Review – Licence Expired

Licence Expired : The unauthorized James Bond

Edited by Madeline Ashby and David Nickle

This review is was originally posted on the website Literary 007

This book is the first to explore James Bond outside of the constraints of the officially licensed Bond continuation novels. Currently in Canada rights over written works revert to the public domain 50 years after the death of the author. This gave ChiDunnit, an imprint of ChiZine publishers, a chance to take a crack at the literary Bond. They gathered a number of Canadian authors to write short stories set in 007’s universe and this collection is only available for purchase in Canada.

This is an exciting development. As fans of other public domain characters have found, giving a variety of different authors a chance for their own take on a well known character can be very reinvigorating. It can also help new readers discover the original work or allow new perspectives on old characters.
Even Bond fans have seen this from the refresh a new Bond actor and director or new “official” Bond continuation novel offers.

That’s not to say every new take we see is going to be great or that there won’t be some misfires but there’s also the opportunity to read something new and exciting.

This collection runs the gamut from stories that would be right at home with Fleming to others that attempt to subvert the traditional image of Bond. Below is my take on each of the 19 stories (plus the Introduction) in this collection, and each mini review has a quick grade.

Bullseye – Either a perfect Fleming-style take on Bond or a truly original spin on the character.

Hit – A solid story taking advantage of the chance to use the literary Bond.
Miss – Just doesn’t quite work as a Bond story.

Introduction by Matt Sherman

Normally I wouldn’t touch on the introduction but this one was especially good. Sherman does a great job of setting up Bond’s place in the world of pop culture and in the world of collectors. His passion for Bond is obvious and contagious. By setting the context of Bond fandom, he places Licence Expired in its unique position as a continuation of that fandom.

Verdict: Bullseye

“One Is Sorrow” by Jacqueline Baker 

This story is a look at Bond’s schoolboy days as seen through the eyes of a young girl that works as a maid at his school. It’s told from her perspective, somewhat reminiscent of “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Something draws her to young James, but when another boy gets involved tensions run high. By the end we are given an idea of where all of Bond’s brooding may have started. There have now been several “official” young Bond continuation novels, but this story still works.

Verdict: Hit

“The Gale of the World” by Robert J. Wiersema

Many of the authors in this collection are well known as science fiction, fantasy or horror authors and this is the first story that turns hard into the horror genre. Unfortunately, I think this is a case where horror in the style of H.P. Lovecraft and Bond don’t mix well.

Giving Bond’s background a supernatural twist just doesn’t fit, and covering the supernatural portion of his adventure in choppy flashbacks keeps the story from developing a smooth flow. Even a late story twist can’t save this one. Perhaps this is one concept that requires a full length novel to set the scene and really pull off.

Verdict: Miss

“The Gladiator Lie” by Kelly Robson

This story is a bit of an alternate reality story, picking up threads seen in From Russia, with Love. Robson has Tatiana Romanova and Rosa Klebb spiriting a drugged Bond away to a Siberian gulag for use as a test subject for Russian mind control drugs.

It is essentially a Taitiana story with Bond in a supporting role. We see Bond’s drug induced fever dreams and Taitiana becoming more comfortable with her ambition. Although 007 isn’t the lead, it still offers him some moments that show the core of his personality.

Verdict: Hit

“Red Indians” by Richard Lee Byers

This story is a great example of what having a character like Bond opened up to the public domain can offer. Byers uses Bond’s reaction to the beating he took from Le Chiffre and his henchman in Casino Royale as his jumping off point. Bond has decided that if he’s going to take on SMERSH, he’ll need to be skilled with more than just a gun. As a test of his skills he maneuvers himself into a fight to the death with an underworld expert in savate de rue.

There are some wonderful Bond moments and it is the perfect example of the fun nooks and crannies of the Bond universe that can be explored once the character is set loose.

Verdict: Bullseye

“Mastering the Art of French Killing” by Michael Skeet 

It feels odd to call a Bond story a delight, but this one is. Skeet writes like a master chef, taking a real life character and spinning a light, tasty fictional tale with just the right dash of brutal violence to keep it firmly in the Bond world.

Verdict: Bullseye

“Half the Sky” by E.L. Chen 

Hard as it is to believe, I don’t think any of Fleming’s Bond books take place in Hong Kong. That city is a natural setting for a Bond story and Chen does a very nice job putting you right in the boat with Bond paddling through Victoria Harbour past the locals on the way to 007’s objective. Bond is on a routine mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist, but complications, of course, emerge.

Verdict: Hit

“In Havana” by Jeffrey Ford 

The stakes in this story are high; Bond is on the hunt for a serum that can turn anyone into a super strong raving maniac. Mafia thugs are in Havana to sell this formula to the Russians and Bond’s job is to intercept them before the handoff. When 007 gets dosed himself, we see the difference between everyday Bond and feral Bond … or is there one? Not showing everything that Bond does on this drug diminishes the impact of his callousness over the events of the story. That’s essentially what keeps this story from working for me.

Verdict: Miss

“A Dirty Business” by Iain McLaughlin 

Building a solid spy story in just a few pages is difficult. McLaughlin proves he is up to the task with this tale of an old friend of Bond’s and the duty to a given mission. An expensive dinner, beautiful women, and a dangerous assignment are all at play in this compact tale that shows why Bond deserves his licence to kill.

Verdict: Bullseye

“Sorrow’s Spy” by Catherine McLeod 

This is a trifle. A minor story with Bond as a supporting character. Not bad, but Bond doesn’t feel necessary for the telling of this tale.

Verdict: Miss

“Mosaic” by Karl Schroeder 

Typically an author of science fiction, I’ve enjoyed reading Schroeder’s previous novels. With this story he is firmly in the real world, or at least as real as Bond allows.

Taking advantage of the Cold War setting, we find Bond on a tropical island in the midst of a mole hunt just prior to a British nuclear test. The setting and stakes are appropriately epic.

Schroeder’s real success is in creating an unique and worthy companion for Bond. She proves to be just as capable as him and carries a mysterious past.

I hope Schroeder gives another espionage story a go. He’s got a knack for it.

Verdict: Bullseye

“The Spy Who Remembered Me” by James Alan Gardner 

What will happen to Bond when he’s still young enough to be useful but not the unstoppable force he was in his younger days? Gardner explores that idea in his story and gives a very realistic answer. A cameo appearance by a past character stretches plausibility but the central concept is strong enough that it doesn’t break.

Verdict: Hit

“Daedelus” by Jamie Mason 

Mason takes a traditional Bond style story, mixes in a few old favorites and a dash of the modern realities of espionage for an enjoyable tale, but one that in the end feels just a little too on the nose.

Verdict: Miss

“Through Your Eyes Only” by A.M. Dellamonica 

M’s new secretary discovers that no matter what woman is in front of him, Bond only sees who he wants to. It’s a clever conceit but giving his actions a medical name diminishes wildness of the idea. This one is kind of trippy, but if you can buy into the concept you’ll enjoy it.

Verdict: Hit

“Two Graves” by Ian Rogers 

At the end of the world Bond faces the supervillain he couldn’t beat and has to decide where he goes from there. I enjoyed it while reading it but, in the end, I felt it was missing something about the antagonist’s motivations that kept this from being successful. I think the lack of clarity was part of what the author was going for, but it just didn’t click for me.

Verdict: Miss

“No Mr. Bond” by Charles Stross 

Out of this list of authors, Charles Stross is the one that I know has some spy credibility. His “Laundry Files” series is a well known and received riff on spy novels but with a supernatural bent. As a result, I had high hopes for his entry and it is enjoyable. It’s written as a monologue by what seems to be a super-villain mashup of Elon Musk and Donald Trump as he interrogates Bond.
However, as enjoyable and fun as this is, it is firmly in the parody/satire category. Given that the point of this collection is to write Bond stories that couldn’t otherwise be written, the author has missed an opportunity. I have to give this one a miss.
Verdict: Miss

“The Man with the Beholden Gun: an e-pistol-ary story by some other Ian Fleming” by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer 

This is an odd one. It is written not as a Bond story, but as a series of letters from an alternate reality Ian Fleming to a some-time lover. It’s obviously intended as a meta commentary on the machismo and sexuality of Bond. For me, it didn’t work.

Verdict: Miss

“The Cyclorama” by Laird Barron 

Bond is captured by a villain he cannot defeat and left to watch flashes of his life spin past him as time slips by. Another weird one but had enough go right to end on the positive side of the board.

Verdict: Hit

“You Never Love Once” by Claude Lalumière 


“Not an Honourable Disease” by Corey Redekop 

The opportunity to read a story about a well known literary character decades after their first written exploits took place is almost always appealing to writers that follow the original author. There have been some great Sherlock Holmes stories that have done just that. Although the concept of a super spy fading into senility has been seen before, to have it explicitly be 007 is striking.
In the above two stories we see two versions of the Bond we know. In the former, he’s a legendary figure who has slowed down but not quite yet lost his step. In the latter, he’s relegated to a nursing home, fading in and out of his past outrageous adventures, now forgotten by the country he protected.

Both stories are told through the view of another person with parallels to 007 who have their own issues that their encounter with Bond cause them to reflect on.

Redekop in particular manages to work up to a really affecting moment between Bond and his new protagonist while at the same time offering some interesting insights into Bond’s character.

Verdict: Bullseye 


Verdict: Bullseye

Book Overall

Overall, I’d say this is a collection well worth seeking out. In my view the hits outweigh the misses, and the misses were trying something new even if I didn’t feel they hit the target in the end.

Hats off to the editors, David Nickle and Madeline Ashby. Although the stories are unconnected, the editors have arranged the stories in a loose chronological order, which I appreciated. It gives a good sense of what type of writing might be possible with the reins loosened.

I know they rushed this out due to worries of the Canadian copyright getting extended to a timeframe similar to the US, and after a quick search, it seems that is going to be the case. This may be the last chance for decades to see a number of writers that would otherwise be unable to play in Bond’s world give their “unofficial” take on 007. With Bond soon off limits for another 20 years this was a project worth doing.

Total Bullseyes: 6

Total Hits: 7

Total Misses: 7

Final Verdict: Hit

A special thank you to my friend Reyna Griffin who picked up the book for me on her recent trip to Canada and is a huge Bond fan herself.


Le Carre’s first lines


In honor of John le Carré’s new release, The Pigeon Tunnel, throughout the month of September I’m highlighting some trivia about his past novels.

I highlighted the first lines from Eric Ambler’s novels a few weeks back and in honor of John le Carré’s newest release, The Pigeon Tunnel, I thought it would be interesting to look at his first lines and whether any changes or trends could be discovered. Hard as it was, I tried to stick with just the first sentence, although I couldn’t stop myself a couple of times.
Call for the Dead (1961) –

When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary.

A Murder of Quality (1962) –

The greatness of Carne School has been ascribed by common consent to Edward VI, whose educational zeal is ascribed by history to the Duke of Somerset.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) –

The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”

Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

The Looking Glass War (1965) –

Snow covered the airfield. It had come from the north, in the mist, driven by the night wind, smelling of the sea.

A Small Town in Germany (1968) –

Ten minutes to midnight: a pious Friday in May and a fine river mist lying in the market square. Bonn was a Balkan city, stained and secret, drawn over with tramwire. Bonn was a dark house where someone had died, a house draped in Catholic black and guarded by policemen.

The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971) –

Cassidy drove contentedly through the evening sunlight, his face as close to the windshield as the safety belt allowed, his foot alteras close to the windshield as the safety belt allowed, his foot alternating diffidently between accelerator and brake as he scanned the narrow lane for unseen hazards.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) –

The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.

The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) –

Afterwards, in the dusty little corners where London’s secret servants drink together, there was argument about where the Dolphin case history should really begin.

Smiley’s People (1979) –

Two seemingly unconnected events heralded the summons of Mr. George Smiley from his dubious retirement.

The Little Drummer Girl (1983) –

It was the Bad Godesberg incident that gave the proof, though the German authorities had no earthly means of knowing this.

A Perfect Spy (1986) –

In the small hours of a blustery October morning in a south Devon coastal town that seemed to have been deserted by its inhabitants, Magnus Pym got out of his elderly country taxicab and, having paid the driver and waited till he had left, struck out across the church square.

The Russia House (1989) –

In a broad Moscow not two hundred yards from the Leningrad Station, on the upper floor of an ornate and hideous hotel built by Stalin in the style know to Muscovites as Empire During the Plague, the British Council’s first ever audio fair for the teaching of the English language and the spread of British culture was grinding to its excruciating end.

The Secret Pilgrim (1990) –

 Let me confess to you at once that if I had not, on the spur of the moment, picked up my pen and scribbled a note to George Smiley inviting him to address my passing-out class on the closing evening of their entry course – and had Smiley not, against all expectations, consented – I would not be making so free to you with my heart.

The Night Manager (1993) –

On a snow-swept January evening of 1991, Jonathan Pine, the English night manager of the Hotel Meister Palace in Zurich, forsook his office behind the reception desk and, in the grip of feelings he had not known before, took up his position in the lobby as a prelude to extending his hotel’s welcome to a distinguished late arrival.

Our Game (1995) –

Larry went officially missing from the world on the second Monday of October, at ten minutes past eleven, when he failed to deliver his opening lecture of the new academic year.

The Tailor of Panama (1996) –

It was a perfectly ordinary Friday afternoon in tropical Panama until Andrew Osnard barged into Harry Pendel’s shop asking to be measured for a suit.

Single & Single (1999) –

This gun is not a gun.

The Constant Gardener (2001) –

 The news hit the British High Commission in Nairobi at nine-thirty on a Monday morning. Sandy Woodrow took it like a bullet, jaw rigid, chest out, smack through his divided English heart.

Absolute Friends (2003) –

On the day his destiny returned to claim him, Ted Mundy was sporting a bowler hat and balancing on a soapbox in one of Mad King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria.

The Mission Song (2006) –

My name is Bruno Salvador. My friends call me Salvo, so do my enemies.

A Most Wanted Man (2008) –

A Turkish heavyweight boxing champion sauntering down a Hamburg street with his mother on his arm can scarcely be blamed for failing to notice that he is being shadowed by a skinny boy in a black coat.

Our Kind of Traitor (2010) –

At seven o’clock of a Caribbean morning, on the island of Antigua, one Peregrine Makepiece, otherwise known as Perry, an all-round amateur athlete of distinction and until recently tutor in English literature at a distinguished Oxford college, played three sets of tennis against a muscular, stiff-backed, bald, brown-eyed Russian man of dignified bearing in his middle fifties called Dima.

A Delicate Truth (2013) –

On the second floor of a characterless hotel in the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a lithe, agile man in his late fifties restlessly paced his bedroom.

The Pigeon Tunnel (2016) –

‘I know what you are,” cries Denis Healey, a former British Defence Secretary in the Labour interest, at a private party to which we have both been invited, his hand outstretched as he wades towards me from the doorway. ‘You’re a communist spy, that’s what you are, admit it.’


“The Spy Who” Oddities Part 2.5

In honor of John le Carré’s new release, The Pigeon Tunnel, throughout the month of September I’m highlighting some trivia about his past novels.

I’m continuing my look at the release of a condensed version of “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” in the August issue of TRUE magazine. Last post we looked at the images, this post we look at the text.

Looking at the text included, this is a harshly edited version of TSWCIFTC. For a quick example we need look no further than the first sentence given.

From the book –

The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”

Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

From the magazine abridged version –

Leamas stared through the window of the checkpoint along the empty Berlin street, then walked to the observation window and stood between the two motionless West German policeman training their binoculars on the Eastern checkpoint.

From the start they’ve already cut out most of the beginning six paragraphs. Paragraphs which set the mood for the entire novel. These editors prove to be ruthless with large sections cut completely, mixed and matched or words changed or removed for seeming no reason.

The final paragraph from the book –

They seemed to hesitate before firing again; someone shouted an order, and still no one fired. Finally they shot him, two or three shots. He stood glaring around him like a blinded bull in the arena. As he fell, Leamas saw a small car smashed between great lorries, and the children waving cheerfully through the window.

And the magazine-

They seemed to hesitate before firing again; someone shouted an order, and still no one fired. Finally they shot him, two or three shots.  He stood glaring around him like a blinded bull in the arena before he fell.

They’ve removed the final line which is a crucial call back to earlier in the book when Leamas  is nearly run off the road by a similar car and family.

They’ve reduced it to pure plot. A good plot to be sure, but by removing so much else of the book it loses all tension and its soul.

In conclusion, this condensed version of TSWCIFTC is an oddity in every sense of the word.

I’ve got one last oddity in my collection of odd editions of “The Spy Who.” Turn in next week for the thrilling (?) conclusion.


“The Spy Who” oddities – Part Two

In honor of John le Carré’s new release, The Pigeon Tunnel, throughout the month of September I’m highlighting some trivia about his past novels.

I thought about including this one with the other “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” editions in part one but this seemed worthy of a couple posts of it’s own.

With a publication date of August 1964, True Magazine published a abbreviated version of TSWCIFTC. True, which carried the subtitle “A Man’s Magazine,” was a part of Fawcett Publishing which was known for its magazines, comics and line of Gold Medal paperback originals.

True, a men’s magazine

I hope to discuss another time the journey TSWCIFTC took to publication another time but to make a long story short, Jack Geoghegan, publisher for Coward-McCann, won the US publishing rights for the book and due to financial pressure had to sell the paperback rights for a song. I’m assuming the rights to publish a magazine version were sold at that time as well since this issue appeared around when the paperback version would have been released.

One of the interesting things about this edited magazine version of “The Spy Who” is the images included. Noted movie poster artist of the 60’s, Howard Terpning, created what I believe are the first images of Leamus, Liz, Mundt and Fielder.

Terpning  was born in 1927 in Oak Park, Il. just a short walk from my house. After getting a degree from the Chicago Academy of Fine Art he began to work in advertising. Branching out he began creating iconic posters for just about every big movie coming out in the 60’s and early 70’s before getting out of the commercial art business. He went on to become one of the world’s most noted “western” painters with some of his paintings selling for over a million dollars. He currently lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Among the spy movies he created poster art for were Guns of Navarrone, Torn Curtain, Ice Station Zebra and Where Eagles Dare. Crispin Garcia’s exhaustive fan site for the movie The Sand Pebbles has some great additional information on Terpning.

As far as I’m concerned his images for TSWCIFTC are pretty spot on.

Here’s the description of Leamas from the novel –

Leamas was a short man with close cropped, iron-gray hair, and the physique of a swimmer.


He had an attractive face, muscular, and a stubborn line to his thin mouth. His eyes were brown and small … [h]e looked like a man who could make ground, a man who looked after his money; a man who was not quite a gentleman.

Art by Howard Terpning

Pretty good I’d say.

His Liz isn’t bad either.

She was a tall girl, ungainly, with a long waist and long legs. She wore flat, ballet type shoes to reduce her height. Her face, like her body, had large components which seemed to hesitate between plainness and beauty.

Art by Howard Terpning

And Fielder

He couldn’t have been more than five foot six. He wore a dark blue single-breasted suit; the jacket was cut too long. He was sleek and slightly animal; his eyes were brown and bright.

Art by Howard Terpning

And the final profile, Mundt –

Mundt’s appearance was fully consistent with his temperament. He looked an athlete. His fair hair was cut short. It lay mat and neat. His young face had a hard, clean line, and a frightening directness; it was barren of humor or fantasy. He looked young but not youthful; older men would take him seriously. He was well built.

Art by Howard Terpning

In addition to profiles we see two iconic moments of the novel –  the escape over the Berlin Wall and the trial.

Art by Howard Terpning

Interestingly, the wasn’t Terpning’s only time creating images for TSWCIFTC. He also created the iconic artwork on the poster for the film.

Art by Howard Terpning

Taking a closer look at the artwork we see another sketch of the wall scene and Richard Burton in all his world weary glory as Leamas.

Art by Howard Terpning

But that’s not all. Looking at my beat up paperback copy of the movie tie-in version of TSWCIFTC we see more Terpning art work.

Art by Howard Terpning

He even gets a credit on the back cover, something I don’t recall typically seeing on books of the era.

This art is completely different from the posters I’ve seen for release of the movie. If I had to hazard a guess I would imagine this is from a different movie poster draft that wasn’t used. I can’t imagine Dell would commission Terpning to create original artwork for this later printing of the paperback. However, if anyone has information otherwise, please share it in the comments.

Finishing our art tour where we began, I’ll leave you with this international poster I found.

There are versions of this in a few different languages. A mash up of the book artwork and the magazine art, we get the best of both worlds on the international poster.

Here I take a brief look at some changes the text underwent as it was reduced to magazine form.

Do you know of other TSWCIFTC artwork or an earlier rendition of the characters? Chime in below!



“The Spy Who” Oddities – Part One

Following up on my previous post about “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” in the next few posts I’ll be highlighting some of the odd or rare versions of the book I have.

First is a compilation of le Carré’s third, fourth, and fifth novels – The Spy Who, A Small town in Germany and The Looking Glass War.

This edition was released as a Random House Value edition in 1988. My particular copy is the second impression, which would typically make it even less collectible than it already is.

However, this one has been signed by le Carré.


Signed Omnibus
But that’s not what makes it truly unique. In addition to the main title page signature, it’s also signed on the title page for the start of TSWCIFTC.

And the title page of A Small Town in Germany.

And the title page at the start of The Looking Glass War.

Making it a quadruple signed copy, something I haven’t ever seen elsewhere. Honestly, I don’t know that it makes it worth anything in terms of money, but it’s a neat oddity. The fact that I didn’t know I was getting it when I bought a lot of three other signed le Carré books for a total of $10? Makes it even better.

The next is a signed psuedo-recreation of the UK first edition released in honor of the 50th anniversary.

Although it looks very much like what the true first edition looked like, when compared side by side some differences become apparent.

I’m not sure if they went with the larger size to avoid people pawning these off as the really thing or some other reason. It’s still a pretty sharp recreation and I believe all copies came signed by le Carré.

The final copy I’ll showcase today is a 25th anniversary book club recreation of the first printing, first impression of the US edition.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is an exact replica in every way but one, it is missing “TSWCIFTC $4.50” on the front dust jacket flap. It really is a nice copy that they obviously went to great lengths to match to the original.

This copy also came with a nice pamphlet that discusses how The Spy Who came to be printed by the head of the US publishing house. But more on that in a future post.

Stay tuned for part two of “The Spy Who” oddities next week. This next post has some really fun trivia so do come back and check it out.

Do you have an odd or rare copy of TSWCIFTC? Share it in the comments below!

The Flat Bureaucrat by Susan Hasler

“It’s a Wonderful Life” meets the 9/11 report

If Susan Hasler’s Intelligence was “24” meets “The Office”, it’s sequel, The Flat Bureaucrat, is “It’s a Wonderful Life” meets the 9/11 report. In case it isn’t readily apparent, that’s a good thing.
Hasler’s years as an analyst in the CIA have served her well in her latest novel. She is able to pinpoint the absurdities, the screw-ups and the personalities, not just in the world of modern intelligence, but in modern office life. As with the best novels, by focusing on the specificity of working at the CIA, the author opens the story up to the universality of working in an office anywhere. It draws you into the story whether you are a spy fan or not.
John le Carre, the granddaddy of spy novelists, is known for creating a whole new vernacular when talking about “The Circus”, his version of MI6; Hasler has managed to take this concept to even greater heights for the CIA. Her co-opting of mining terminology to define the various areas of the CIA is not only a perfect way to give context to the various players, but also allows for some great moments of humor with various acronyms used to great comic effect.
Much of this inventiveness and satire was present in Intelligence. What gives this novel a greater weight is a sense of mortality, of seconds slipping away, that pervades the story. We have a limited time on Earth; how would we look back on it and would we say we took advantage of every second we had? It’s hard not to let those questions pass through your mind as you read. But don’t get me wrong, this is not a dirge. Hasler is light on her feet and knows when to defuse the tension with humor and when to get more contemplative.
Although it provides a complete story, it does leave room for a sequel. Here’s hoping we see it.
Highly Recommended.


Eric Ambler’s First Lines

In my research on Eric Ambler’s “lost” novel, “Gentleman from Abroad,” I saw a few first lines from his previous novels. As I looked through them, I realized that they were a master class in getting your reader interested in your story from the start. Sure there are a couple that aren’t as intriguing as others, but on the whole, it’s hard to read them without wanting to know what happens next. 

Read on below and sound off in the comments below on your favorites. Hopefully, you’ll want to run out and pick up a few of his novels you’ve yet to read.

The Dark Frontier (1936)

The events in this book compromise, I am told, an account of my life during the period April 17th to May 26th of last year.

This I am unable either to confirm or deny.

Uncommon Danger (1937), US title: Background to Danger

One sunny morning in July, Mr. Joseph Balterghen’s blue Rolls-Royce oozed silently away from the pavement in Berkeley Square, slid across Piccadilly into St. James’s, and sped softly eastward towards the City of London.

Epitaph for a Spy (1938)

I arrived in St. Gatien from Nice on Tuesday, the 14th of August. I was arrested at 11.45 a.m. on Thursday, the 16th, by an agent de police and an inspector in plain clothes and taken to the Commissariat.

Cause for Alarm (1938)

The man standing in the shadow of the doorway turned up the collar of his overcoat and stamped his numb feet gently on the damp stones.

The Mask of Dimitrios (1939), US title: A Coffin for Dimitrios

A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.

Journey into Fear (1940)

The steamer, Sestri Levante, stood high above the dock side, and the watery sleet, carried on the wind blustering down from the Black Sea, had drenched even the small shelter deck. In the after well the Turkish stevedores, with sacking tied round their shoulders, were still loading cargo.

Judgment on Deltchev (1952)

Where treason to the state is defined simply as opposition to the government in power, the political leader convicted of it will not necessarily lose credit with the people. Indeed, if he is respected or loved by them, his death at the hands of a tyrannical government may serve to give his life a dignity it did not before possess.

The Schirmer Inheritance (1953)

In 1806 Napoleon set out to chastise the King of Prussia.

The Night-Comers (1956), also published as State of Siege

The weekly Dakota from Selampang had never been known to arrive at the valley airstrip before noon, or to leave on the return journey before one. After the farewell party they had given for me the previous night, I should have slept until eleven at least. But no; I was wide awake, packed and ready to go at dawn.

Passage of Arms (1959)

All that Mr. Wright, the rubber-estate manager, ever knew of the business was that an army patrol had ambushed a band of terrorists within a mile of his bungalow, that five months later his Indian clerk, Girija Krishnan, had reported the theft of three tarpaulins from the curing sheds, and that three years after that someone had removed the wheels from an old scooter belonging to one of his children.

The Light of Day (1962)

It came down to this: if I had not been arrested by the Turkish police, I would have been arrested by the Greek police.

A Kind of Anger (1964)

The weekly American news magazine World Reporter goes to press at eleven o’clock on Friday night. As a rule there is not much work left to be done that evening, except by the proof-readers and checkers; but the atmosphere in the New York editorial offices is still tense.

“The Blood Bargain” (1966), Unreleased novel Gentleman from Abroad

Ex-President Fuentes enjoys a peculiar distinction. More people would like to kill him now that he is in retirement than wanted to kill him when he was in power.

Dirty Story (1967)

Write it on the walls.

H. Carter Gavin, Her Britannic Majesty’s vice-consul in Athens, is a shit.

The Intercom Conspiracy (1969)

It was on May 31 of last year, at Geneva’s Cointrin airport, that the man who called himself Charles Latimer disappeared. All efforts to trace him have so far failed. Through a combination of circumstances the disappearance went unreported for two weeks.

The Levanter (1972)

This is Michael Howell’s story and he tells most of it himself. I think that he should have told all of it.

Doctor Frigo (1974)

The new night Sister from Guadeloupe appears to be intelligent and to know her job. A relief. There is one thing to be said for a tour of night duty at the hospital. The food one is expected to eat may be disgusting and the bed on which one is supposed to rest may be too near the main air-conditioning compressor; but, unless there is an unusually messy traffic accident or the night Sister in charge is inadequate, there is privacy and time for thought.

Send No More Roses (1977), US title: The Siege of the Villa Lipp

They stopped the car by the gateway in the wall on the lower coast road. Then, after a moment or two, the three of them climbed out stiffly, their shirts clinging to their backs. It had been a long, hot drive. From the shade at the end of the terrace I could see them clearly through the binoculars.

The Care of Time (1981)

The warning message arrived on Monday, the bomb itself on Wednesday. It became a busy week.