Ambler, Eric: Cause for Alarm

Eric Ambler 1
Eric Ambler Cause for Alarm

The second oldest profession is at least as old as the oldest, but for whatever reason spy fiction didn’t emerge until the 19th Century. James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy (1821) may have been the first, followed by Conrad’s much later The Secret Agent (1907) and Maugham’s Ashenden (1927). Eric Ambler, in the same league as John Le Carre, wasn’t far behind. I just reread Cause for Alarm (1938), about an English engineer well out of his comfort zone in Mussolini’s Italy. No surprise, Ambler was married to Joan Harrison, Hitchcock’s screenwriter, accounting for the many Hitchcock movies featuring ordinary humans in extraordinary circumstances. I was struck by one passage (among many) that resonates as if it might have been written yesterday: “The tyrant who impoverishes the citizen is obliged to make war in order to keep his subjects occupied and impose on them permanent need of a chief.” Even more interesting: he was quoting Aristotle!

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