A Coffin for Dimitrios

When Ambler first published this book in 1939 under the title The Mask of Dimitrois, he wanted to give us a different and more realistic view of the world of spies. His main character is Charles Latimer, an English economic scholar turned mystery writer. As a writer, he is introduced to Colonel Haki, Turkey’s head of the Secret Police, perhaps. The Colonel loves roman policiers and reads all the French copies of English and American writers he can get.

As the two visited it the office of the Colonel, he said, “I wonder if you are interested in real murderers, Mr Latimer.” In the morgue, Latimer vied the recently discovered body of the notorious Dimitrois, a spy the Colonel had been hunting for twenty years.

With that unexpected introduction, Latimer became somewhat obsessed with discovering all he could about the man. The effort sent him into the Balkans and eventually to Paris. The unexpected details he uncovered along the way kept him going even as he argued with himself that he was wasting time.

Reading this book is not a waste of time, as long as you understand that you are reading a book written in 1938 about events that occurred before the Second Great War. It is a largely psychological and philosophical story with less blood and gore than we have adjusted to today. You can buy a copy of the 1944 movie under the original title (Warner Brothers).

I liked the book. it is a classic.

Mike Lawrence

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