Monday, June 18, 2018

THE LIGHT OF DAY




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The Light of Day, Eric Ambler, Alfred A Knopf, 1962, 219 pp
 
 
Eric Ambler published his first book, The Dark Frontier, in 1936. That date falls outside of My Big Fat Reading Project (begins in 1940) and somehow I had never heard of him until I was already reading my list for 1959, when I read Passage of Arms. I have got some books to fill in but for now I am just reading the books he published since 1959. This one was published in 1962 but since it won the Edgar Award in 1964, I saved it until now.
 
The award may have been given in 1964 because the movie Topkapi, based on The Light of Day, was released in that year. Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Arthur Simpson, the main character in the book.

Arthur Simpson is English/Egyptian, living a life of crime in Greece. He has been scamming his way through life as a pimp, pornographer, and petty thief. At the beginning of the book he has fallen into deep trouble involving British spies plus criminals on a much higher scale than he, and to save his skin he agrees to become an agent for the British secret service. 

It is a great adventure tale in which a basically cowardly man finds himself part of a major jewel heist. To maintain his cover he must perform dangerous feats in Istanbul's ancient Topkapi palace, all the while knowing that the British are completely following the wrong people. 

I think I saw the movie once and found it ridiculous, but now that I have read the book and know what was really going on, I am going to watch it again. (Netflix has it on DVD.) Ambler was a forerunner of John le Carre, a contemporary of Graham Greene, but puts a spin on the spy genre that is all his own.

Ian Fleming of the James Bond books also fits into this genre. Reading all these different authors of Cold War spy fiction written in the early years of that era has given me a look into British intelligence during those times. One of these days I will figure out how the CIA fit into the picture then. 

Does anyone know of novels about American spies during the Cold War that were written and published in the 1960s? Suggestions welcome.


(The Light of Day is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

10 comments:

  1. Sounds good, but the protagonist was beyond corrupt. Did you like it? British Intelligence seems to have been very popular in spy fiction during the Cold War and beyond, most likely because of the high profile Soviet infiltrations of the British intelligence services during that era. Also because Britain is a key country to turn if you want to wreck havoc in the Western world. It has preeminence in Europe and great ties this side of the Atlantic.

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    1. Yes I liked it on a few different levels. Everyone in the book was corrupt actually. I like your observations on British Intelligence.

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  2. Sorry, I can't help with any suggestions. My sister likes to tease me and say that I like to read the kind of books that little old white ladies read. And she's right. I read the kind of books that appeal to 85-year-olds!

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    1. That is ok. Reader's Rights!!

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  3. I didn't realize that Topkapi was based on this book. I have a rather vague memory of the movie and I think I enjoyed it at the time.

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    1. I did not particularly enjoy the movie the first time. Apparently the story was changed to focus more on the jewel heist than on Arthur Simpson. Interestingly, it was his character that won the Oscar for Peter Ustinov. It will be interesting to see it again in light of having read the book.

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  4. I have a suggestion for you that may fit your criteria... Check out Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm Series. Matt Helm "is a U.S. government counter-agent—a man whose primary job is to kill or nullify enemy agents—not a spy or secret agent in the ordinary sense of the term as used in spy thrillers."

    Check out the Wikipedia link for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Helm

    I have not read any of the novels in the Matt Helm series, but 12 of the 27 novels were published in the 1960s. I hope this helps!

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    1. Thank you Lisa! That is so nice of you. I am going to check out the series right now.

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    2. Ok I looked up the author and the series. It is just what I was looking for. I found the entire series on Abe Books and ordered the first three! Thanks again.

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    3. So glad the author and the series were just what you were looking for! I look forward to reading your reviews of each novel after you've read them. Happy reading!!

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