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Thirty years after Eric Ambler introduced the world to his unlikely hero, the academic and novelist Charles Latimer, in A Coffin for Dimitrios, Latimer returns in The Intercom Conspiracy.

Now a successful, bestselling author on the trail of a new book, Latimer steps in to help Theodore Carter, the hapless, hard-drinking editor of Intercom, a small, international political newspaper, investigate his bosses and the sources of the secrets he’s publishing. It was recently purchased by two magnates who are, unbeknownst to the frazzled Carter, chief intelligence officers in two minor NATO countries. Not all of Intercom’s readers are happy with some recent stories, which are surprisingly more truthful and a lot more dangerous than the rumors and fictions that used to fill its pages—and some of those readers will go to any length to keep their secrets safe. As Latimer and Carter get closer to the truth, they realize they’re jeopardizing more than just their careers.

Published: Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780307950062
List price: $9.99
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As a dedicated fan of spy literature, I was familiar with Ambler’s A Coffin for Dmitrios as the book that arguably started the modern spy novel genre. I was not, however, familiar with The Levanter until I read an NYT story by Alan Furst that listed it as one of his top five favorite spy works. (The others: [[ASIN:0142438006 Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics)]] by Graham Greene, [[ASIN:B002ECEEFO Miernik Dossier]] by Charles McCarry, [[ASIN:0743457919 The Honourable Schoolboy]] by John le Carré, and [[ASIN:1590171373 Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg]] by Nina Berberova (as Furst notes Moura is not actually a spy novel, but is rather nonfiction written by a novelist).Levanter, one of Ambler’s last novels, is set in 1970 in the Middle East. Michael Howell is a “Middle Eastern businessman of complex ethnic descent” as Furst aptly puts it. Howell’s family business empire straddles the Mediterranean, but is focused on the Arab side, and Howell is its sharp-minded unquestioned leader. After Syrian goes socialist, he begins to plan a strategic withdrawal that will preserve as much of the company or its assets as possible. He soon learns, however, that one of his factories has been taken over by a radical Palestinian group, also led by an unquestioned leader.Howell finds himself an unwilling accomplice in a vast terrorist plot. To assure themselves of Howell’s cooperation, the group’s leader force Howell to swear loyalty and to sign a (phony – or is it really so phony?) confession that he is a “Zionist agent”. Much of the book is then made up of Howell’s attempts to learn the plot’s details and to figure out a way to undermine it. Howell is no hero, however, as his efforts are always tempered by a strong sense of self-preservation of himself and his business empire. Ambler tells the story by having several characters relate their version of events in a specific time period (the book’s events take place between May and July). Howell is the main narrator, but Ambler also gives voice to decidedly different views from several journalists. Throughout the book the reader knows something happened that left Howell in a vague bad way of some sort (albeit not fatal given Howell’s narration). Partly because of these disparate voices, Ambler’s Levanter does not go in for clear cut tidy answers, but then you really shouldn't reads a spy novel for clarity. Ambler does provide some interesting history as he spins out the story. And he reminds us that the Middle East Conflict has been with us for a long, long time. (Can you remember the days of your youth when you actually thought the phrase 'peace process' had some meaning?). And in a surprise, we are also reminded that piracy has never really gone away, either.A fascinating tale, well-told by one the masters. Highly recommended.more

Reviews

As a dedicated fan of spy literature, I was familiar with Ambler’s A Coffin for Dmitrios as the book that arguably started the modern spy novel genre. I was not, however, familiar with The Levanter until I read an NYT story by Alan Furst that listed it as one of his top five favorite spy works. (The others: [[ASIN:0142438006 Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics)]] by Graham Greene, [[ASIN:B002ECEEFO Miernik Dossier]] by Charles McCarry, [[ASIN:0743457919 The Honourable Schoolboy]] by John le Carré, and [[ASIN:1590171373 Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg]] by Nina Berberova (as Furst notes Moura is not actually a spy novel, but is rather nonfiction written by a novelist).Levanter, one of Ambler’s last novels, is set in 1970 in the Middle East. Michael Howell is a “Middle Eastern businessman of complex ethnic descent” as Furst aptly puts it. Howell’s family business empire straddles the Mediterranean, but is focused on the Arab side, and Howell is its sharp-minded unquestioned leader. After Syrian goes socialist, he begins to plan a strategic withdrawal that will preserve as much of the company or its assets as possible. He soon learns, however, that one of his factories has been taken over by a radical Palestinian group, also led by an unquestioned leader.Howell finds himself an unwilling accomplice in a vast terrorist plot. To assure themselves of Howell’s cooperation, the group’s leader force Howell to swear loyalty and to sign a (phony – or is it really so phony?) confession that he is a “Zionist agent”. Much of the book is then made up of Howell’s attempts to learn the plot’s details and to figure out a way to undermine it. Howell is no hero, however, as his efforts are always tempered by a strong sense of self-preservation of himself and his business empire. Ambler tells the story by having several characters relate their version of events in a specific time period (the book’s events take place between May and July). Howell is the main narrator, but Ambler also gives voice to decidedly different views from several journalists. Throughout the book the reader knows something happened that left Howell in a vague bad way of some sort (albeit not fatal given Howell’s narration). Partly because of these disparate voices, Ambler’s Levanter does not go in for clear cut tidy answers, but then you really shouldn't reads a spy novel for clarity. Ambler does provide some interesting history as he spins out the story. And he reminds us that the Middle East Conflict has been with us for a long, long time. (Can you remember the days of your youth when you actually thought the phrase 'peace process' had some meaning?). And in a surprise, we are also reminded that piracy has never really gone away, either.A fascinating tale, well-told by one the masters. Highly recommended.more
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