Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eric Ambler’s The Schirmer Inheritance

Eric Ambler’s 1953 novel The Schirmer Inheritance isn’t quite a crime novel, or at any rate certainly not a conventional one. It’s perhaps best described as a mystery thriller with a dash of international intrigue. It’s somewhat in the style of Graham Greene’s cloak-and-dagger novels.

Ambler and Greene took the spy/adventure story as written by people like John Buchan and seasoned it with lots of cynicism, and a certain amount of black humour.

The Schirmer Inheritance is typical of Ambler’s work in having an amateur, in this case a young attorney, who becomes involved in a web of mystery, crime and international politics. Sent to Germany in 1949 to trace a possible heir to an American soft-drink fortune he finds itself drawn into a story that started during in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars when a Prussian dragoon deserted his regiment, and which now leads him to Greece in the midst of civil war as he follows the trail of a young German sergeant killed by partisans in World War II.

It’s a fascinating and unusual story, told with great skill and with Ambler’s gift for striking characterisation. A very entertaining read, and a book I recommend very highly. If you haven’t discovered Eric Ambler then you’re missing out on a very fine and underrated writer.

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