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.

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