by Eric Ambler

Reviewer Rating:
4

Review

With Passage of Arms (1959), British crime writer, Eric Ambler weaves a thriller that combines suspense and exoticism with a disciplined attention to detail and procedure.  Ambler began his writing career in the late-1930s, specializing in the kind of wrong-man and amateur detective narratives that are often associated with the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  Ambler’s elegant yet straightforward writing style and his realist approach to the spy and thriller genre won him the admiration of peers like Graham Greene and a number of Golden Dagger Awards from the Crime Writer’s Association.    

 
Set in colonial South-East Asia Passage of Arms is chiefly concerned with a couple of upper middle-class American tourists, who find themselves embroiled in an underworld of gun smuggling and political intrigue, but it begins with a Indian clerk at a Malayan rubber-plantation who hopes that a cache of smuggled weapons will help him realize his dream of starting a bus company.  Moving from port to port, and country to country Passage of Arms incorporates a large number of diverse and memorable characters who are all fleshed out to an admirable degree.  This gives the book a kind of epic quality that belies its slim 246 pages.  It’s also remarkable for the way in which Ambler renders every step of the complex and engrossing narrative intelligible and believable.  It gives you a sense of exactly how one could go from tourist to accomplice simply by being a little too friendly and credulous and, of course, by being in just the wrong place at just the right time.

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