Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Passage of Arms, Eric Ambler, Alfred A Knopf, 1959, 246 pp

Eric Ambler's 10th novel is the first one of his I have read. He is known for a recurring theme concerning an amateur who finds himself unwittingly mixed up with criminals or spies; that theme is in evidence here. Greg Nilsen and his wife Dorothy are taking their first vacation in years. He runs a small manufacturing company in Baltimore, MD.

Wanting to visit out-of-the-way places so they can have adventures, they book a cruise in the South China Sea. Before long, Greg is bored and gets mixed up in a small arms deal, landing himself and his wife in an adventure with features such as communist agitators, anti-communist rebels, prison and probable torture on an out-of-the-way Indonesian island.

This is post Korean War, Southeast Asian Cold War intrigue. The characters and their individual stories are brilliantly fleshed out and the excitement is nonstop. Plenty of references to novels of the time, including The Quiet American by Graham Greene, make for dry humor. Ambler paints a picture of Cold War goings on that reveal much bungling as various ambassadors coordinate face-saving scenarios for their respective countries, which reminded me of the bestselling 1959 novel The Ugly American.

Great reading!

(Passage of Arms is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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