Once again, the father of the espionage thriller comes thru with another stellar effort. This time Eric Ambler takes us to the very beginning of World War 2, as we follow the exploits of British munitions engineer who is known only by his last name of Graham. We meet up with Graham while he is concluding his companies arms agreement with Turkey and before he leaves for London, the companies representative in Turkey takes him for a night of fun at a Cabaret in Istanbul. While there he is introduced to a sultry lounge dancer before he makes his way back to his hotel to finish packing for his trip home in a few hours.
Upon reaching his room, Graham opens the door and gunfire erupts. The shooter only grazes Graham before escaping out the window, and so begins Grahams “Journey into Fear.”
He is quickly taken to the offices of Turkish security commander, Colonel Haki, who lays out the facts that this was not a random burglary gone bad but rather an attempt by the Germans to kill him so as to delay the delivery of the weaponry to Turkey.
Instead of heading out on a train, Graham soon finds himself about a cargo ship bound for Genoa from where he can quickly get across the border into France and then make it back to London. The timeline of the book is fascinating since while Poland has been invaded, France is not considered to be in danger of falling, and Italy is technically neutral, all of which help with the plotline and action.
Onboard the boat Graham has very few fellow passengers since there are only 10 cabins, but one of those cabins belongs to sultry dancer Josette and her husband/partner Jose. Jose is unpleasant and it is obvious to all but Graham that Josette is latching onto him for a good time in Paris before Graham returns home to his wife. We also have a feuding French couple, a German archeologist and his constantly ill wife, a French couple and an Italian mother and son who serve no purpose other than to play bridge at key times so as to allow Graham some free time.
At their first port, which is Athens, the boat takes on a new passenger who turns out to be the person who tried to kill Graham in Istanbul and who is a paid Romanian assassin. But there also is a Turkish tobacco salesman on board who always seems to be hovering around Graham at important times.
Graham now discovers his life is in danger on the boat, from not one but two different people. Who can he trust, how can he escape the boat, how can he get out of Genoa alive and how can he finally get back to London? All these problems are part of a well-devised plot and Ambler again puts an untrained regular person right in the middle of WW2 intrigue. A fish of our water, can Graham somehow manage to extricate himself and who, if anyone will be able to assist him? Ambler once again comes through with a winning tale and one that makes any reader of the espionage thriller realize why he has been dubbed the “father” of the genre.