Ambler & The Pink Thief
The talents of many 20th century writers were tempered in the heat of conflict. Aldiss, Asimov, Ballard, Heinlein, Heller, Vonnegut, Mailer and Nevil Shute were just a few of the novelists shaped by wartime experiences. Many were not adversely affected and produced fiction that was almost nostalgic for combat.
Eric Ambler came from a London music hall family (lucky man! What a home life he must have had!) and went on the touring circuit as a comic. His serious side surfaced in his thrillers. A committed anti-Fascist, his novels reflected the growing ideological complexity of his time, and his taut thrillers, like ‘The Mask Of Demetrius’ and ‘Journey Into Fear’ came early in his career.
Ambler’s heroes often get out of their depth in the cynical, murky world of European espionage. ‘What else could you expect from a balance of power,’ asks one of his characters, ‘adjusted in terms of land, of arms, of man-power and of materials: in terms, in other words, of money?’
Ambler inevitably moved to Hollywood and scripted ‘The Cruel Sea’, which secured an Oscar nomination, and ‘A Night To Remember’, a rather better film about the sinking of the Titanic than that gaudy one with all the 3D CGI that now looks a bit dated.
His novel ‘The Light Of Day’ adopted a lighter tone and concerned a petty thief who is discovered stealing from a hotel room. His victim turns out to be a criminal in a league above his own, and the petty thief is blackmailed into smuggling arms into Turkey for use in a major jewel robbery. The big set piece occurs when the jewel thieves try to rob the Istanbul museum. It was filmed as ‘Topkapi’ and was, of course, subsequently parodied to perfection in ‘The Pink Panther’.