of his protagonist is Nazi Germany, represented by agents who just as ruthlessly serve a murderous state bent on domination of the world. When Ambler returned to writing novels of intrigue after World War II, they were less sensational than his early work and more despairing. Journey into Fear stands as one of Ambler’s finest achievements in espionage fiction because it goes beyond the often simplistic political vision of his earliest novels while preserving the positive, even moral, attitude of those works.

At the same time, if the novel adheres to the requirements of the novel of intrigue, it goes far beyond that genre’s limitations. It is written in a style that is appropriately spare, and it goes as far in characterization as it can in a work which depends for its success on action and suspense.