The Mask of Dimitrios, Paperback

The Mask of Dimitrios Paperback

Part of the Penguin Modern Classics series

4.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


English crime novelist Charles Latimer is travelling in Istanbul when he makes the acquaintance of Turkish police inspector Colonel Haki.

It is from him that he first hears of the mysterious Dimitrios - an infamous master criminal, long wanted by the law, whose body has just been fished out of the Bosphorus.

Fascinated by the story, Latimer decides to retrace Dimitrios' steps across Europe to gather material for a new book.

But, as he gradually discovers more about his subject's shadowy history, fascination tips over into obsession. And, in entering Dimitrios' criminal underworld, Latimer realizes that his own life may be on the line.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 240 pages, no illustrations
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Espionage & spy thriller
  • ISBN: 9780141190334



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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

When I saw that Penguin were reissuing five of Ambler’s novel in their Modern Classics series, the choice of which to read first was easy – I picked The Mask of Dimitrios. Apart from having been published during the same year as Chandler’s The Big Sleep, this novel is famous for being the one that Ian Fleming nodded to, having Bond read it on a plane to Istanbul in From Russia With Love. “Bond unfastened his seat-belt and lit a cigarette. He reached for the slim, expensive-looking attaché case on the floor beside him and took out The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler and put the case, which was very heavy in spite of its size, on the seat beside him.” The Mask of Dimitrios is a classic spy story. A mild-mannered crime novelist, Charles Latimer, is travelling in Europe and makes the acquaintance of Colonel Haki – an inspector in the Turkish secret police. Haki has read Latimer’s novels and has an idea for a plot for him, however Latimer finds real life to be much more fascinating. Out of professional interest, he goes with the Colonel to the morgue to see the body of a notorious criminal, who had ended up stabbed to death. Dimitrios was wanted all over Europe in connection with murders, assassination attempts and more, but had been too clever to be caught. Latimer’s interest is piqued and he feels that to do some real detection work into Dimitrios would be helpful to his novels. Haki tells him what he knows, and off goes Latimer, not knowing that he will become obsessed in his quest or that he is, as you might expect for an amateur detective, sailing into dangerous waters.His journey takes him across Europe, making contacts and filling in the jigsaw puzzle piece by piece. In Sofia, he meets the translator Marukakis, who takes him to a club where the Madame knew Dimitrios: “She possessed that odd blousy quality that is independent of good clothes and well-dressed hair and skilful maquillage. Her figure was full but good and she held herself well: her dress was probably expensive, her thick, dark hair looked as if it had spent the past two hours in the hands of a hairdresser. Yet she remained, unmistakably and irrevocably, a slattern.”But others are also interested in Dimitrios. On one occasion after having been confronted by an intruder with a Luger, Latimer rues that he didn’t use force against the man; “That,” he reflected, “was the worst of the academic mind. It always overlooked the possibilities of violence until violence was no longer useful.” This sums up Latimer neatly – in the best tradition of the gentleman amateur sleuth.I enjoyed this novel very much. It has much in common with those who followed – although Fleming, Ludlum and Le Carré Fleming, Robert Ludlum, and John Le Carré each take the espionage novel in differing directions. I liked the multiple locations around Europe; travelling between them is made easy by train. There is some tension generated by the political undercurrents and the general situation in the eastern Mediterranean countries – although not much is made of them here – WWII is yet to happen. The cast of shady supporting characters introduces much complexity, but sometimes, the long episodes when Dimitrios’ back-story is recounted slow the pace. Latimer however proves an amiable companion in this novel that is not quite a full-blooded thriller. As a lover of spy novels, I’ll be back to Ambler.

Review by

The mask of Dimitrios is my second book by Eric Ambler this year, read, not because I am so interested in espionage, but as it was re-issued as a Penguin Modern Classics edition. It is a pity I could not get all four. The book is known in the US as A coffin for Dimitrios.Published in 1939 it describes the search for the identity of a spy, across Turkey, Yugoslavia and Greece. The novel is reminiscent of Graham Greene's and probably Ian Fleming, although I have never read any of the latter's novels, and somewhat of Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes.The story is very exciting and is set against the back drop of the rise of Hitler in Europe. The book never feels dated, the reading experience is fully modern and contemporary, as opposed to the other book I read by Ambler earlier this year, Cause for alarm.

Review by

I have been aware that, though I have well over four decades of dedicated crime fiction reading behind me, there are a number of "classics" that I have never touched. Eric Ambler's THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, aka A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, aka THE DOSSIER OF DIMITRIOS, is one of those.In the introduction to this Kindle version Max Mazower wrote The Mask of Dimitrios is the work of a writer at the height of his powers. Saturated with the despairing mood of a world in rapid decay, it is also a manifesto for a new kind of crime novel, a bomb intended to blow up the vicarage whodunnit as decisively as the fifty tons of TNT that the eight-year-old Eric Ambler had watched devastate the Silvertown storage depot in 1917 in London's biggest-ever explosion.Written in 1939, with World War II imminent, it is really a story on at least two levels, possibly even a little allegorical.Charles Latimer, a successful murder mystery writer is shown the corpse of a villain in Istanbul. He spends the next three weeks investigating this corpse, travelling across Europe, and eventually becoming embroiled in committing a crime himself. Latimer is fascinated by how very different this reality is to his fictional world.On another level THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS is about the guises of evil. Dimitrios is an arch criminal, an assassin, white slaver, murderer, drug baron, and yet it is difficult to judge this on first meeting, to see the evil that lies beneath. A man's features, the bone structure and the tissue which covers it, are the product of a biological process; but his face he creates for himself. It is a statement of his habitual emotional attitude; the attitude which his desires need for their fulfilment and which his fears demand for their protection from prying eyes. He wears it like a devil mask; ... It is a screen to hide his mind's nakedness. Only a few men, painters, have been able to see the mind through the face.Latimer meets a number of people who have been sucked into the vortex that surrounds Dimitrios. The evil is contagious. They in turn become evil and commit crimes and other horrendous acts.So there is a lot of social and political comment embedded in the novel, for those who want to see it. Ambler in a sense is using the novel as his vehicle for more than just a story. As Mazower pointed out, this is a relatively new path for crime fiction in 1939. I keep thinking of George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM not published till 1945 and, much more clearly to readers, also an allegory.Ambler's writer Latimer realises the real world is much more sordid, violent, and dangerous than any fictional one that he can create. But will it change his attitude to his work or indeed the nature of his novels?I felt Ambler's desire to make political points slowed the action down at times, and made me feel a bit ambivalent about whether I wanted to continue reading. There were times when I just felt that I wanted the plot to move faster, certainly in the first half. And yet there is no doubting the novel's power to make the reader think.From here on... a SPOILER.At the end it seems almost that Latimer has learnt nothing from the experience. He desperately wants to turn the clock back to a time when things were rosy. But he, Latimer, would not know about those things. He would be writing a detective story with a beginning, a middle and an end; a corpse, a piece of detection and a scaffold. He would be demonstrating that murder would out, that justice triumphed in the end and that the green bay tree flourished alone. ..... He needed, and badly, a motive, a neat method of committing a murder and an entertaining crew of suspects. Yes, the suspects must certainly be entertaining. His last book had been a trifle heavy. He must inject a little more humour into this one. As for the motive, money was always, of course, the soundest basis. A pity that wills and life insurance were so outmoded. Supposing a man murdered an old lady so that his wife should have a private income. It might be worth thinking about. The scene? Well,there was always plenty of fun to be got out of an English country village, wasnt there? The time? Summer; with cricket matches on the village green, garden parties at the vicarage, the clink of teacups and the sweet smell of grass on a July evening. That was the sort of thing people liked to hear about. It was the sort of thing that he himself would like to hear about.

Review by

This novel, with its film noir atmosphere, inspired no less than Graham Greene, John le Carre, Alfred Hitchcock and Ian Fleming (who described it as James Bond’s favoured reading material).It opens with Charles Latimer, a mystery writer, naïvely accepting an assignment to discover who ended the life of criminal mastermind, Dimitrios. In doing so, he gets drawn further and further into the murky, corrupt world of the deceased: a man for whom war offered so many opportunities, he had no objection to helping start one. As our narrator crisscrosses World War II Europe, reconstructing the life and death of the great manipulator, he quickly learns that everyone who knew Dimitrios, is even less savoury than was the man himself. By now he knows he's been set up, and that he'll be lucky to escape with his life, but what he doesn't know is why.This is a taut, gripping espionage thriller, with lashings of intrigue, paranoia and double-dealing, which has held up well this past seventy years. Containing certain parallels to today’s uncertain times, I feel this novel may well be set for a revival.A definite recommend for people who enjoy character driven tension.Nina Jon is the author of the newly released Magpie Murders, a series of short murder mysteries with a Cluedo-esque element.She is also the author of the Jane Hetherington's Adventures in Detection crime and mystery series, about private detective Jane Hetherington.

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