Beard Necessities (Winston Brothers, #7) school stories

[epub] The Care of TimeAuthor Eric Ambler –

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10 thoughts on “The Care of Time

  1. says:

    Eric Ambler wrote his first novel, The Dark Frontier, in 1936. His last was The Care Of Time, published in 1981, when he was aged 72.

    I didn’t realise this fact when I read the book, but with hindsight I wonder if it explains my need for matchsticks each night (there could be other reasons, of course).

    Ambler certainly had a talent for making a modest cameo stretch to a full-length feature, but I think in this instance the plot was too thin to begin with, and as such became rather tenuous, and pedestrian and repetitive, when action and scene changes were called for.

    Like many of his books the subject matter is ambitious (an oil sheik building a secret nuclear bunker in Austria) and not a little perspicacious (when talk of chemical warfare suddenly rears its ugly head). That said, I felt in this case it lacked his usual ring of gritty authenticity.

    Ambler’s protagonist is generally a bumbling amateur that finds himself entangled with professional crooks; here in The Care Of Time the ‘hero’ is more competent (and strangely successful with an attractive member of the opposite sex).

    I got this book as part of a trilogy, ‘free’ with my Amazon Prime membership, so I can’t complain. But my recommendation would be that, just like it was Ambler’s last, to observe the same protocol and read his others first.

  2. says:

    This last of Ambler's novels is a slight step down from the superb novels that had just preceded it in the decade of the 1970s. But it's still a fascinating effort. Recurring themes, some old and some newer ones, emerge in the story. Once more the showdown and escape into a mountainous wilderness marks the end, as it had in a couple of Ambler's novels from the 1930s. So, too, does the less than reassuring ending and ambiguity that marked the works from the 1970s.

    One thing is different, however, and it is the hero of this story, Robert Halliday. Halliday is as close to a professional in the spy game as Ambler ever gets. This former newsman with contacts with the CIA knows how to operate in the world of espionage. He is not the naive character(s) that populated Ambler's previous novels. But Halliday is also an exhausted figure. Perhaps he is more of an echo of the author than are Ambler's other protagonists. This was to be Ambler's last fictional novel. And much the same lingering tiredness and doubt about the world surrounds Halliday as well.

    The ideological Ambler is far in the past with the The Care of Time. Answers don't come about very easily. Murky actions by governments and potentates point to a terrorist dominated world that eventually engulfs the old order. Nobody is to be trusted. And no set of beliefs will substitute for the sureties of the past. This is a grim world without a great deal of redemption, even at the personal level. Perhaps that is why Ambler made it his last novel.

  3. says:

    I picked up The Care of Time because I had read a strong piece by Eric Ambler in an anthology edited by Alan Furst called The Book of Spies.

    The Care of Time, however, isn't strong. It's slapdash with a lot of undeveloped characters and motivations careening into one another. The prose is professional and crisp, but it's full of cliches. The settings (from Bucks County, Pa., through Milan, Italy, into Austria) are underexploited. Much of the plot is presented in the form of explanatory dialogue. The shadows are just gray, not black. The villains are labels undeserving of gravestones.

    The really interesting element of the book revolves around a bit of early plotting related to the 19th century Russian anarchist/Nihilist Nechayev. Allegedly a manuscript of his has been found. Nechayev in many ways was a precursor to today's Islamic terrorists, notably by virtue of his association with the phrase, "the propaganda of the deed." This, of course, is the essence of terrorism--generating an outsized psychological effect with a beheading, a car bomb, or a series of murders. The Nechayev manuscript is simply forgotten in The Care of Time, but it caused me to reflect on how much emphasis "revolutionaries" placed on terror in the 19th century.

    Dostoevsky turned Nechayev into a major character in his novel, Demons. Ambler simply didn't bother. There are many differences between these two writers but one is that Dostoevsky took literature and culture seriously and Ambler didn't. Dostoevsky understood certain forces to be existential and moral challenges. Ambler understood similar forces as entertaining games.

  4. says:

    Ambler's late in the day thriller pitches an American ghostwriter into regime change and middle-east intrigue through the rather novel device of a simple television interview. Of course, the interview is heavily rigged as it is conducted deep within an Austrian mine-shaft, which an Arab prince proposes to turn into a nuclear shelter. The latter part of the book consists of the Prince's desperate attempts to retrieve the tapes. Ghostwriter Halliday understands his NATO brief from the start, even if the interview comes as something of a surprise to the reader. All in all, as complex as most of Ambler's thrillers, but less satisfying. Reading between the lines of dialogue is difficult first time round - this is a book that handsomely rewards re-reading.

  5. says:

    Later Ambler, picked up at a book sale just to see what it was like. Didn't expect much, and wasn't disappointed. His protagonist is still a little clueless, but in this case winds up acting a bit too clever. I liked the old protagonists better. This book also suffers from the literate dialogue disease. Real people don't talk like this. Plus, there's too much talk and not enough action for my taste, and I completely lost track of whether all the plot turns really would have worked or not. Oh well, guess there's a reason why it's the early Amblers that are regarded as the classics.

  6. says:

    The thing I learned from reading this book is that although Eric Ambler's early novels are entertaining and paved the way for people like Len Deighton, his later work, this being an example, is tired and doesn't stand up in such company. The Care of Time is sort of all right, but has long passages in which nothing much happens, a chief protagonist you don't really care about, and plot holes big enough to drive a bus through. It is almost true that once I put it down I could not pick it up again, but I made myself finish it if only for the sake of sharing my views with you.

  7. says:

    What I find remarkable about Eric Ambler's writing is his ability to fuse the intrigue of a thriller with the conviction of a political manifesto. In his final spy novel, The Care of Time, originally published in 1981, he does so, however, with mixed results.

    Editor Bob Halliday's new contract begins with a bang when he receives a bomb threat followed by an actual, albeit already defused, bomb from Karliss Zander, a known terrorist middleman seeking Halliday's assistance. With this bluff of violence, Zander lures Halliday to Italy under the pretense of ghostwriting a book that will be part memoir of 19th-century anarchist Sergey Nechayev (the inspiration for Dostoevski's The Possessed) and part expose of government corruption that benefits from covertly backing terrorist organizations. Zander's true intention, however, is to use Halliday as a pawn in negotiations between NATO, the CIA, and an Arab prince known only as "the Ruler, who will allow NATO to build a military base in the Persian Gulf in exchange for permission to found a health clinic in Austria. Through this mediation, a second cover story evolves in which Halliday, Zander, and his associates pose as a television crew to interview the Ruler about the plans for said clinic in an attempt to reveal his true motivations for seeking refuge in Austria.

    The Care of Time has all the hallmarks of an Ambler thriller -- a protagonist trapped by his situation, fantastic journeys of flight and pursuit, and a narrative layered with falsehoods -- yet the pacing of the novel's second half suffers from lengthy and sometimes convoluted dialogue as information passes among parties and overly detailed exposition of the television set-up storyline. Where Ambler excels is in the first 100 pages in which he uses Zander's bomb threat to assess the history of terrorist philosophy. In conversation with previous espionage works, Ambler recalls the first wave of anarchism featured in Conrad's The Secret Agent before denouncing the bureaucratic back-room deals that fuel and finance the second wave of terrorism. Had Ambler continued this thread, The Care of Time would be on par with his earlier works that reinvigorated the espionage genre. Instead, the novel feels like the embodiment of Zander himself, a worn, world-weary intelligence agent for whom the spy game has gone on too long. The novel may not appeal to fans of contemporary fast-paced techno thrillers, but those interested in the more cerebral strain of classic spy fiction will appreciate Ambler's overview of the transitory end of the Cold War and the onset of the new age of terror.

  8. says:

    Actually, I didn't read very far into this book. The nearly exclusive use of dialogue, boring dialogue at that, became annoying enough that I finally decided to give it up and move on to another book. I read "The Mask of Demetrios" (originally "The Coffin of Demetrios") about a year ago, and loved, loved it. Written in 1939, it relates to events dating from the early 1920s (Greco-Turkish War and the horrible events in Smyrna--now Izmir) through the narrator's/protagonist's present time of 1938, taking place in Turkey, Greece, other Balkan areas, and Paris. Ambler has been considered by many to be the father of the spy novel, and influenced Graham Greene and John LeCarre as well as Alfred Hitchcock. So "The Care of Time" was especially disappointing, but given that it was written 42 years and quite a few books later, maybe Ambler became formulaic in his writing (think of any one of the myriad popular writers cranking out Stuff every year.) Or maybe I just picked a not so good one. Or didn't give it a chance. I thought so highly of Demetrios though that I will try some other Ambler work.

  9. says:

    ambler wrote thrillers for nearly five decades, and in doing so transformed the genre completely. his early thrillers were written in the backdrop of world war 2, while this one - his last - at tail end of the cold war. his mastery of geopolitics is very sound, as always. the beauty of the book is how much he accomplishes merely through clever dialogue and intricate plotting. he doesn't need explosions, cool gadgets or contrived action to keep the book interesting.

    robert halliday, a professional ghostwriter of some repute is hired, in a rather bizarre way, by an international mercenary to ostensibly write a biography of sergei nechayev, a 19th century russian anarcho-terrorist. the plot takes off from there and touches upon the delicate geopolitics of the middle east and how nato, the us, and the soviet union are all vying for some sort of superiority. thoughtful, interesting and delighting.

  10. says:

    Another of those 80s book without the modern gadgets. I found it quite interesting when everything happens on the field and your life depends on your smart thinking. The author has provided a very detailed description of everything in this book and then there are lengthy pieces of dialogue between the characters. Because of that the book has grown to close to 278 pages. The actual plot and the story line is quite simple. If you do not like reading details and you do not have patience then this book is not for you.

    I liked it. :-)