“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The author sets out a story – the “special conditions which exist” – to develop this theme. As I view the world, Ambler may as well be writing about the Clinton, Bush and Obama years in the United States of America.
Protagonist, Latimer, is a writer of detective stories. In Istanbul he meets a Colonel of Turkish intelligence who has outlined a detective story but can’t write it. He gives it to Latimer to write. He also offers to show Latimer the body of an international criminal, Dimitros. Latimer sees the man and learns what the Turks know of his activities – spotty before 1924 and a blank after 1924. Latimer decides to learn about Dimitros’ political, criminal and financial activities in those missing 14 years.
For 100 pages the story is an obligation to read. It could be improved by Ambler telling of Latimer’s curiosity to investigate as a writer. Otherwise, Latimer seems flat and a gadfly. Also when faced with dead time in a story, an author can improve the tale in one of two ways: Tell a better story, OR improve the language used in the telling of the story. Ambler finally ponies up with the second method:
1. Who is the mastermind becomes “who paid for the bullet?”
2. Darkness of human existence became “baroque of human affairs.”
3. “wrinkled flesh” is “raddled flesh”
4. A sentence “People were dying faster than if you had machine-gunned them.”
5. An adversary learns that Latimer’s passport says he is a writer, and he says, “…writer is a very elastic term.”
If some of these phrases and sentence offend, the time of this novel is Europe between the Wars. There is a chapter on white slavery and drug dealing in Paris, circa 1930. Many of the victimized prostitutes were from Eastern Europe. I thought this novel was a prequel to the movie, “Taken.”
Tomorrow I shall blog more about the gross statement of the theme of A Coffin, but this book demonstrates with little effort and few additions to the text that something of substance can be included in a tale of international crime. Ambler makes his book a statement of his times, a mirror of society.
What does the first sentence of this post have to do with crime and A Coffin? When one person or hundred of persons are allowed to shirk the law, step over its lines repeatedly, make fortunes, become prominent and be protected, that makes for a very different society than the one popular in political mythology: Everyone plays by the same rules, has the same opportunities, can pursue happiness, can contribute to the general weal and gain the esteem due a member of society. In the first described society, select people abuse and take advantage and rob. Under the political myth, it is assumed there is organic growth to the betterment of everyone.
Most Americans prefer the political myth, but they don’t always know how to achieve it. They neglect standards, criteria and values. One area where Americans have abandoned all caution: Countless American entertainers and artists, purporting to be part of the community, are abusing the system: They don’t entertain; they aren’t artistic. But why denounce easy targets in the United States?
Look overseas to Russia and the band Pussy Riot. In a church that band decided to perform a desecrating concert and publicize it. The performance was devoid of art and was bad entertainment. If Pussy Riot does not shock with the band’s name, it shouldn’t perform in a church for “more shock value.”
They were prosecuted and imprisoned, which only enhanced their name in the West. Pussy Riot became a cause celebre. Rock and roll musicians asked they be released. I do know if Pussy Riot committed the crimes like trespass or malicious mischief, but years in prison seem long. Although devoid of art and being poor entertainment, the West is ready to bestow awards, riches, fame and adulation on Pussy Riot. That is a mistake. There are no standards, no values, no excellence, just publicity. The West, especially America, cannot give Pussy Riot a big- welcome, you’ve-held-up-our-values, you’re-important-to-human-existence. The West, America and the remainder of the World have done that justly and recently. Who out there has the gall to compare the comparative worth of Pussy Riot to Nelson Mandela?
What does Eric Ambler say? If society does not abide by its heroes like Nelson Mandela and conduct, respect and uphold supporting values and standards, society will end with the standards, values and excellence of Pussy Riot, “the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”