Professor Krom believes Paul Firman, alias Oberholzer, is one of those criminals who keep a low profile and are just too clever to get caught. Firman, rich and somewhat shady, agrees to be interviewed in his villa on the French Riviera. But events take an unexpected turn and perhaps there is even someone else artfully hiding in the deep background?
Eric Ambler was born into a family of entertainers and in his early years helped out as a puppeteer. However, he initially chose engineering as a full time career, although this quickly gave way to writing. In World War II he entered the army and looked likely to fight in the line, but was soon after commissioned and ended the war as assistant director of the army film unit and a Lieutenant-Colonel. This experience translated into civilian life and Ambler had a very successful career as a screen writer, receiving an Academy Award for his work on The Cruel Sea by Nicolas Monsarrat in 1953. Many of his own works have been filmed, the most famous probably being Light of Day, filmed as Topkapi under which title it is now published. He established a reputation as a thriller writer of extraordinary depth and originality and received many other accolades during his lifetime, including two Edgar Awards from The Mystery Writers of America (best novel for Topkapi and best biographical work for Here Lies Eric Ambler), and two Gold Dagger Awards from the Crime Writer's Association (Passage of Arms and The Levanter). Often credited as being the inventor of the modern political thriller, John Le Carre once described Ambler as 'the source on which we all draw.' A recurring theme in his works is the success of the well meaning yet somewhat bungling amateur who triumphs in the face of both adversity and hardened professionals. Ambler wrote under his own name and also during the 1950's a series of novels as Eliot Reed, with Charles Rhodda. These are now published under the 'Ambler' umbrella.
"One of Amblers most ambitious and best" (The Observer)
"Ambler has done it again ... deliciously plausible" (The Guardian)
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Perhaps rather niche but also slightly ponderous
I am a fan of Eric Ambler in the main, especially his better known works such as Journey into Fear and Uncommon Danger. What I struggled with here however was something of a lack of action and what was in essence a rather placid story. It seemed a chore to listen to in the end which is something I wouldn't have identified with Ambler at all.
The thing I perhaps struggled with most was what seemed to me a rather flat, over technical explanation of what is really quite a dry subject matter; tax avoidance. During certain passages I found my attention wandering. The Criminologists were a strange set of characters too; neither menacing enough to provide a threat nor naive enough to represent the victims or fools you might have expected to act as foils for the 'baddie'. Also, for a crime novel, did it really deliver a crime? Is Firman a bad man or merely a shady businessman? The reasoning behind the siege was somewhat confused I thought too.
I believe he delivered what the text demanded of the characters.
If it were rearranged, it could be a true thriller I guess. There are interesting journeys into the past that explain who Firman is and why he finds himself the man he is but embedded as they are within the siege framework, they end up feeling too disconnected to matter.
In my humble opinion, the book is overlong and doesn't really deliver a punchy story. Everyone comes across as bland or strangely apathetic.
- Ms. R. D. Cook
A clever and fascinating story of financial crime
Without spoilers I will just say this is a story about the world of corrupt tax advisors, extortionists and criminologists and, more than a story, it paints a detailed portrait of the people and their psychology. It has an authentic feel though, not being an expert in this field, I can't be certain that it is based on accurate research. The story is set during the eponymous siege but much of it takes the form of flashbacks relating the life story of the first person narrator. It paints a convincing and fascinating picture of a world of deception, threats and bluffs. I found it engrossing from start to finish.
Stephen Greif uses less variation for the different voices than my favourite readers - in a few places barely enough to distinguish who is speaking - but he has a pleasant voice to listen to and the suave intonation he gives the narrator's character is perfect.