Review of Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler (1940, Penguin)
1940 and the phoney war is unfolding in Europe. In Turkey, a British arms engineer has completed his assessment of overhauling the Turkish naval fleet. On his final night in Istanbul before heading back to England three shots are fired at him as he enters his hotel room. He sustains a wound to his hand, but otherwise is unharmed. Abandoning his travel plans, Turkish military intelligence smuggle him onto a small ship sailing to Genoa. His fellow passengers include a German archaeologist, an Italian mother and son, a bickering French couple, an entrancing dancer and her surly partner, and a Turkish and Greek businessman. After initially feeling he’s safe from further danger, when Graham finds his handgun stolen he realises that he is still in peril but is trapped on a small boat not knowing who is friend or foe. Through this closed set setup Ambler spins out a tale of rising tension as Graham interacts with his fellow passengers to try and determine who he can trust and who to be wary of. The characterisation is nicely done, as are many of the scenes. However, the story is perhaps a bit too linear, the intrigue as to who to trust a little underplayed, and the denouement too rushed. As a result the mystery and tension is a bit flatter than it could have been. Nonetheless, an interesting tale of escape and evading espionage.