Monday 3 February 2014

First Editions of Eric Ambler's Passage of Arms and The Light of Day (Heinemann, 1959 / 1962)

To round off what's become a short run of posts on Eric Ambler – see these posts on the 1964 Ambler-compiled To Catch a Spy anthology and the 1965 anthology of three of Ambler's novels, Intrigue – I thought I might show off a couple of Ambler first editions I've acquired – in both cases from secondhand bookshops on London's Cecil Court.

Published in hardback in the UK in 1959 by Heinemann under a striking but sadly uncredited dust jacket, Passage of Arms hails from roughly the midpoint of Ambler's career and is, according to The London Review of Books' Thomas Jones writing in The Guardian, "the last of Ambler's books about a naive, good-hearted man getting out of his depth by doing the wrong thing with good intentions". There's an enthusiastic review over at Booksquawk and a rather less enthusiastic one at Mystery*File.

This Heinemann first came from Cecil Court's Tindley & Chapman, or more accurately the basement thereof, which for me has frequently afforded keenly priced gems, such as a highly scarce Hodder first of Donald E. Westlake's I Gave At the Office and American paperback firsts of Elmore Leonard's Mr. Majestyk and The Big Bounce and John D. MacDonald's A Purple Place for Dying. Indeed, so rich have been my pickings from that basement that the last time I was in the shop a few weeks ago the owner was firmly resistant to my venturing down there. His loss; I trotted up Charing Cross Road and popped into the basement of Any Amount of Books instead, where I found a James Munro first I was missing.

The other Cecil Court Ambler came from outside Peter Ellis's shop, plucked from the little bookcase fixed to the wall by the door (where I'd previously found a first of Kingsley Amis's One Fat Englishman):

A first edition of The Light of Day, published by Heinemann in 1962. The dust jacket, designed by Leslie Needham, is on the scruffy, even grubby, side, but the book only cost two quid, so I can't really complain – plus there's the bonus of a map illustration on the endpapers:

drawn by Audrey Frew. Can't beat a good endpaper map.

The folk at Mystery*File have a lot more time for this, the next book along in Ambler's backlist, as does The Rap Sheet; both those reviews make mention of the 1964 film adaptation, Topkapi and Ambler's 1967 novel Dirty Story, which also stars The Light of Day's lead, Arthur Abdel Simpson.

I've added the front covers of both The Light of Day and Passage of Arms to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, the latter under 'Designer Unknown' down the bottom; as ever, if anyone can furnish me with the name of the jacket designer, I should be most grateful.

Next: a Westlake Score, no less.


  1. Or rather looking forward to a Westlake score. Clumsy.

  2. I do that in comments all the time, Ray. Bloody annoying isn't it?

  3. And I remember about Westlake inscriptions and signatures from my collection.

  4. Your last few post have made me very envious. Lovely books, and I love those maps in the endpapers.

  5. Funny, I just picked up a copy of The Light of Day. I had a mild interest in Topkapi, since I'm an obsessive fan of Mission: Impossible (the TV show, not the films) and knew that Topkapi was a major influence on it, and I only recently discovered that it was based on a novel. The film wasn't quite as impressive as I was hoping, so I'm looking forward to reading the source.

    By the way, the director of Topkapi also did Rififi, which I recently picked up on Criterion Blu-ray. It was also based on a novel (by Auguste Le Breton) which I haven't read, but in this case I've been told that it's far less impressive than the film. Apparently the director hated it.

    And speaking of Westlake, you'll be happy to know that I finally picked up copies of The Score, The Hot Rock, and Bank Shot. Looking back at old comments on other entries, I see that it was May of 2012 when I informed you that I had finally read The Hunter and said that I would look into more Stark/Westlake. Yes, it really does take me that long to get around to stuff.

  6. Let me know how you get on with The Score and those two other Westlakes, Craig. I'd be interested to hear what you make of the Dortmunders especially.