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A Coffin for Dimitrios

I choose the books I read in a very disorganized fashion. Recently I felt like reading a spy novel and so I gobbled one up called Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. I came across this book simply by doing a Google search for spy novels. It was a page turner but in the end it wasn’t a very satisfying read for me. I decided to read another book in the same genre, but wanted to avoid the usual suspects.

I came across an author named Eric Ambler. His name rang a bell for me and I realized my father had an Eric Ambler book (I don’t recall which one) on a bookshelf at home when I was growing up. It was a thick hardcover book. My father never mentioned it and I never read it. I decided to read one of Amber’s books based on this fleeting memory, and I chose A Coffin for Dimitrios from his body of work without much consideration.

Ambler was an author of my father’s time. My dad was born in 1917. Ambler was born in 1909. He was a popular British author of thrillers and spy novels as well as a screen-writer. He started writing novels in the 30s and his final novel was published in 1981.

A Coffin for Dimitrios is set in the Balkans between the World Wars. It’s a story about a detective writer who comes across information about a murder victim with a fascinating backstory. The writer, Latimer, is drawn deeper and deeper into the story of an elusive criminal  named Dimitrios, a story of intrigue, murder, drug smuggling and more – until he finds himself very much involved in this sordid world.

I enjoyed the pace of the novel and the way the story unfolded. As well, I liked the idea of a writer of crime fiction becoming involved in a world of real crime, a world in which things are not always so black and white. Unlike a detective novel which puts together pieces of a puzzle to solve a murder, Ambler has written a novel in which the character of a man – Dimitrios – is the puzzle being put together.

Compared to the previous novel I read, which was somewhat plodding, A Coffin for Dimitrios is a story very well told. I’m going to read another of Ambler’s books next, but I haven’t decided yet which one.

I just discovered that there was a film called The Mask of Dimitrios, starring Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Here’s a preview…



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