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In an Eric Ambler spy novel, the hero is usually an ordinary fellow who lands in an unfamiliar foreign city and soon finds himself in rising water. In A Coffin For Dimitrios, published in 1939, the city is Istanbul between the world wars, and the hero is a writer intrigued by a newly dead Greek criminal whose life story leads him deep into the Balkans, and worse. Everything unfolds with the brisk tension and debonair assurance that made Ambler fans of everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to John le Carré to Alan Furst, and anchored the nascent genre in a kind of dashing realism. The 1944 film adaptation, with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, used the original title, The Mask of Dimitrios. —Karl Vick

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