Friday, July 15, 2016

Thoughts on "A Kind of Anger" by Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler wrote A Kind of Anger in 1964, after the success of his comic Edgar-winning The Light of Day. It’s a more serious novel with a somewhat different character than we’ve seen before from this master spy novelist.

Usually, the Ambler man is an innocent who finds himself tonsil-deep in trouble. In A Kind of Anger, the one in trouble is Piet Maas, a Dutch journalist living in Paris. Like Arthur Abdel Simpson in Light of Day, Piet is anything but an innocent. Unlike Simpson though, he’s not a befuddled pawn, but a disturbed and broken man, recovering from a suicide attempt and nervous breakdown following a wash of business and personal failures.

Piet’s on the outs with just about everybody, working as a stringer for an international weekly magazine called The World Reporter. One night his bosses hand him a story that everyone else has given up on. Some weeks before, a Kurdish-Iraqi official in exile was murdered in the south of France. His murderers got away, as did Lucia, his beautiful mistress, who drove off in the night wearing only a bikini.

The trail has run cold, the police are losing interest—the victim was just a foreigner after all--and most of the Reporter’s reporters have become bored with pursuing this dead-end story. So the publisher and editor hand the story to Piet, ordering him to find the mistress and expecting him to fail so they can fire him.

But Piet turns out to be more resourceful than they expect. He heads to the French Riviera persistently following various leads—among them a sinister British property developer and his glamorous wife—until he tracks down Lucia.

It turns out Lucia fled the murder scene clutching some very important documents wanted by two very important and dangerous groups in both Iraq and Kurdistan. Piet immediately see there’s gold in them there papers, so he and Lucia join forces to whip up a scheme to sell them to both parties and make out like bandits.

Aside from Ambler’s interesting take on Iraqi-Kurdish politics of the mid-1960s (it seems all so far away compared to now), this is, unfortunately, a dull bit of intrigue from the master. The core of the conflict takes place in the Mideast, but setting the action entirely at a remove in the south of France keeps the stakes from ever amounting to much. The plotting is sometimes clever, but beyond that there doesn’t seem to be much at stake in this minor effort by a major writer.

Copyright 2016 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by author
Thomas Burchfield’s latest novel, Butchertown, a ripping, 1920s gangster shoot-‘em-up will appear later this year. His screenplay, Now Speaks the Devil has just appeared as an e-book. He is also the author of the contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark, winner of the IPPY, NIEA, and Halloween Book festival awards for horror in 2012. He’s also author of the original screenplays Whackers and The Uglies (e-book editions only). Published by Ambler House Publishing, all four are available at Amazon in various editions. You can also find his work at Barnes and Noble,  Powell's Books, and Scribed. He also “friends” on Facebook, and you can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.